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Workout Wednesday: Team in Training

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One of the most difficult things about running--or any exercise regimen for that matter--is simply getting started. Joining a running group or club is a great way to ease into it, and so today and in future installments of Workout Wednesday, we will explore the many running groups in the area you can choose from. We'll start with Team in Training.

I joined Team in Training, or TNT, as it's often referred to, because like a lot of people, running a marathon was something I had on my life's "To-Do" list but had no idea how to go about doing so. It was going to stay on my list until I found a way of overcoming the intimidating idea of running 26.2 miles.

TNT is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's sports endurance training program, raising much needed funds for the organization as it prepares participants to complete a marathon or half marathon. It also has a cycling and triathlon program. Essentially, in exchange for training you for a race and providing a knowldedgeable coaching staff to oversee your training and progress, as well as arranging flight, hotel and race registrations, you will raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It has become a very popular model with other organizations such as the National AIDS Marathon Training Program offering similar programs.

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How It Works

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TNT offers quarterly programs--Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall--with each season geared towards specific races. Currently, TNT is recruiting for the Fall season and the Greater LA teams will be training for the Long Beach Marathon and the increasingly popular Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. The Nike Women's Marathon, despite the name, also accepts male runners. I was among a small minority of men who ran it in 2005. The race also directly benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and most of the runners participating are from Team in Training. By joining Team in Training, you are guaranteed a spot in the race, which routinely sells out.

The season lasts four to five months, so for the upcoming Fall season, training begins in May and goes through until the races occur in October. A typical team will have several coaches, including walk coaches for those who race walk. The team will also have assistant coaches, captains and mentors, all there to provide a supportive environment for participants. Practices are held at least once a week, usually on Saturday mornings, and that is when the long runs are held. You will start at 3 miles on your first training day then build up to at least 20 miles three or four weeks before your race. The build-up to 20, though, makes it less daunting than it seems. The coaching staff will provide you with a schedule for the rest of the week to follow. Some teams also offer additional practices during the week focusing on speed, hill, strength and/or cross training. Throughout the season, the Team will participate in 5K's, 10K's and half marathon races as preparation for the big race.

Where

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The Greater LA region has several teams and their training runs are held at various locations throughout.

-The Westside team holds practices in the Santa Monica/Venice Boardwalk
-The San Gabriel Valley team (my team, GO SGV!) runs at the Rose Bowl and the surrounding areas
-The San Fernando Valley team meets at Balboa Park and Porter Ranch
-The South Bay team runs primarily in Malaga Park in Palos Verdes.
-The Long Beach team meets at Appian Way/The Toledo or Bolsa Chica State Park.

They are hard to miss. Look for a large group of people congregated at 7AM on Saturday morning and a sea of purple and green shirts. We are often a loud and cheerful crowd, so be ready for lots of cheering and high-fives.

As for the training regimen, it's hard to get into specifics since different coaches have different philosophies. In the SGV team, we practice a run/walk technique where we run for a set number of minutes then take a one to two minute walk break. Believe me, it helps make running less daunting. It seems counterintuitive at first, but I swear by it now. I've run six marathons running/walking and have posted sub four hour race times.

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Costs

Apart from a registration fee of $100, you technically don't pay anything else out of your own pocket--that is if you make your fundraising minimum. The fundraising minimums vary from race to race. If you're running a marathon in Honolulu, the minimum might be around $5,400. The upcoming Fall events are nowhere near that high since they're fairly local. If you choose Long Beach for your event, the minimum you need to raise will be about $2,500, while the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco will have a minimum of about $3,200.

Why so high? The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is a nonprofit and so they aim for a ratio of 75% of money raised going towards programs and 25% towards costs. Your money raised covers the cost of your training, race registration, hotel accommodation, and airfare. The Society arranges all of this themselves when you join Team in Training.

Pros

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The biggest benefit of being a part of TNT is the great feeling you get for doing something for a good cause. Many of the participants have been affected by leukemia and blood cancers and so for them the cause is a personal one. Others, like me, have no personal connection, but have been moved by the stories of others. Like most good deeds, you get more out of it than you put in.

Like other running groups, TNT offers you a supportive group of runners and walkers who are there to help you get to the finish line. Admittedly, the first few practices I was wary of how cheerful and positive the other participants were. I'm not a grouch but I tend to be calm and reserved. I didn't think I could put up with such positivity. But I did and a little of their positive vibes seeped into me too. I've been a participant in four TNT seasons, which included serving as a mentor and assistant coach.

The team aspect also creates a sense of obligation for the lazy runner. How many people out there would normally get up at 5:30 on a Saturday morning to run in the bitter cold or the stifling heat? Most would probably set their alarm and then promptly turn it off. With a team waiting for you, though, it becomes a sense of duty to wake up on your day off. You may hate it at first, but then you realize that by 9AM you had just run 14 miles when most others are still asleep. Moreover, if you think running is boring, you won't think so when you spend miles and miles talking to other runners. Secrets spill out, jokes come flying, encouragements are uttered and before you know it you'll look at your watch and see that you've been running for two hours.

The coaching you will receive is also top notch. The whole program really does make the effort of running a marathon fun.

One last "pro" to the guys out there. TNT is crawling with women--gorgeous, active, down-to-earth women. The girl to guy ratio is probably 3 to 1. Take part in the Nike Women's Marathon and you'll be among 1,000 men in a sea of 14,000 athletic, beautiful, upstanding women. Write your phone number on your shirt and chat up the marathoners around you. TNT doesn't publicize this but it really is a hidden benefit.

Cons

"Con" might be a strong word, but I think it's worthwhile to point out the things people might have problems with.

For most people, the training won't be the most difficult aspect of TNT. It's the fundraising. It certainly was for me. But don't worry. There is plenty of help and you will find that your teammates are very willing to help you out either by coming up with fundraisers or participating in events you organize to raise money. Some people go into the fundraising thinking that it will be hard but wind up sailing past their fundraising minimums in the first two weeks. You can also check with your place of employment. Employee matching programs can make fundraising a lot easier. If your employer matches, all you have to do is raise $1,300 and you're set for Long Beach.

Still, there are others who will struggle but many ultimately reach the minimum. If it looks like fundraising will be a problem, there are deadlines by which you can drop out from the Team. However, if you don't drop out by the deadline, you will be held responsible for any amount you are short of the minimum. Remember, though, you have five months to raise money and you can continue to raise money two weeks after your event. The thing to remember is to be on top of your fundraising and not put it off to the last minute.

The other main problem people find is the time commitment. People who work on weekends have a hard time with the Saturday training runs and so feel out of the loop. Others can't find the time to squeeze in running on their own during the week and fall behind on their training. TNT is there to provide you with tools to successfully run a marathon, but it won't run it for you. You have to do it.

Further Information

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Website: www.teamintraining.org/los

Phone: 310.216.7600

South Bay: Heather Knauss, Campaign Manager (ph)310.846.4701 (e-mail)Heather.Knauss@lls.org

Westside: Ivanne Deneroff, Campaign Manager (ph)310.846.5172 (e-mail) Ivanne.Deneroff@lls.org

San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Valley:
Tim Stafford, Campaign Manager (ph)310.846.4731 (e-mail)Tim.Stafford@lls.org

Long Beach: Kristine Ann Reed, Campaign Manager (ph)310.342.5847 (e-mail)Kristine.Reed@lls.org

All photos by Raul Borja