If you want to bring your dreams into fruition, you have to be willing to fail at such a disgusting degree that it makes you contemplate quitting. In a ridiculously spoiled society where humans feel so privileged to win at everything, we have to humble ourselves to experiencing or witnessing some of life's shitty offerings.
Couple weeks back, one of my Instagram followers asked me when I knew I was an ultra runner. I didn't answer that question until this morning. I could give you a bunch of artificial answers like recounting the moment that I crossed the finish line after running for 9 hours, 47 minutes and 22 seconds during the NYRR 60K -- two weeks after the NYC Marathon in 2015. Or maybe when I ran an extra four miles at the Finger Lakes 50K because of one stupid flag in the distance. But honestly, I think I am reminded several times through my failures.
Circa 2017: The Year of Failure 1.0, 2.0 & 2.75
When I think back to last years' rollercoaster ride, I went through a whirlwind of mindfucks. I started off January 2017 being featured on BuzzFeed -- pretty cool but a strange experience -- and had to learn that the Internet is nothing but a cesspool of half dead deformed jizz that happened to luck up and make it to the egg. If I wasn't already receiving crap comments here and there through this blog, social media asked me to hold its Four Horsemen in an old fashioned glass. As months progressed, I had to learn how to fail at fighting the world and its disturbing ass comments. Some days, I'd find excuses for a Twitter finger samurai who'd try to obliterate me in 280 characters or less. Some days I'd try to dissect the countless reasons why a person took time out of their joy-filled orgasmic day to confess their disgust for my stomach, back fat or personal views. And then there were moments where some would intentionally troll for the thrills of me humiliating them on social media for the hopes of going viral. How do I know this is the case? It's hard to explain how exactly but if you see enough sarcastic statements rolling off their account or a private profile with only 5 followers, you know the deal. Before learning these things, I'd lose hours of my life cursing someone out -- and this shit was addictive. After a while, my mind couldn't focus on loads of grammatical errors, outright racist bullshit or humor that reminds me of children who tell jokes for too long. You start to question if the troll that contacted you is the actual troll or if this crazy transference of energy metamorphosed you from being the victim to the culprit.
Frankly I reassess each situation until this day but I'm not so quick to repost or even respond to every asshat that presents itself to me in email or a direct message. At the same time, I'm not so forgiving that I'm willing to entertain all statements from other compassionate people who feel that these people don't know what they're doing. Words can be a gift and a weapon; this has been true for centuries.
I refuse to be all lavender, sage and incense for y'all and pretend I namaste each comment. Instead I had to go through the Reading Rainbow program of harassment to learn how to fail effectively with these pheasants. And when I say fail, I mean trying different strategies of conflict resolution, being hurt about disparaging statements about my fitness capabilities, love for food and body type from all sorts of people across the globe to remind myself that I am an athlete.
My success came about from the form of being heckled at the NYC Marathon last year -- and please don't ask me to tell you how it happened. Read it for yourself because I don't thrive on hurtful moments. It wasn't the viral part that declared me as a victor but the lessons that grew from them throughout 2018.
2018: Reclaiming My Time, Public Failures & Success
If You Failed and You Know It, Clap Your Hands
2018 scared the absolute shit out of me.
Like things changed and stayed the same.
Like when I succeed, I have an audience.
Like when I fail, people can pull open their smartphones and look up my name on a website to tell them my stats of where I dropped off.
Like physically going to the gym is a workout of its own because someone might be taking a picture of me because they don't want to interrupt me but I can see them creeping on me from the corner of my eye and all they have to do is tap me because I'm not some fucking uptight twat popsicle --and sorry about the run-on sentence guys.
Granted I have my entire race calendar posted on here whenever I remember to update it but there's times where I forget to post something and someone will remind me that I haven't updated something. Or when I think I am not going to be noticed at an event and someone runs up to me to give me a random hug. I cannot deny that it's cool as shit but it also made me feel like I was on eggshells all of the time.
For a whole five months, I was completely in my head about the next time I'd fail versus simply enjoying what brought me into fitness in the first place. I worried if I trained enough to other people's standards. Wondered if I would be perceived as a fraud to magazines and podcast interviewers who might think I wasn't putting in nary enough hours/mileage compared to my counterparts. Maybe I'm not 'fat enough' for this conversation despite climbing up on the scale. Maybe I should lose some weight to show others that I can do that at any given time. What happens if I don't complete a race?
