If you've been to a marathon or triathlon, you've likely seen a lot of "purple people" passing by along the course, as well as the many loud supporters on the sidelines. Those purple people are from Team in Training (link), an organization begun back in the late 1980s to train for marathons and raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Since then the organization has grown, and now approximately 1 in every 30 marathoners in the United States is a member of Team in Training (TNT).
Inspired by my grandmother's death from lymphoma in 2005, I joined the Team in Training program last August, and successfully completed the Walt Disney World Marathon as a TNT participant this past January. Most participants have similar stories of friends or family who have been touched by leukemia or lymphoma. Each chapter has an honor patient who is a survivor or currently undergoing treatment. Meeting with your honor patient and talking with them about their experiences is a truly inspirational experience.
The best way to get a taste of what you're in for with the program is to attend an informational meeting. If you visit the TNT homepage, you can enter your Zip code and the Web site will bring up the information on your local chapter.
Once I committed to doing the program, I was given a binder that contained all of the information I would need, as well as a neat bag of swag that contained a Team in Training Nike DriFit shirt, a water bottle and a cling sticker for my car. The training section of the binder contains an 18-week training program that provides a breakdown of daily mileage, with an increasing amount of mileage up to race day. As a beginner distance runner, I found the program easy to follow, and it wasn't hard to fit the runs into my schedule. Runs during the weekdays were anywhere from 3 to 6 miles, with long runs on Saturdays.
If you choose to, you can run with your local Team in Training group for these long runs. Our group met at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Water was provided for the run, as well as gels and Power Bars. As they increased the distances during the training program, the staff also placed water out along the route at set intervals. There were typically post-run snacks like peanut butter-filled pretzels or cookies. What is provided by way of refreshments will vary, but at a minimum you won't have to worry about carrying water with you, which is a big plus when you start increasing the mileage.
One benefit of being in the Team in Training program is that because you are part of a larger organization, and not just your own chapter, if you go out of town a few weekends during your training period as I did, you can meet up with groups in other areas so you don't have to run alone while away from home.
In our group, there were people training for one of two events: the Walt Disney World Marathon and Half Marathon or the P.F. Chang's Marathon and Half Marathon in Phoenix, Arizona. Each chapter chooses which races they train for at different times of the year, so if you have a specific race you'd like to do you'll need to check and see if your chapter is participating. The Walt Disney World Marathon is a popular race for TNT, in part because the race itself is also a benefit for Team in Training, with part of the registration fees for all participants going to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
There are all levels of runners and walkers in TNT. Many of the participants are beginners, but there were also people in my group who have done multiple events. I trained for a run-walk, so I generally fell in between the faster runners and slower walkers. I found this frustrating at times because there were some training runs where I ran alone. In general though, the group runs are a great way to get to know your fellow participants. Chatting during the runs really makes the time pass a lot faster than you'd think. Levels of experience will vary with each group, and if you are frustrated with your pace you can always discuss it with your coach or mentor.
Each TNT participant is paired up with a mentor, who is there to answer questions and provide insight into the TNT experience. Each chapter also has coaches, who provide more focused technical support on training-related issues, such as injuries, nutrition and equipment.
Our chapter held several clinics over the course of the training season. A shoe-fitting clinic, held at a local Fleet Feet Sports, covered different types of shoes as well as analyzed our gaits in order to get shoes that work with our own biomechanics. Getting a new pair of properly fitted shoes is a key component of training in order to avoid injury.
We also had a clinic on nutrition, both during training and during the race. A sports nutritionist came and spoke to us about the dos and don'ts of eating for runners. It was also a very useful forum to ask those somewhat embarrassing questions about bodily functions during races, the ones that you think of but don't want to ask your friends. The coaches frequently emphasize taking in the proper amount of calories and fluids, which is an important lesson for beginners as well as experienced runners.
In addition to the training, Team in Training involves fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). The fundraising goal will depend on what race you do and what chapter you are representing; the goal for my race was $3,500. Part of the money raised goes toward your travel, as well as Team in Training administrative costs and your race registration fee. In order to ensure that at least 75 percent of the money raised goes toward LLS, participants have to recommit at around eight weeks into the program. At this point, you are making a financial commitment to raise the minimum amount of your goal, and if you do not raise that amount you will make up the difference.
I'll admit that I was very intimidated by the amount I needed to raise. I'm not a big party planner, so I didn't think there would be any way I could raise that amount. Team in Training makes it a lot less intimidating by providing a ton of support. The information binder contains all kinds of suggestions for ways to raise money. The primary way most people do this is by sending out a letter to friends and relatives. That's what I used for the majority of my fundraising. Team in Training provides mailing supplies, including outgoing and return envelopes and pledge cards. I had to supply my own postage.
