Dannielle McNeilly “ALL HAIL LEGGATRON”
By Jesse Specs Spellman
ALL HAIL LEGGATRON
Dannielle McNeilly, also known simply as Danni, Vexy Spice or Leggatron, is one of the most consistent runners in our run community. Danni not only continues to rack up miles but it’s the style in which she does it as representation matters. Danni always keeps it 100%, never sugarcoats as she is always true with her words and most of all represents her culture and her team Black Roses. This month Mid Strike Magazines features Dannielle McNeilly as she gives us a peak into her run journey, her team Black Roses NYC and her Leggatronathon (pronounced Leg-a-tron-a-thon) which took place this past September in Crenshaw.
MSM: We’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us here at Mid Strike Magazine. The first question I have to ask which I am sure you’re asked this ALL THE TIME, why Vexy Spice and how did that name originate for you? Leggatron is the other BUT I’m sure our readers can figure out the why to that alias.
Danni: I’m thankful for the opportunity. I actually don’t care for attention to be quite honest but I do indulge folks from time to time. My friend Jesse gave me the name Vexy cuz I almost always look vex. Contrary to popular belief, I’m generally even keeled but I don’t believe in smiling for no ass reason. The Spice is the half Jerk (Jamaican) half nutmeg (Grenadian). Voila..
MSM: Running for you started at a fairly young age, correct? What was it that made you gravitate toward running? What was your event when you first started?
Danni: I ran in HS so I wouldn’t call that fairly young but young enough. I was a 800 runner but did indoor, outdoor and cross country. The latter being my favorite. You tend to dislike the track when you have longer races to run, especially during indoor season.
MSM: Was distance running something you always saw yourself doing early in your run journey?
Danni: EH… I guess I did because I said I wanted to run a marathon in HS. I used to volunteer at the NYC marathon with my teammates. Low and behold, here we are. You put things in the universe and they happen.
MSM: Covid for us pretty much stopped everything cold turkey and most of all road racing, yet you continue to remain one of the most consistent runners I have ever seen. How have you been able to be so consistent? I’m sure the question has been asked “why am I running all these miles?
Danni: My discipline has always been much greater than my desire to actually go out and run. Only in the past year did my desire increase ever so slightly. You think I like having my mornings disappear because I have an 18 mile run or whatever to do? (HA) besides, I know that I’ll always feel better when I do it. On top of that, I had put in way too much time and effort before covid came and screwed everything up for me to completely blow off all the work I did. So while I did dial back severely (mileage decreases and no more weights) I maintained my running so that I could “easily” pick back up training if by some magical circumstance races were back on sooner than we expected. Stay ready so you don’t gotta get ready.
MSM: What is it that keeps Dannielle going? Where does your inspiration come from? Where do you go to dig down and get these miles in?
Danni: The fact that I don’t care to embarrass myself come race day. The fact that I know what I need to do to get where I want to be. Because the weather is nice. Because I’m in a pissy mood. Because I may want to edge someone off the leaderboard on Strava or Nike Run Club. Because I have company to run with. The reasons vary but the first one is the main reason.
MSM: “Edge some one off the leaderboard on Nike and Strava”, so you’re also super competitive! Have there ever been times where you get to the last day of the month towards the end of the day to attack and overtake?
Danni: I don’t stress the ranks on Nike Run Club app or on the Strava Club leaderboard but if I’m frisky I’ll run at least .1 mile longer than you just to rank higher. I don’t do the end of the month savagery as I like to keep it consistent. My weekday runs are in the evening and weekend runs in the morning all based on my schedule. I won’t go out of my way to beat you.
MSM: For our readers give us some insight into your training. From what we’ve seen you follow a well rounded training cycle which usually leads to you doing your best on race day.
We actually discussed this in super detail, as you can see in the photo below which can essentially show how in depth the conversation went. We’re both runners, runners that are always looking to improve as much as possible . Danni possesses an abundance of knowledge, successful knowledge and you would be foolish not to listen. WE LISTENED!!!
Danni: I give myself a full 16 week cycle. Except for Chicago 2016 where I trained 6 weeks for that because I was on standby for that race. As I said before, stay ready so you don’t gotta get ready. The first 2 weeks hurt but I found my groove quickly. Anyway, 16 weeks with nothing less than 40 miles per week. This past cycle I peaked at 60 miles a week. My plan was to do that for a few weeks and work my way back down. I generally never ran many 20 milers in my cycles- I’ve adjusted that. I started cross training 3 years ago but specifically started weight training this past cycle. Smedium long runs, tempos, long runs, recovery runs, and cross training – they are all in my cycle. If you want more details feel free to scope my Strava lol.
MSM: With such strict training I’m sure this most certainly comes with respectable finish times. As you started to move into distance running, were the times always respectable or what is a process where you started and the numbers started to decrease? What was running like early on for Vexy Spice?
Danni: I’m naturally gifted. My first marathon was in Chicago 2013 with a time of 3:33:15 and I was bull shitting. It hurt then but I wasn’t doing nearly as much as I am now and my existing personal record is 3:05:46 in Chicago 2018. I got faster because I joined Roses and started incorporating more into my training. My running became far more structured with track and tempo workouts, effort based long runs as well as cross training. I also was running with people I actually liked and who challenged me. It makes you a better runner and person for the record.