And then it happened without my permission: I failed countless times with an audience. It's nice to see all of the cleaned up videos that I post on Instagram any given day but what about the flare ups that happened in between my sets that's not being recorded? One of my Instagram buddies asked me to join her at the gym one day and thanks to having time, I did just that. Around the third set, my sciatic nerve went straight to my toes and down went a 32 pound kettlebell on that very foot. She freaked out but I was humiliated. Here I was meeting someone for the first time and she's nursing my swollen nubs and fragile ego. It's easier to discuss my laundry list of health issues versus allowing others to see it. I was so drained from the incident that it took me two weeks to respond back. When I finally opened my messenger, she said '...thank you for being human.' Honestly I didn't understand that statement for months.
Weeks later, I ventured off with my buddy Mirna Valerio, the infamous Mirnavator, after she talked me into a redemption race for the North Face Endurance Challenge in DC for a 50K and 10K. I told myself for months that I'd write a recap of those days but I was pissed beyond words to ever make that blog post come into fruition. On this adventure of 'what the fuck just happened', a kid who was following me from mile 5 or so and working as the course sweep for the North Face Endurance Challenge was on his cellular phone for most of my race. Granted, I am a rambler but not during trail runs. At times, I value my shut the fuck up hours to absorb in the beauty of the outdoors. If I wasn't hearing him and his dial in girlfriend talking sweet nothings, he'd ask me a host of non stop questions. Perhaps it was my fault for not standing my ground and respectfully asking him to please let me be but my darling, visibly inexperienced course sweep managed to make me lost around mile 25 or 26. I noticed that the flags were missing and despite being fatigued, the trail was unusually easier. He INSISTED that we were going in the right direction until we hit an area that led us 2 miles away from the course. After I refused to move any further in, he called in to a staffer and we had to go 2 extra miles back to the place where a sign was knocked over pointing to where I should've hiked up a mountain. Somewhere between this time, I told an mere 6 - 7K Instagram followers on my stories that I was lost and very visibly pissed but STILL struggling to find humor in the entire situation. When I made it to mile 27, I could hear staff call him in on a loud walkie talkie to say that I'm about to be pulled off the course. It was probably the most quiet that he was the entire time while I ran. Upon reaching the last aid station, I tried to hold back tears that I was being pulled off. And the part that hurt so terribly is knowing that their mile 28ish - 29 was actually my 50K if we didn't get lost. I went back to the hotel exceptionally frustrated, overwhelmed and talking to my endometriosis over Motrin 800 because I'd go out the next day to do a 10K. To add insult to injury, despite finishing my 10K the next day, none of my results were recorded --but hey, I have another shiny medal I guess.
I verbalized my thoughts on a semi-tamed Instagram post and on a podcast with 300 Pounds and Running - Martinus Evans - but off air, I told him how painstakingly distraught I was from the incident. I craved that redemption because it was further than my North Face adventure in the Waschusett Mountains for my first trail marathon. While I tried to shrug it off, I wasn't used to 'failing' that much.
My peace didn't come about until working on the Slow AF Retreat with Mirna in North Carolina. Here I was meeting twenty something women for the first time - and that actually scares the shit out of me - and most of them were introverts. Women who I don't know plus a room full of introverts as a strange, awkward and unbalanced extraverted introvert is enough to keep me in my head. Somehow these strangers became my friend in a few days during this retreat but thanks to the unknown, I had a moderate level anxiety attack. I couldn't tell you what triggered it and if I guess in hindsight, I don't think I had enough sleep or private time, but here I was being comforted by a person who only met me a few days before coaching me to sleep it off (thanks Ariel). For a moment, I felt exceptionally Canadian for my level of apologizing to everyone. It was my first time attending a retreat and I didn't realize how much these things can trigger buried emotional trauma.
I started thinking back to that statement: '...thank you for being human.' It took for countless things like the gym, race detours, mental fatigue and runs that couldn't happen because my son and I had countless health issues that prevented me from going on a training run or knock out a gym session. These experiences taught me that despite saying out loud that I'm not superwoman, I started placing myself in situations of trying to be her thanks to the new thousand sets of eyes watching my movements.
