I knew the course limit was six hours and my fastest marathon to date was roughly six hours and thirty minutes. Who am I kidding? I’m not going to be able to shave thirty minutes off of my time but am I really in it for the medals anymore?
My backpack has been packed for a week.
Who the fuck am I trying to kid? I started packing two weeks ago and didn’t come to a resolve until the day before departure. Looking at my race calendar for the year is exceptionally exhausting as it is ambitious. I don’t know many within my inner circle who would sign up for as many events as I would—but I have even less who would sign up for a 100K due to peer pressure and extended opportunities.
I chose one of the latest flights possible to leave New York City almost two months ago to avoid skipping swim classes. Who knew that would be done in vain considering my neighborhood recreational center is now temporarily closed due to construction, putting a dent in my swimming instruction—but that’s a separate conversation of its own.
My husband Eric thought it would be great to hit the movie theater for the matinee with the kid to see Deadpool 2 (and yes, I’m aware it’s not a kid’s movie—sue me!). My nerves started to wreak havoc on me horribly and my family could feel my anxiety from a floor above. Captain Bad Ass - affectionally know as my son - and my husband sent me with well wishes and good footing. My traveling has become a slight norm for them at this point. Often times, I find myself feeling a bit guilty for indulging in these races. Race day is huge but the training is not only mentally and physically taxing but can create an extrovert like me into a loner; it is something that I worry about with my training for the Javelina Jundred 100K and setting up a sleuth of marathons before and after I beatbox with the devil of a course. By 10pm, I was leaving NYC and because Vermont is like a beautiful neighbor, I landed by 11pm. I promptly checked into my hostel - a very cheap and reliable option for the traveling hippie on a budget or a procrastinator on hotels - and pulled out my race gear.
Race Day— Morning
With less than four hours of sleep, I was awake as an old school Alka Seltzer commercial could be. Four years into my running adventures and five years into my fitness journey, I am well versed with running on anxiety, lack of sleep and if I’m fortunate, coffee—I had two of the three so I felt as fresh as my Dove soap made me. A banana and water served as a suitable form of breakfast since I wasn’t making my own meal and I was fortunate enough to be stationed exactly one block from bib pickup and less than a quarter mile from start. Thanks to endometriosis, I used the bathroom three times, negotiating with random strangers in my brain for them to hurry up so I can tinkle and start my race on time. While standing on line, I was fortunate to meet the Instagram follower who told me about this race months before the opportunity was presented to me from Hoka One One; she expressed her fears of losing her marathon virginity. I learned to give advice from a practical sense versus cramming war stories on people about my horrible experience of training for my first marathon as a functional alcoholic and then doing a ½ marathon the very next day. I opted to tell her to trust her training and whatever happens, never stop moving your feet. I ran over the tracker line and before I knew it, I was off and running by 7:03am.
Trekking 26.2 Miles Across Burlington, Vermont
My guts made themselves known for the first mile. I could feel that familiar surge of energy racing through my fingertips and feet; it’s a good, nervous energy that pushed me uphill for the first two miles. From Instagram and Facebook followers’ suggestions about the course, I just need to make it past the ten mile checkpoint to reduce my chances of being pulled off prematurely—after all, there was a six hour course limit set in place and I wasn’t sure how strict this would be enforced. Ideally, I wouldn’t fall below a thirteen and a half minute pace and would push myself on every downhill presented to me. Most people study the course and these days, I prefer to surprise myself on race morning.
By mile four, I heard a man shout out to me from behind. Alas, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet John Young—he’s an inspiring marathoner whose story graced platforms like CNN and was interviewed by my podcast partner in crime’s podcast 300 Pounds and Running about his running adventures while not living in the stereotypical runner’s body. Being a dwarf and running means everything and nothing at the same time. He is a fine representative for many who feel as if they don’t see anyone like them on the course but we share the same mantra that our personal physical hindrances doesn’t stop us from being phenomenal in our own right. Although it was our first time meeting each other, we hugged each other like long time friends. Traveling to different states - often times alone - means that I have to find creative ways of not going through depression of not having my friends and family members nearby. Unknowing to him, John gave me a sense of calm on the course; conversing online and sharing our own respective stories about body positivity in the sports community made this stranger not so strange. Both of us had a goal in mind to aim for a 6:15 to 6:30ish finisher time and joked about possibly hovering over each other on the course. We parted ways close to mile five while trailing each other along the highway.
The Vermont City Marathon is very unique in so many ways. For starters, I never had a maple syrup shot nor have I ever heard ventured to an event that had maple waffles on the course. Typically I’m nervous about trying new things on race day but I knew this wasn’t something that my culinary heart could pass up— I am a sucker for pure maple syrup and haven’t had a great one since my 15K in the Toronto Islands a few years ago.
At mile five and seven respectively, there was a band placed under the bridge that pushed me through on the downhill and my trek going back up. When they saw you approaching, you can hear the band change the tune. As you passed, a warm invigorating greeting that reminds me of a homecoming marching band gave you a pep, as if they wished you good footing on the course.
A sigh of relief rushed over me once I exited off the highway— the notorious checkpoint was met and grooving to my own internal soundtrack of hitting mile 11. The spectators gave familiar high fives that I typically get during the NYC and Chicago Marathons. Outside of the World Majors, I’m not accustomed to seeing spectators stick around for long, especially not as a back of the pack runner. At one point, probably around mile 6, I was convinced and made peace with possibly being the last runner on the course. People typically dread coming in as DFL - dead fucking last - but I learned how to embrace it thanks to trail running. It’s not about who is in front of you but more about your own drive and determination to see yourself through when you’re tested and alone.
