Is Team in Training ruining marathons?

Photo courtesy of Larry Johnson

Here we go again with yet another article talking about how all us average marathoners are ruining the sport for the ‘real’ runners.  I was intrigued by this NPR article written by Asma Khalid, Marathons, Once Special, Are Now Crowded because it features an athlete, Rachel Couchenour, training for her first marathon with Team in Training:

After a sorority sister was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Couchenour decided to join the charity running group Team in Training. The organization raises money for leukemia and lymphoma research.

The article goes on to describe how Team in Training has had a hand in the growth of marathons:

“These training programs are the pipeline for this growth,” says Ryan Lamppa of the research group Running USA.

“They can take that new runner from unfit to finish a marathon in 3 to 6 months,” he says. “They opened up the sport to mainstream America.”

So far, so good. Team in Training is a great organization that takes people from zero to 26.2 miles and at the same time raises money to fight blood cancer. The article also talks about how more and more people are qualifying for the Boston Marathon as a result of these efforts, but it loses me when it gets to this comment about the dilution of the sport:

And while the folks who host the Boston Marathon are also happy that more people are running, they worry that as mainstream American joins the race, amateurs will dilute Boston’s prestige — especially if the fastest runners are locked out because they miss the sign-up.

The Boston Marathon requires athletes to run qualifying times which are no small feat to accomplish. If I wanted to qualify, I would have to run a qualifying event in 3 hours and 50 minutes. Given that it took me just over 7  hours to finish the last marathon I ran, I don’t think anyone in Boston has to worry about me ruining their race.

As I understand it, the article is saying that too many people are qualifying for this prestige event. In other words, groups like Team in Training are training their runners too well?  They make them such fast runners that they are taking up all the slots at the Boston Marathon? If you actually qualify for the event, how does that make you unworthy to share the route with other “real”  runners?

I understand that the Boston Marathon is a prestige event and I am in awe of the very few people I know who have qualified. And I am more than okay with events that have entry requirements. There are plenty of fun events for the athletes at my end of the spectrum. And to be sure the organizers of this event have a capacity problem on their hands and I don’t pretend to have all the answers to that, but can we at least agree that if you can meet the requirements to participate, that you should have just as much opportunity to be there as anyone else. If that is not acceptable, then change the requirements, but don’t blame the people who did what you asked.

The world would be a better place if more people said “Thank You!”

I have been struggling with my fund raising this season. Last year I blew my own goal out of the water without barely trying. I raised so much that I now have a full wardrobe of TNT branded attire – sweatshirt, fleece pullover, back-pack, and was even able to upgrade to the hotel option. This year, not so much…  I am stuck at about 60% of my much smaller goal and recently had to fork over a credit card number in case I can’t raise the rest. Ouch. I was pouting and feeling sorry for myself and wondering why it had to be so hard. I guess I kind of forgot that it’s not actually supposed to be easy. I have been having such a delightful time walking instead of running that I sort of assumed it would all be fun and games.  In my quest to bond with other walkers, I even posted a comment on a discussion board about being a non-traditional (er, uh, heavier) athlete. Much to my surprise, I got this in reply from a fellow named Steve:

*Just want to say a big THANK YOU to Lyda for her work with TNT. I’m a leukemia survivor and a failure at TNT fundraising. I think asking people for money is harder than doing the distance. Lyda you did both!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!*

I was blown away as I hadn’t said anything in my post about fund raising, but it was exactly the message I needed at that moment.  I asked Steve if he would be willing to share his story and below is his email to me in it’s entirety. Steve and I have never met, but his words have touched my heart and inspired me to raise the bar on my fund raising efforts.

If you have been meaning to donate, but just haven’t gotten around to it, or if you have been trying to decide if supporting a half-marathon walker is where you really want to ear mark your donation dollars this year, or if you just haven’t been moved to give, read Steve’s story below and please consider making a donation in his honor.  Maybe $52 dollars for the age he was when he was diagnosed, or $6 for the years since the diagnosis, or $35 for the years he’s been a pilot. Any amount is welcome and every bit counts. And if your budget simply doesn’t allow for a donation, your emotional support is every bit as important to me and for that I say “Thank  You!”

I was very touched and moved by your wanting me to be an honoree but I'm
just a guy who was lucky/blessed/gifted (from others hard work) to
survive a bad disease.

