This year, I ran my seventh and eighth marathons within four years of running—all as a plus-size woman. I ran the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 8 and the New York City Marathon on Nov. 5—followed by the New York Road Runners 60K Ultramarathon less than two weeks later. The year 2017 was my most ambitious marathon season to date.
Despite months of emotional and physical hurdles, I invested endless hours on the pavement in training. I committed to waking up at ungodly hours each morning, programming my body to an insane routine of regularity, learning what foods worked well with each distance, and mastering leaving my brownstone at dawn without waking my husband and son.
Naturally, when you sign up for any endurance event, you prepare your body and mind for harsh conditions. Unfortunately, I never considered the need to prepare myself for harassment on the course—especially not in a place I call home.
As a seasoned and proud back-of-the-pack runner, I’m accustomed to starting much later than the elites. I know the miles are set, the challenges will be there and the fatigue will set in eventually. I am a runner who feeds on the adrenaline of the day, the roars of the crowd and following through on our respective goals.
But between the 22nd and 23rd miles of the New York City Marathon, my home-stretch high was disrupted by a tall, balding white man who felt it appropriate to shout, “It’s gonna take your fat ass forever, huh?”
Shocked and angry, I stopped and retorted expletives and insults, then posted my frustrations to my Facebook page. Two other female runners witnessed our confrontation and told me he wasn’t worth it. They were right, of course, but the damage was already done. By that point, I’d lost minutes and much-needed energy to a man who took pride in poking fun at my size.
On marathon day, you focus on your breathing and your stride. Each step matters, and as the time passes, your thoughts can dictate your movements. By mile 23, my mind was in a boxing ring, enraged by the man who tried to rope-a-dope my headspace.
He didn’t know what I’d sacrificed to be there; how I’d contemplated abandoning a sport I often refer to as “oxygen” because I was still grieving the miscarriage of my twins in August. He didn’t know I’d had emergency surgery for endometriosis, or the 142 times over the course of a year that I’d been called everything from “fat bitch” to the n-word online, simply for being a black, plus-size food-and-fitness blogger.
And he didn’t care. As a mere spectator, he saw my 5-foot-3-inch, 218-pound body as a joke. And I—an exhausted runner who was so close but still so far from the finish line—fell for the bait, as he lured me with insults.
That man didn’t know that prior to 2013, I’d stopped weighing myself when my scale tipped 265 pounds. How by that point, I was criticized about my weight any time the opportunity presented itself. Even if I was eating a half sandwich and small soup, I’d receive unprovoked, backhanded compliments about my healthier eating habits; imagine daring to indulge in a candy bar in public!
When I was finally ready to change my lifestyle, I fell in love with fitness—and, eventually, running. Running helped me shed significant pounds, but that didn’t translate to happiness with my transformed body. My new sport helped me find freedom and strength through the pavement, but it also taught me that the number on the scale didn’t dictate or govern my happiness.
So I tweaked my goals a bit, and found that when I gained some of the weight back, my mind was stronger. In the years since, my confidence has become as strong as my endurance. But despite my generally positive outlook on life, I’m still human. And on any particular day—like marathon day—words have a way of empowering or crippling a person.
But after seeing several friends on the sidelines who’d waited hours for me to pass, I couldn’t remain bitter any longer. Because I didn’t sign up for the New York City Marathon to prove anything to anyone but myself. Every marathoner has her or his own reasons for being out there, but after four years of running, it’s hard to picture not running. I embrace the challenges and fears of not making it, the glory in earning a medal I can’t earn anywhere else, and even the crippling, unofficial 27th mile each marathon finisher makes to exit the park.
And as I finished the New York City Marathon—a few minutes over the seven-hour mark—I felt content. I didn’t need to harbor anger or aggression; that man wasn’t the first, and likely won’t be the last, to toss off a callous comment about my weight. I’m aware of what I look like and the stereotypes that accompany my size, and anyone who thinks I need to be educated about the laundry list of obesity risks needn’t bother. He didn’t say anything about which I’m not already aware.
I’m fat. Full-figured. Thick. Plus-size. Powerful. Capable. Empowering. Phenomenal. And in the end, my real clapback that day came from the power of my thick legs shuffling me from New York’s Staten Island, across five boroughs and ending in the drizzling rain in Manhattan. I am powerful because I believe that I am. And I owe nobody an explanation for what moves me.
Latoya Shauntay Snell is a freelance chef, photographer and founder of RunningFatChef, a food-and-fitness blog that documents her experiences as a plus-size marathoner, ultramarathoner and obstacle-course racer. She has been featured on multiple platforms such as Redbook magazine, BuzzFeed Health, Self magazine and Women’s Running.