MSM: You’re known and very well respected in our run community especially the NYC area, did you ever think you would be a person folks would gravitate to? Honestly you’re genuinely a favorite of many runners throughout the run community.
Danni: Not at all I wasn’t expecting or looking for it but it is what it is right? I mean the only thing I can be is my true authentic self and if you don’t like me, well, IDGAF to be quite honest. Lord knows there’s people I don’t like but they don’t matter (laughs). Thank you though as I remain flattered by that.
MSM: You’re very vocal when it comes to representation. If I remember correctly there was a comment you made a few years back during the Boston Marathon monsoon of 2018 when you were at the start line and mentioned the entire race was so white, in reference to representation. This is also the case throughout major races, what are some of your thoughts on representation in the run community?
Danni: It bothered me much more before I actually had fast Black women to run with. I’m at a solid two people, and both are teammates. It didn’t make me feel like I had to perform that much better but I also not finna drag my ass around either. I’m there at the start, in the front because I’m about this life. I’m with the shits and you can get this smoke. So that’s how I look at it now. I want people to recognize that Black people do run and we run far. Some of us run fast and I ain’t talking about the elites. It allows people to see the spectrum of abilities and things to aspire towards.
MSM: Not only is proper representation big in racing but socially you also are very vocal when it comes to our BLACK women. It is a must that you are all protected and represented especially with the world that we currently live in. BLACK WOMEN MATTER, your voices matter and to be frank you are all the reason this world goes round. What are some of the things you are doing to keep these conversations relevant?
Danni: These conversations are mostly held with my closest peoples. Personally, I don’t do much of the protesting/marching thing as I hate crowds. I donate to causes. I share information and perhaps that’s not doing enough but maybe that’s just how I, Dannielle see it. I know that me being out there ripping and running means so much more than I can ever know.
MSM: To touch back on your consistency, there also comes work ethic. For most of your marathons, specifically the world majors, you’ve made it in through qualifying times. Pre race how are you able to check in mentally as it seems like your laser focused at the start of a race?
Danni: Laser focused sounds so serious! I like to think I’m pretty laid back in my approach and I know it’s because I know I’ve prepared thoroughly and ready to race. I think the only time I’ve been concerned was my first Boston Marathon because the weather was janky and I asked Knox about it lol. That aside, show up, breathe easy, let go and let God. However, my game face is on because who is there too fuck around? NOT I SAID THE CAT! I show up, I show out and go the hell home.
MSM: Looking back 2019 was pretty major for you as you were able to knock out both Boston and Tokyo marathons, I’m pretty sure you’re going to say NYCM is the one that stands out in front of all as it’s the hometown BUT other than NYC which marathon stands out the most?
Danni: Boston 2019 mantra for me was “I’m here so I don’t get fined” I didn’t wanna run that shit. Me, Iman, Knox, and Erica ran that year. Blackity, Black, Black, Black! Which was the only reason I ran it. It was 6 weeks after Tokyo and I already can’t stand the city, save for like 4 people and clam chowder. Chicago is my favorite marathon. It’s my 2nd favorite city. So much love and vibes there.
MSM: As a runner I find myself being what I like to call an introverted runner BUT in the end we’re only as strong as the team we surround ourselves with. You are a proud member of Black Roses NYC run crew. How and when did you link up with the crew and how do you push each other to the max? From the outside looking in you all seem super competitive and are big on accountability but in the end what matters the most is you all care about each other’s well being.
Danni: I’d be remiss if I didn’t say the full name is Black Roses NYC. It’s just too damn long so I always say Roses. Who got time for all that? I met Knox at the after party of the Nike DC Women’s half in 2014. I know, Old AF. He invited me out to a session the following week. We ran 800s that day and I came out again like a month later to shake out before the Brooklyn Half. I joined the team in July 2014 and it’s been a black hole since (lol). Roses are willing to work and that’s our common ground. Solo or group efforts and we perform better because we push each other be it inspirations or petty aspirations to again pass you on the leaderboard lol. Yes, we are competitive but it’s not a matter of if I’m faster than you or if I’m better than you as much as it is I want to be better BECAUSE of you. Sometimes they make me itch (please don’t take that phrase literally) but I love them to death. I wouldn’t have gotten through so many of my life changing moments because of them.
MSM: Tell us about a few of your Roses team-mates, who are the ones that have made the largest impact on your run journey?
Danni: Damn. this feels like I gotta put my teammates on my top 8 list for Myspace. It’s hard to say because I’ve been on the team for 6 years and I am the oldest female member. During this time I’ve met so many different people who have impacted my journey, past and present roses. No one greater or more important than the other. Training partners, intimate moments, words of encouragement. They all matter. But I should really thank Knox because without him I wouldn’t be here and that’s a fact. I wouldn’t know half the people I do now. I wouldn’t be this fast. I wouldn’t have the level of pride that I do. He really took me under his wing when I joined and he always looks out for the kid. It’s not just about running. Personal shit matters too and subsequently affects how you run.