You can also set up a personalized Web page that allows people to make their pledges online. You customize the page with text, and you can also upload an image as well. Even though my fundraising is over, you can still see my page (link). The online portal also allows you to track all of your offline donations. I found it to be a very useful tool and preferred to use the online forms instead of the paper forms provided in the information binder. You can send out e-mail to friends from the online site, a useful feature for people who primarily use e-mail to communicate, as well as a good way to save on postage. I also used e-mail to provide periodic updates on my training and fundraising progress.
You must mail any offline donations you receive to a processing center, which tracks all of the donations for TNT, and convert any cash donations to a check or money order before mailing, with all donations made out directly to LLS.
I contacted just about everyone I have ever known with my fundraising. You can't predict who will be moved to donate, whether in support of you or as a result of someone they know who has been affected by leukemia or lymphoma. In addition to the direct mailing, my major fundraiser was a wine tasting event. Some friends of my parents own a winery in Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York, and they donated a case of wine for the tasting. I asked for a suggested donation for those who attended, but many people gave more.
When deciding on your own fundraising event, it's important to consider any upfront costs. Ask businesses to donate products, or sell to you for a reduced fee. Where you work is also a great place to consider a fundraiser, but be sure to check on your companies fundraising policies. Many companies also do gift matching for donations made by their employees, so be sure to check on that too.
TNT handles all of the logistics associated with the race, which helped to take some of the burden off of my mind as a first-time participant. The staff submits your registration form, and the fees are covered by the amount of money you raise. They also arrange for the hotel accommodation and the flight. You can indicate your travel preferences to the chapter staff if you want to have a little more flexibility from the predetermined group travel schedule.
Our group flew down on Thursday and back on Monday. I wanted to spend a few extra days at Walt Disney World after the race, so my chapter staff booked my return flight for the Wednesday following the race, as I indicated on my travel form.
All participants stay in Walt Disney World resort hotels, but what specific resort will depend on your chapter. We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside, and there were several other TNT chapters there as well. Unless you pay an extra fee, you are given a roommate from your chapter. If you stay on extra days you are responsible for the costs of any hotel. I made my own hotel reservations through the Walt Disney Travel Company and switched resorts.
There are two official Team in Training events during the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend: the pre-race pasta dinner and the post-race celebration. Team in Training provides bus transportation from your resort to both events. The pre-race pasta dinner was on Friday to accommodate those who were doing the half marathon on Saturday. The buffet dinner was held in Epcot and there were several presentations, including a talk by John "The Penguin" Bingham. If you want other members of your family to attend, you can order extra tickets from your Team in Training chapter staff.
The morning of the race comes quickly, and very early. One drawback to being in a group is that you are not on your own schedule, and must often meet at times earlier than you would prefer. In our case, that was meeting at 3:30 a.m. for breakfast and a group photo so that we could be on one of the first Disney busses over to the start area at 4 a.m.
The Upstate New York and Vermont chapter poses for a picture early in the morning before the marathon. Stephanie Wien is in the front row, third from the right. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wien.
The race day outfit includes a purple Team in Training racing singlet or shirt that identifies your TNT chapter, and provides space to personalize. Most people write their name on the front and the names of their memorial or honor patients on the back.
Once the race begins, TNT participants from all over the country surround you, and it's fun to strike up conversations with them as well as other participants. The Walt Disney World course is full of spectators, and the TNT supporters are particularly vocal. It was a real boost to me all along the course as the supporters called me by name and cheered me on, telling me I was doing a great job. There's support for all marathoners, but there's also a particular bond among the TNT participants. You're never alone out there on the course, even if none of your chapter members are in sight. You can always get help from any of the other coaches or mentors if you have trouble.
After the race, Team in Training has its own tent in the finish area where you check in so that your chapter knows you are safely off the course. You can also pick up drinks and refreshments there. On the day of my race, the selection included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, orange slices and bottled water. You will also get a special TNT finisher's pin with the mileage of your race on it: 13.1 or 26.2. It was nice to have a central location to meet up with teammates and also get some much-needed post-race grub, but the weather was so hot I didn't hang out in the area very long.
The post-race celebration was held on Sunday night after the marathon at Coronado Springs Resort. It was a great way to unwind and stuff my face after running the marathon that morning. There was a DJ playing music, and after dinner many people (including myself) went out on the dance floor to work the kinks out of tired muscles. One unexpected bonus of the night was the appearance of Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Goofy, who all posed for pictures.
Stephanie Wien poses for a photo with Mickey and Minnie at the Team in Training post-race celebration. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wien.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Team in Training, and I even enjoyed running a marathon! The support of the TNT staff and spectators made the trip a whole lot of fun, and made my first marathon experience mostly painless (there's not much they can do for the post-marathon stiffness). I'm planning to do the Walt Disney World Marathon with Team in Training again in 2008, and I hope you will consider it too. You'll be in great company! It's a fantastic way to do something for yourself, while also giving back to others.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this column are my own, and do not represent those of Team in Training of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.