I went into the hospital on Valentines weekend in '05.  I had Acute
Myelogenous Leukemia and was told I would have to have a bone marrow
transplant. AML has a 20-25% 5 year survivor rate  (I didn't find this
out till much later.)  but most people get it an an older age, I was
52.  My first question to the doctor was "How long till I get my life
back"?  He said 6 months but it was more like 8.   Being in the hospital
for a total of 93 days over 4 stays sucked as I'm an outdoor kind of
guy.  I had been walking 800-900 miles a year for 10 years after
quitting running.  (Running is hard work and walking is just putting one
foot in front of the other.)  I have been a pilot for over 35 years, for
20 years in hang gliders and for the last 20 sailplanes
(gliders/airplanes without engines). And I did a lot of outdoor/field
work with my job.  (I'm a tech in earthquake research)

I received a tremendous amount of support from my wife and son, father
and siblings, the doctors and nurses, co-workers, friends and strangers
and one of the biggest was the wonderful cells from my sister. These are
the people that did the hard work I just stayed in the hospital and got
taken care of.  No way was I going to let them down.  I have been very
lucky through all this, I kept my job and was able to work part time as
my strength came back, my insurance paid the (huge) bill, my sisters
cells work perfectly ( I was off the anti-rejection drugs in a few
months with just the right touch of graft vs host).  I remember the day
during recovery I walked to the corner, it was a big deal!

In '08 I got the idea for doing a half marathon but as I was already
doing 8-10 mile walks I thought that a marathon would be more of a
challenge.  So after 8 weeks of training I did San Diego Rock and Roll
in 6:10.  You know how that feels.  I signed up for TNT for the next
year but didn't like asking people for money so I came up short of the
needed amount.  I paid my way and did the marathon in 5:38.   Last year
I did it for the LLS "Make Cures Happen" and was able to get a few
hundred in donations.  I'm better in giving money than raising it.  I
also broke 5:30 with a 5:24 finish.  For me the hard part of training
was 14-16 mile walks so I never let myself get out of condition.  In
2010 I did 51 walks of half marathon distance or better.  I always feel
so good after a long walk.  But after weekends of 18, 18, 20 and 20 mile
walks training for Carlsbad I hurt my foot (planner fachitis- misspelled
I'm sure).  It's slowly getting better and I should be able to do the La
Jolla half on the 17th.  Then training starts for real for SD R&R in
early June.

Maybe more of my story than you wanted.

I just wanted to thank you as I try to do with others from TNT when I
get a chance.  Your raising funds for LLS helps real people (like me).
The world would be a better place if more people said "Thank You!".  So
once again THANK YOU!


Reasons why walking a half marathon is better than running a whole marathon

Don’t get me wrong, running a marathon changed my life forever and not much else is going to compare to that, but I have to say I am finding quite a few benefits to walking a half marathon this time around…

  • Your body is not in physical pain – this is a novelty that continues to surprise me, even 2 months into my training. I can walk for an hour or two and although I might be tired, I don’t have to take an ice bath just to get from sitting to standing and back again.
  • You can have a glass of wine (or two…) the night before your long training day without, well, any negative consequences. And, hey, I’m all about a training program that lets me have a glass of wine on Friday after work!
  • You can talk and walk at the same time. I know, I know, theoretically that’s supposed to be true when running too, but no one ran as slow as I did and I was too fast for the walkers, so there wasn’t really anyone to talk to…
  • No Energy Gel. Let’s face it, that stuff is disgusting. I learned to accept and adapt to it as it allowed me to go 26.2 miles, but I can’t say enough how excited I am to be functioning on Cliff Bars instead of Cliff Energy Gel (which, btw, I liked far better than Gu, not that that is saying much).
  • You’re not totally wiped out 100% of the time. The long training days actually energize me instead of totally ruining my energy for the next 2 or 3 days or all week.

The one thing that hasn’t changed from last year to this year is the young people suffering from Leukemia and Lymphoma. I’m still about $650 from my fund-raising goal and need your help in the fight to eradicate blood cancers. Please consider a $50 donation – if only 13 people gave that amount, I would have it!

Make a donation here.