“That aside, show up, breathe easy, let go and let God. However, my game face is on because who is there too fuck around? NOT I SAID THE CAT! I show up, I show out and go the hell home”.
MSM: Pescado de Moctezuma (Moctezuma Fish) a relay race from the coast of Veracruz to the ancient city of Teotihuacan in Mexico seems like it was a pretty awesome experience culturally. For our readers take us through that experience and what made you participate in such a race.
Danni: The team needed an extra leg for the relay. Did I want to go to Mexico? YES. Did I want to run? NO. Did I feel like interrupting my good good training cycle for a race? No. BUT because I am a good teammate I pulled up and It was beautiful. Sketchy at night, but beautiful otherwise. The culture, the people and the food. We were running through places that you could only ever imagine running through. Archeological ruins, countryside with spectacular views. How could I forget the altitude as that was a doozy. The race itself was wild but it was a lot of fun and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to do it before things got shut down. It’s also funny you asked about it cuz I forgot that I went. It seems so long ago, mind you, I still got the big ass wooden fish plaque we got for coming in 2nd place lol.
MSM: Leggatronathon (pronounced Leg-a-tron-a-thon) a 26.2 mile journey through the Crenshaw district. Essentially this was also your virtual London marathon which honestly seemed like an afterthought as Leggatronathon took on so much more meaning. The route plan was awesome curated by fellow Roses founder Knox Robinson (not so awesome for you with the elevation lol) as you ran through the historic Crenshaw neighborhoods and districts. How did it feel running through those districts while also providing the vision of others (people like us) to see such a powerful image of a strong Black woman?
Danni: Knox is a habitual line stepper. I knew he was gonna do some shit but he REALLY outdid himself on that one (lol). He tried to break me. He almost did but I’m bigger than that and It was AMAZING. Can you imagine not seeing more than like 5 white people for a whole 26.2 miles? BRUHHHHHHHHHHHHH, Black people were giving me all the energy I needed to get through. It was so dope and so emotionally and spiritually fulfilling.
MSM: How did the whole idea come to fruition with putting together Leggatronathon?
Danni: Mari, my dear sweet Mari. We were out drinking as it’s what roses do and she was supposed to run London as well with me as we were also running for the same charity. She knew how hard I was training and felt I should take up the offer of the charity to run it virtually but we should make it a thing and do it in LA. Immediately after that conversation a group text was sent. London marathon in LA Oct 4 and yeah well-it happened. The squad formed like Voltron to make it happen. Four of our folks flew out, had some roses already in LA. Good Vibes family pulled up and they were my support. I was never alone at any point. I never asked for anything and I don’t think I could have asked for anything better than what they gave me. Well, I wanted a bottle of brut rose at the end but my heart is full.
MSM: Take us through some of your feelings at the finish, to be honest after watching the video (more than once) it was pretty amazing and so real, so much more meaning. This isn’t your normal 26.2.
Danni: DID YOU SEE THE ELEVATIONS?!?! HELL NO THAT AIN’T NORMAL. That was a symbolic 26.2. I was surprised I got through it because I needed Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the lamb. Then these fools went and surprised me with a medal for the day and got me in my feelings and had me ugly cry for like 2 minutes. I know that throws people off. It’s the second time I’ve cried post race (trash). I hate that I get sentimental with age lol.
For our readers if you’re curious the first was after the finish of Chicago Marathon 2016.
MSM: Speaking of Legganathon being your virtual for London, does this mean you’ve completed your 6 star? Will we still see Dannielle aka Vexy on the road?
Danni: No. It’s not official until I do it in London. I deferred until Spring 2022 for the record cuz the way covid is set up… yeah. You’ll still see me on the road. How often will I race? Who knows? Folks already know I don’t like racing so don’t expect me to be signing up for many things. And please don’t expect to see me blazing a 5k. Nah.
MSM: Totally off-topic I have to ask this question, one sneaker head to another because I think all sneaker geeks can recognize each other. Whats your sneaker favs? I’ll give you mine.
Mid Strikes creator picks
- AJ 10s Double Nickel, 13s Flints & AJ 6 infareds
- Air Max 95s Black/Red
- Right now Pegasus 37s
- Favorite Jays? 1, 11, 13
- Favorite Air Max? 1, 95
- Favorite Run sneaker? peg turbo (even tho they discontinued), alpha flys are cool
MSM: What’s next for Dannielle? For folks that are curious about getting a run in with you how can they catch you on the road. Also for runners curious about joining a cool run crew such as Black Roses NYC how can they find you guys/gals?
Danni: I lurk in the evening. Hit me up on IG only if you are really serious because what you not finna do is waste my time. At the moment The Roses crew aren’t really meeting like that right now but if you want to get in on our casual jaunts together, still hit me up. Per the chance we do some kind of training I’ll always be the point person.
MSM: Any last thoughts you’d like to share for our readers?
Danni: Thanks for the feature. Feel free to follow me on IG. Twitter if you frisky lol. But for real thank you. As long as these legs work imma be out there for you. God Bless.