Contrary to the delusion that I may have unintentionally painted through my Instagram posts or Facebook feed, I do NOT have this stellar background or this glorified history of being a runner. In fact, my interest in sports was limited to watching boxing matches on my once pirated cable box from a dude name Courtney. If one person in the projects paid for the Tyson fight, EVERYONE who received illegal cable from him watched that fight for sure. Boxing was -and still is- whimsical to me. I admire the awkward dancing in the ring, the disturbing shit talking that takes place and the art of skillfully throwing an upper cut--but I wasn't intrigued with the regimen that came along with it. In fact, it's the only sport that I took seriously at one point and at times, I bare knuckled a few bullies with those skills--but that's another story.
Running is one of those things that people from other sports use as a form of conditioning or even punishment if the team screws up. Until five years ago, I thought runners were absolutely nuts for going great distances. I knew nothing about cross country work, sprinting on the track and field, a fartlek was a funny juvenile word and if someone could've told me that I would be doing endurance running, I'd probably let out a hearty cackle until I was begging for an oxygen mask. In my hood, we ran for the ice cream man during hot summer days or to kick someone's ass in a game of tag. On the contrary, the speediest people that I knew were crackheads and drug dealers who ran from the cops--and no, I will not turn this into a glorified sob story. But I get this question often: "Why do you run--and stick with it?"
In my opinion, running is one of the few sports that haven't bored the hell out of my very complex mind. Initially, my MySpace - now Facebook - friend Rob signed up for a half marathon in the UK and I felt compelled to do the same here in the States. This was purely a bucket list item that manifested into a beautifully complex and sometimes, expensive obsession.
I'm not afraid to admit that I was a very ignorant runner for the first year and I learned through Google, emulating others and eventually through the support of a hell of a group called Black Girls Run. I watched my reasons for why I run evolve as I went through my self proclaimed metamorphosis.
In the beginning, I looked at it as a bucket list item that could help me lose weight--and oh dear, it really did. In fact, it did too much of a good job that I found myself in the middle of West 8th Street at a busy intersection in the middle of January temporarily losing my vision, ability to hear and being guided to a side walk from an older customer who frequented my ex- employer's restaurant. Within ten minutes, I was pumped with bags of fluid, hit with yet another cancer scare and told that I was starving myself. Ignorance almost killed me because unlike what my hecklers currently imply --I didn't eat 4,000 calories a day; perhaps it would've prevented me the hospital trip, missed days of work and scaring the hell out of my entire crew. I learned that proper nutrition required for me to eat more than usual. My then 2,500 calories a day during peak training wasn't enough--a very harsh and expensive learned.
When the weight fell off and was ten pounds shy of my goal, I received a different sort of trolling: I was now "too skinny" to some of my 'friends', family and a small audience who followed my journey--even to me. I was now "the skinny bitch" and I couldn't call myself fat anymore. Words and people who once uplifted me to lose the weight also stung me twice as hard, encouraging me to "eating some more doughnuts" and "lay off the crack" that I was allegedly smoking to get this small. Their words forced me to reevaluate why was I doing this and how can I make me happy, not the entire planet.
This may sound strange but as I mentioned on several forums, I intentionally gained some of my weight back. Granted, I didn't ask for ALL of this but I knew that the number wasn't what made me happy. Instead, I took the time to learn about building muscle while holding onto my newfound joy, running. And how exactly could I do this as a plus size runner?
To burst a bubble: I NEVER made it to the BMI number for my height. Even at 165 lbs, I was still overweight yet resting on a comfortable 8, sometimes size 6. Sometimes you don't know how much you don't desire something until you attain it. Instead, I learned that running was the best gift that I never asked for.
Extra weight slightly sacrificed my speed but that too, can be corrected. When I took away the weight being my motivation, I quite literally lifted 'weight' off of my shoulders. By this point, I ran to see if I could make it to the next milestone. And in some strange way, I relearned how to trust people. Although it was a slow moving process, running with a group who made sure that they stuck around for the very last person established a healthier relationship with women. It debunked this primitive thought that women cannot trust other women and I built a new family with a bunch of strangers.
As I allowed others to enable me to push for my happiness and growth, a friend talked me into signing up for my first marathon. I never thought it was possible to run 26.2 miles but even in while battling brief but nasty stint of alcoholism (check the link to read about it) due to depression, I managed to train for my first marathon with Rock and Roll DC. After boxing with my demons, I utilized the New York City Marathon as my redemption race and impulsively signed up for a 60K two weeks later--this was 2015.
Present day, I am certain of why I run. I love the exhilarating feeling that the course gives me and this reassurance that this 200+ pound frame can tackle pavements and trails, even at a snail pace. When I feel the muscle cramps kick in, I'm reminded that I'm still alive despite having a rough life. When participating in endurance races, I know that the real race is while I'm training. Race day is just a test and reflection to the ultra marathon secretly gift wrapped as life. If I can manage to be a mother, wife, friend, mentor and recently, viewed as a role model to others, I know that I'm capable of so much more. I run because these events are just visual and physical metaphors of a time in my life. I can grieve, smile and deflect negativity on the pavement as I move. Despite having a wall full of finisher's medals, the real trophy resonates in my mind and this body.
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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