Run (or Bike, or Hike, or Walk) for a Cause
Back in January I decided that if I wanted to actually run a marathon in my fiftieth year, I would need accountability. For this reason, I joined the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team in Training (TNT) program. The LLS marries endurance sports with charity using the concept from elementary school participants finding sponsors in order to raise money for a cause.
In the case of the LLS, the cause involves research for blood cancers. You can find out more information on their website about the strides in blood cancer treatment and how they use the monies.
Fourteen years ago, Pedro benefitted from that research and development when he had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which went into remission and then quickly relapsed in a worse form (the lymphoma cells entered his central nervous system—we joke about his cancer going to his head).
The LLS assists the TNT members by providing local volunteer coaches and support in fundraising. ‘Local’ is a relative term, though. I live in a very small community and my local coach and the rest of my team members lived in Phoenix—a three-hour drive from home.
The Nitty Gritty of What Happens Next
When participants register, they can make different commitments—the larger commitments include a shared hotel room (with another TNT participant). Since Pedro wanted to go with me, I decided to pay for my own hotel room.
I spent perhaps ten hours working on fundraising, and through the generosity of friends and family I raised my commitment amount ($1,200) before the deadline (typically a week before the event takes place). TNT made it easy by providing a fundraising page online and mailing out letters for me (they provided the stamped envelopes, I wrote the letter and addressed the envelopes).
Training for the marathon took about five months—when I started, the longest distance I had run in the previous six months was about five miles. I used the Nike Run Club app on my phone as my primary trainer, and did most of my running on a treadmill until the weather warmed up.
I ran a half marathon in February as part of my training program (those long runs get a little boring). But by May, I felt the need for company during the long runs, so I drove down to Phoenix for two of the team trainings. I enjoyed meeting some of my other teammates and the coach—and the change of scenery made the run interesting.
When the really long training runs came along, I often questioned my sanity in choosing to run a marathon. After all, I don’t consider myself particularly athletic. I have enthusiasm about some activities, but I don’t have any athletic talent or coordination—I can’t walk upstairs and drink water at the same time.
When the training blues hit, I knew that I needed to power through because people had already donated money and I couldn’t back out.
TNT Race Weekend
When the weekend finally arrived, Pedro and I drove to San Diego (with a stop along the way for him to ride his favorite mountain bike trail in California).
After checking in to our hotel, I picked up my race packet and then we spent several hours visiting friends in the area. The LLS holds a gala the night before the race at the sponsoring hotel. Team Arizona sat together, and we enjoyed chatting about our training and race-day strategies during the meal. The event emcee introduced the top fundraisers for the race (one of them, a 94-year-old woman, had raised an incredible amount of money).
Several fundraisers and survivors shared their stories of why they raise money and run for the cause. Their inspirational stories dispelled any doubts I had about my sanity. Joining together with other people to raise money for a cause forms a community that allows each member to do more than they could do on their own.
The organizers invited the guests to show up at mile 8 for a free t-shirt and a chance to join the TNT cheering section. I thought it was a great way to include family members. They also provided cheer signs, cow bells and clappers.
Sunday morning the team met in the hotel lobby at an absurdly early hour (4:45), so that we could walk to the shuttle bus together and ride to the race start. The coaches warned us about the port-a-potty lines (get in line as soon as you get off the shuttle), and told us where to leave our race bags.
Racing for the Cause
In order to provide a safe and organized start, the San Diego Rock-n-Roll Marathon has staging areas for participants based on the participant’s expected finish time. DJs played music to keep everyone entertained during the wait, and a new wave of runners started about every two minutes.
It took me about 35 minutes from the official start of the race to actually cross the starting line. During that time, other TNT participants came by to say hello and encourage me—not that I knew any of them. But, since we all wore the same purple shirts with our local team names emblazoned on the back, we could easily spot TNT members.
Once we started running, TNT coaches could easily identify us as well, and at least three times along the course a coach joined me to chat and encourage me through a difficult stretch. As other TNT members passed me, they would shout an encouraging, “Go, Team!” Bystanders who knew about TNT would do the same.
When I finished the race, I checked in at the TNT booth to let them know I’d finished. Unfortunately, Pedro and I had to hurry back home. Otherwise, it would have been fun to hang out with my new friends.
Would I Do it again?
Yes! Ok, maybe I won’t go the full marathon distance again. But I could sign up for a TNT bike ride, half-marathon, or other endurance event—anyone want to do a triathlon? Just kidding (maybe). The combination of team support, accountability from donors, and camaraderie made my marathon experience worth the effort.
If I lived in a bigger city, I could have joined in some group fundraising projects as well. Team Arizona members hosted a luau and a silent auction, but I lived too far away to participate. The weekly coaching emails from the coach and the offers of fundraising assistance from the TNT office helped me a lot.
So, if you have thought about signing up to support a cause on your next (or first) endurance event, I would highly recommend that you give it a try.