Reclaiming My Time & Changing the Narrative
Okay after I unfucked myself from tripping about people seeing me fall, I realized that I bleed, poop and sleep like everyone else -- who knew this was possible? It wasn't an overnight process but I can thank a visual board from the Slow AF retreat to serve as my road map to going back to a healthier space. I was so worried about everyone laughing at my failures that I didn't realize that many weren't laughing at all. Instead, most people didn't give a shit.
I remember talking to Beth Baker in the car one morning- a lovely human being who happened to let me bum a space while in Seattle - and we discussed the natural fears that so many people encounter about being dead last at a race. To summarize Beth's statement, people sometimes get caught up in this irrational fear that others might be laughing at them or live in the trauma of being forgotten. In trail running, I am often in the DFL category and I had to get past that fear exceptionally quick. But I did learn through 2 1/2 months of traveling that I needed these months of non stop races to remind myself that I'm better for 'failing' and succeeding in my own way.
I don't want y'all thinking I mean that you should wake up one morning, sign up for a race and then the night before say '...meh, that's too hard' and go back to bed. Instead, I would ask for you to go out there over and over again - whether race or training - and commit to possibly failing. Failure for one is not the same for another. Some people are fixated on nailing a PR; that wasn't my goal this year. Others like me worried that I would get lost on a trail run, allow my anxiety and seasonal depression to kick into overdrive and not show up. I was worried about not having the strength to call in sick when necessary. When I committed myself to 247 race miles in a two month period, I engulfed myself on this goal so much that I knew there was a heavy possibility that one of these days, the unknown would happen. And honey it happened: I failed during the marathon tour a LOT.
I failed during the Spartan Ultra Beast after dunking myself into freezing water in South Carolina, losing a huge chunk of my mileage. Before this, my family asked me to call in sick from my NYRR Staten Island Half Marathon because we were all emotionally strained with my loads of traveling. And then I swapped out my Florida Spartan with a shorter run here in NYC, concluding my race tour with the Ted Corbitt 15K, which was dope AF BTW, at 200 miles.
During that time, I skipped training days, had to balance real life hiccups of being a parent and a functional adult. In fact, I missed 2 weeks straight of long runs for my 100K training because life got real AF. My time was crazy slow (in my opinion so don't nail me to the cross) for the Seattle Marathon because endometriosis and sciatica wanted to come out and play.
Coming to Terms that I'm an Ultra Runner
To answer a beautifully complex question, I knew after completing my first race but I'm constantly reminded as I fail and succeed multiple times throughout the process. Technically, touching 26.3 and above officially grants you the title of being an ultra runner but the state of mind thrives in living the lifestyle. Doing road races gave me a host of lessons but on the trails, I learned how to fall physically and metaphorically.
My training humbles me each time I step into a gym, on a different terrain or working out with someone. I still get butterflies before each race. I haven't reached a point of arrogance where I believe that short distances are beneath me. I'm reminded that saying things like 'only 10 miles' can sound pretentious as hell to someone who cannot fathom moving through one.
Failing throughout the years in my training shaped me into a better person on and off the pavement. I can pretend to be a tourist in my home city; making rookie mistakes whips my ass and reminds me to keep pushing when I think I've perfected my craft.
Next year, I want to fail countless times on my training runs with trying to get faster with my husband. Although it's his personal goal to finish a half at an eleven minute pace or less, I'm going to try my hardest to keep up with him. It's going to be hard AF but I get to fail countless times, hopefully not murder each other in the process and add this onto my fitness resume.
When I do calisthenics and strength training workouts, I tend to aim for circuits but once in a blue, I aim for failure. This simply means that I go hard until my body throws in the towel. It doesn't mean injure yourself but you want to see how far your mind, heart and body can push you through a certain move. I want to see what it feels like doing this same thing in running. Feeling the air ripple against my body carrying me through different countries and cities will be fantastic. And yeah, I might not make it to the finish line on each race. I might fail in front of thousands of people again --that's cool. The only way that I can realistically fail is if I don't put in the effort. For 2019, I want to fail by falling in, out and back in love with running. Cheers to writing your own journal entries for the New Year.
Latoya Shauntay Snell
For my pretentious ass bio, check out the about me page but for anyone interested in who I really am, make me a good meal at your house and I'll tell you a dope ass story.
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