Meet Gil, and then make a donation

Last year when I did the full-on marathon with Team in Training, I did the event in honor of my friend, Nick.  Thinking about Nick’s journey to recovery helped keep my feet pounding the pavement far beyond when my brain had gotten tired of running and the rest of me wanted to go home. His story was an inspiration to me and I think knowing that he was alive and well was an element of that inspiration. As most of you know, this year I’m taking on a different challenge and trying to be a little more patient with myself as I walk a half marathon.

I considered not dedicating the training to anyone in particular, but my thoughts kept drifting back to my friend Gil. Unfortunately, Gil’s story does not have a happy ending – he died in 2008 from Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at the age of 41, leaving behind a wife and 6 year old son. I have often commented on the brutality of the way Leukemia afflicts such young people, and I guess this situation isn’t really any different. Is it not just as brutal for a young son to lose his father? Sadly, when Gil passed away, I had not been in touch with him in almost 8 years and I had no idea he was living just across the state in Spokane, let alone battling Leukemia.

I met Gil when we were both in college at the University of Kansas. He was a graduate student in the Department of Geography and I was an undergrad working in the department office, also studying Geography. In some random way, I don’t really remember now, he also wound up living in the same apartment building as me and my then boyfriend (soon to be first husband), Steve. I guess because our daily lives intersected so much at both school and home, we spent countless hours together with Gil and his girlfriend, Lisa, who was also a friend.  Gil was a night owl and would often call or show up at 10 or 11pm to see if we wanted to play Spades or Hearts, and I have many memories of long nights of playing cards and laughing until our faces ached.

You see, Gil was the oddest human being I have ever met. He enjoyed being outrageous to the point of being absurd. He told me once that he yelled out at some women in a car next to him, “I bet you don’t even sleep with the sheets on!”  No one knew what that was supposed to mean, not even Gil. He loved to make crazy movies that also did not make any sense. I happen to have a few on VHS (that sadly I can’t watch any more since I no longer have a VCR) and in one he runs around the campus sneaking up on people with a large piece sheepskin on his head and filming their reactions.  He was very hot headed and if he got mad during one of our card games, he would scream and yell and get red in the face, but a few nights later he would be knocking at our door again to play cards and as near as I can recall, we always played. He often accused me of having a ‘difficult’ sense of humor and would do things he thought were funny that I would often only find amusing. This would frustrate him to no end and he would get weirder and weirder trying to see if he could get me to actually laugh out loud.

After we all left college, we stayed in touch off and on over the years. I got married, then divorced, and spent many years of my career as a road warrior. There were countless times that I called Gil from some random hotel room and we would spend hours talking on the phone about nothing in particular. He would give me quizzes with questions like whether I thought it was funnier for someone to die by having their guts fall out or whether it was funnier for someone else to die by having guts fall on them. (Again, no one ever knew where he came up with this stuff or what it meant.) It was sometime during these years that I developed quite a crush on him. He was crazy, and handsome, as well as a very loyal friend. I saw him a few times when he lived in California and had high hopes for something more, but his feelings were always strictly platonic. I now admire his ability to maintain our friendship and still make it clear that he was never going to be interested in me in any other way, even if it frustrated me at the time.

We drifted apart and I met and married Brian. He lived in Japan and eventually married a Japanese woman, Keiko. He invited us to his wedding in Florida, which we attended (and I am now of the opinion that one should never pass up wedding invitations – it’s not the first time I have rekindled a friendship over a wedding invitation). In May of 2000 Brian and I planned a trip to China to visit my father and stepmother and decided to stop in Tokyo and visit Gil and Keiko. We did a few touristy type things, but my fondest memory of that trip was playing Hearts and laughing way into the night. That was the last time I saw Gil. We may have traded an email or two after that, but Gil wasn’t much of one for email and Japan was simply too far away for hours-long phone calls. Life moved on and we went our separate ways, although I always expected we would reconnect again as we had so many other times over the years. I had no idea he had started a family, no idea he had moved back to the US, and I certainly had no idea that he battled Leukemia for years, including some rather intense treatment sessions. Instead I learned of his death from his old girlfriend Lisa, who when we spoke simply said the world just didn’t seem quite right without Gil in it and she could not have said truer words.

So, my friends, cherish your friendships – reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in awhile (because you don’t always get second chances) and please make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on my behalf, so that 6 year olds don’t  have to lose their dad, wives don’t have to lose their husband, and friends don’t have to lose each other.

Walk on, Lyda