My half-marathon helps find a cure for blood cancers
By Erin Crowell
A few months ago, I took a weekend girls trip to the Upper Peninsula. A couple hours after crossing the bridge, we were met by a fresh 33 inches of fallen snow in the Munising area. Snow piles that stood 10 feet tall, easily, acted as guarding pillars at the end of driveways. Our little red cabin sat nestled into its own snowdrift, and as the other girls unloaded their gear and cracked open a welcome home beer, I pulled on my running shoes and headed out for a frozen five-mile run.
Normally, I wouldnt be so open to starting a vacation with such physical torture. Who wants to voluntarily put themselves in the middle of nowhere, running down a slippery road with snowmobiles roaring by at an uncomfortably close distances? I would -- because I joined something that sends a little voice to the back of my mind whenever Id rather stay inside and oh, I dont know, crack open a beer.
That something is known as Team In Training (TNT): the ones at races wearing purple, with supporters waving signs on the sidelines and showing the biggest smiles when they reach the finish line. TNT is a national program geared toward the every day person who wishes to complete an endurance race, all while raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).
The Societys mission is simple: To find a cure for deadly blood cancers and provide support for patients and their families. So far, TNT has raised over $800 million for LLS. My contribution to that chunk will be $4,000 and my race will be the Rock n Roll Half Marathon in San Diego, California. Ive got until May 11 to raise the money and Ive got until May 31 to get my butt in shape, which will be the day of the race with a groggy 6:30 a.m. start time.
For those unfamiliar with race distances, a half marathon is 13.1 miles -- the farthest Ive ever run is eight miles, uncomfortably. Not that I dont enjoy running, but to do so requires commitment and discipline. The beauty of Team In Training is in the name: Youre not the only one busting your butt. Youve got an entire support system of teammates and coaches to help you along the way.
There are a handful of Team In Training chapters around the state of Michigan, with the closest being in Grand Rapids. Since traveling over 200 miles once or twice a week was out of the question, I became a member of the Virtual Team In Training Chapter (VTNT). The network is comprised of participants from all over the country, connected by their computers.
Lets say were having the usual sun-rain-snow freak weather pattern in Northern Michigan; Ive got five miles to run and I dont want to deal with the crappy weather. All I have to do and trust me, Ive done thisis go onto the VTNT communication site and bitch.
In return, I get sympathy from my teammates and a swift kick to just get outside and deal with it because someone else is in North Dakota dealing with a white-out.
This modern-day help has revolutionized not only communication, but the way people train. Today, there are running blogs and chat forums all over the Internet, providing a community of support and training advice.
The VTNT Chapter has Joe English, a marathon runner and the managing editor for Running Advice and News. Joe has mapped out a training schedule to help us in our running goals whether its to run a half marathon, a full marathon or finish with a better time. Twice a week, Joe sends out an email blast covering everything from hydration issues to injury prevention.
When those issues arise, Joe is just an email or phone call away.
Distance running is about pushing our physical limits, Joe says. Its about taking a journey to a place that is uncomfortable, painful and difficult and then emerging on the other side with a completely new sense of self.
Recently, Ive been having issues with my running pace; my stride is slower and my legs become weaker, sooner. I didnt feel like I was prepared enough to finish the longer run on the weekends my solution? To run more. I would simply add mileage during the week in hopes to unshock my body for the long run.
What youre suggesting goes something like this: I wasnt able to eat a whole pizza for lunch, so tomorrow Ill try to eat a whole pizza for breakfast in preparation for lunch; and then Ill try to eat another whole pizza for (dinner).
Okay, I see the logic.
Thanks to Joe, Im not going into my first half marathon blind with shin splints. Having a training schedule assures me Im doing enough while telling me not to overdo it.
A SEA OF PURPLE
Ive had the good fortune of chatting with another past Team In Training participant, living right here in Northern Michigan. Laura Jolly heard an interview on her husbands radio show (The Ron Jolly Show on WTCM-am). The TNT participant discussed her experience and it got Lauras attention. Shortly after, she attended an informational meeting and signed up for the Anchorage Marathon.
Training for the race, which took place in 1999, became a discovery process for Laura.
I learned a lot about myself and setting goals. If my goal was to complete a 26.2 mile run -- before nightfall -- I had to learn to take baby steps, Laura says. On the days when you dont feel like training or fundraising, remember someone with leukemia would love to be in your shoes.
Many people today are dealing with leukemia, along with other blood cancers. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has provided TNT participants with a slew of information, including some of the most disturbing Ive learned:
Leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children under the age of
20; More than 894,000 Americans are battling Leukemia, Lymphoma, Hodgkins Disease and myeloma every day; Every four minutes, someone new is diagnosed with blood cancer; and every 10 minutes, someone dies.
This information has driven me to a level of commitment I havent felt since my old high school track days. Each run feels more meaningful than the last. Like Laura says, when the training gets tough, all I have to do is think of someone who would trade my place in a heartbeat.
The race in San Diego is a particularly special race, hosting over 2,800 runners representing Team In Training -- A sea of purple, as TNT Southern Regional Director Julie Oplinger tells me.
Everyone there will have taken the same journey I have in the last several months. They will have felt the pain form the asphalt in their knees and the emotional drain in their heads.
I may have experienced some bumps in the road (literally) -- Some runs may hurt and the weather might suck, but you know what? There could be worse things in life. If me taking a little pain for 13 miles can help ease a lifetime of pain for someone else, well then
bring on the shin splints!