I experienced a somber moment around mile 12 and I struggled getting out of my head. It’s been almost a year and I still haven’t pushed past my diagnosis with endometriosis. At times, I’m still a bit bitter about finding out so late and not holding my expected twins. Whilst I love running, I love the thought of expanding my family more. I’ve been robbed of more than a handful of opportunities and on days that I’m not careful, it leaves me in a staccato and bitter mood. Harboring feelings like this on race day can be detrimental for most; I learned how to use courses as my soundboard. When I reach the runner’s wall, the physical pain doesn’t impact me the way that grieving loved ones hold over me. From mile 12 to 15, I felt like I was carrying cinderblocks on my quads and I desperately tried to use the momentum from the crowd to get me out of my funk; somewhere in between this time, it worked.
If there was any part of the course that I absolutely loved the spectators’ energies, I want to say it was between miles 15 through 20. Holy crap, the mile 18 loop is amazing! Along this circle, I ran into a community that made me feel like I was running around with family—and not the annoying ones that you want to shove into a dark alley. At one of the homes, I can hear a band pushing his electric guitar to a screech. “There’s no place like Brooklyn.” Although coincidental, I felt like they knew I was coming and needed inspiration. I hugged a stranger before heading onto the last stretch and I felt alive; the runner’s high tickled my spine and placed graffiti onto my joints. My stride lengthened, breathing mocking “Sinnerman” by Nina Simone and I had to remind myself to preserve energy for the last `10K.
And then it happened… a terrible urge to use the bathroom overwhelmed me. As I mentioned several times, my worst fear is to become a ‘shit meme.’ If you’re bored, Google search runners who experience runner’s trots. In the runner’s community, we have cute names for it like “Gingerbread Man’ but it’s explicitly runner’s diarrhea and in worse cases, runner’s colitis. I knew I had a clearance of no more than five minutes. The more I thought about using the bathroom, I grew nervous and tried to do this unnerving clench that forced me to slow down.
“Whoooo! You’re doing great Shauntay but are you okay?” A spectator asked as I slowed down to a clenching walk.
“I desperately need to use the bathroom and I’m too old to shit on myself,” I abrasively answered.
The brunette slender spectator offered her bathroom but I quickly denied. I didn’t want to subject her to the abomination that would purge itself from my body. My stomach was beat boxing and creating a mixtape with the Devil for two weeks and I’d be damned if I’d be responsible for the crime scene I knew would happen. I reached the 21st or 22nd mile and there was a bathroom before we headed on the straight path. Although not religious, I remember openly thanking God, Buddha and a host of disciples for planting a bathroom before my demise. I lost at least five minutes of time thanks to my paranoia and fear of unmetaphorically losing my shit that I sacrificed a marathon PR. When you do endurance events long enough, you know there’s always an opportunity for a next time and quickly weigh out the pros and cons from an irrational point of view.
I remember tearing up at my last set of miles while blowing past at least six runners. Personally I didn’t care about the stride but thought heavily about my family— I missed them something terrible and it was less than 24 hours without them. Perhaps it’s because I knew I’d be heading out to Colorado days later or the weight of my race calendar this year. I travel every month until 2019. Despite loving and appreciating this dream, I miss home often - my family, friends and even my dirty ass city. At mile 25, I looked at a picture of my son and husband, reminding myself that I don’t just run for me but for them and countless others who frequently listen to my rants and stories. I’m reminded that my legs are a gift and I pay homage every time I hit a course.
Mile 26 welcomed me with open arms to a beautiful boardwalk and I suppressed tears. This isn’t my first marathon but each experience reminds me that I am not as broken as I used to be. I pushed myself through the last 800 meters, listening to a small crowd roar and as I came close to the end, I wiped the runaway tears from my face. I finished the Vermont City Marathon roughly under 6:40:00.
Ben and Jerry’s ice cream greeted me and of course, my heavy finisher’s medal. I turned off my watch praying that my FitBit activity would load onto Strava, took a picture and rejoiced in excitement that my stay was less than five minutes away. Crazily enough, I wasn’t in much pain. A little bit of quad burn, a handful of mosquito bites and a light bruise on my big toe marked the end of my race. I chatted with another finisher after my shower and we both agreed that we wanted to come back next year. After the race, I met up with my Instagram follower Laurel who was nervous about her first marathon. I tracked her statistics while running and she did phenomenal, dusting my time well over 30 minutes. We went for dinner, hit a comfy loose tea spot and vibes about our personal experiences for hours. When I made it back, I had only enough energy to shower and pack most of my bag. While eating, I posted an image onto my social media platforms with eyes too heavy to respond to over 25 messages.
“It can wait until tomorrow,” I told myself. It was close to 11pm and I had a 5am flight. I rested my head on my pillow, slept for no more than 2 hours and looked forward to the crash once I made it to Brooklyn. My husband greeted me on Memorial Day morning, hugging me upon entrance.
“Welcome home babes.” He gave me the longest hug that I had in a long time from him— he felt the same heavy feeling as I did. I took another shower just to put me into a state of ease, conveniently ate my bodega classic of.a bacon, egg and cheese as we watched a Gina Yashere special. I don’t remember drifting off but I do remember feeling content. I’m a marathoner again and my 100K training for the Javelina Jundred is paying off- even only five weeks in. As I push the tab on my seat, I’m looking forward to seeing what Colorado has to offer. My half marathon awaits me for this Sunday.
Latoya Shauntay Snell
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