Monday, January 30, 2012

Team in Training Fundraising Does Not Scam

One of the many claims I've seen about TNT being a scam is that the fundraising scams people: that most of the money goes to the trip and LLS overhead, and that the runners don't follow-through. Here are some things I've read out on the World Wide Web. "These operations are a scam - 30 to 40% of the money raised go to the parasites running the charities." "It's a fraud if they don't do the race after raising the money - they should give it back." "Runners should solicit donations for an organization that has less than 10% overhead and do the race through a running club." "If TNT were a charity, their 'runners' would pay for their own travel."

How much of this is true or relevant? Fundraising is a big and an important enough topic that I will devote several posts to on my blog, starting with this one.

Let's start with the first statement above - that 30-40% of the money we raise goes to the organization's leaders. That is patently false - click here for the Charity Navigator Summary for LLS. Charity Navigator gives LLS a score of three stars out of four. Yes, four would be better, and if I were LLS's leadership, I'd be working to see how I could get the top mark. But three stars is good, and donors can feel assured that their money is going towards the mission in an acceptable fashion. Eight percent of LLS's revenues - not 30-40% - goes to administration. 17.6% of the revenue goes towards fundraising. For Team in Training, that would include travel expenses for runners and the tiny numbers of supporting staff that go to the event. If the event is a local race, the travel expenses are minimal. If the event is a destination event - San Diego Marathon for anyone but Southern California runners, Dublin, Chicago, New York, and so forth, then the expenses are greater. There can be airfare involved unless the participant chooses the "no airfare" option, and there is an extra night in a hotel. The amount of money raised is correspondingly greater for trips involving more travel. Typically, we might have to raise $1,500 for a local event and $3,400 - $5,000 for a far away event. And yes, some of the money raised does fund a significant part of the participants travel. All non-profits have fundraising and administrative overhead, and LLS is no exception. From what I have seen, 23.6% of revenue towards administrative and fundraising costs is not exorbitant. The comment about runners soliciting money for organizations with less than 10% overhead makes no sense - how many such organizations are there? Unless they have a huge endowment to cover these expenses, all charitable organizations will have to spend a portion of their revenues on administration and to raise more money.

I've seen comments about TNT participants getting all expense paid trips and staying in "very fancy resorts," all on the donor's dime. So what do we get on a trip? Well, it is not all expenses paid. For any event, LLS pays our entry fee. For a local event in the same city, that would be it. For an event in a nearby city - within a five to six hour drive from what I have seen - participants drive there at their expense, but they get two nights in a hotel (sharing a room or paying for half of the room if they want a private room) and two group dinners. For a far away event, we would still get the two dinners, but would recieve an extra night in the hotel in the shared room, and also airfare if we choose. Since the airfare is the largest single expense, you can opt out of reimbursement for it and then have to raise a lot less money, which some folks do. The hotels I've stayed in are usually very nice, but I've not stayed in fancy resorts. That may happen at times - but I cannot say one way or the other, because I've never seen it. I have to assume that if TNT ever stays in fancy resorts, it is the exception rather than the rule based on my five trips. Oh, triathletes and cyclists will get their bikes transported round-trip if the event is far away, but transport them themselves if it is within driving distance.

So yes, donations do cover those travel expenses - which are a part of the fundraising costs which amount to just over 17% of LLS's total revenues. So let's say you don't donate to TNT, but write a check for $100 in response to a mail or phone solicitaion for a typical charity. Well, a portion - probably about $25 - of that pays the administration of the charity and the company contracted to do the mailings or make the phone calls. With Team in Training some of donations covers the expense of the participant's running trip, but at least they had to work their butt off to get that far.

I don't agree that if the participant drops out and does not do the race, the donors should get their money back. That money was donated to a good cause, not to there person doing the race. However, I do believe that anyone soliciting donations by saying they will do a marathon should make a good faith effort to do all that they can to follow through with the race.

In my next post, I'll discuss fundraising for local versus destination events. Should runners for Team in Training and other charities only do local events to minimize the amount of donations that go to send them to the race? Or is it possible that LLS gets more money for its mission when people choose a far away and adventuresome "destination event?"

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nine (Plus Two)

It's been a pretty good training week, capped off by nine miles (or maybe eleven) yesterday. I got some running in four days this week, plus walking most days at lunch of anywhere from two to nearly four miles.

Tuesday, I got together with my running pal, Lelia, after work. We probably got in about five miles together - most of it walking, but with some running. It was great to see her, and catch up on things in our lives after a break of several months. We will try to make that a regular Tuesday after work deal.

Wednesday, I only had time for two miles, but I upped my run interval by 10 seconds, and took 10 seconds off my walk interval. They are now at 1:55 and 1:20 respectively.

Thursday, I got in four miles after work (plus nearly four walking at lunch). I'd hoped to five+ at night, but a portion of my route was on trails, and it just got too dark. Even my first lap was dark enough that I could not see where on the sometimes rough trail my feet were. So four miles, using my new intervals, had to do.

Which brings me to yesterday's training. I planned on adding a mile to last weekend's eight miles, and joined up with Team in Training. They had routes for eight, 11 and 14 miles, so I picked eight. I ran with Sheri, who is the Executive Director of the Virginia LLS Chapter. She is an eight year cancer survivor, and we chatted about our experiences and life in general as we ran. She is actually fundraising for TNT this spring, and will run the Shamrock Half Marathon - same as me. She is a stronger runner. I decided to ignore my intervals and just try to keep up. After two miles of running, my legs were shot, so I went to mixing in walking. Sheri would walk when I did, and run when I would be ready for more of that. I would guess we ran about six of the eight miles. Back at the lake, we said goodbye, and I added two laps around the lake using my new intervals to get to the nine mile point. Then, I started stretching.

It was at that point that I realized that my running gloves were gone. I had dropped them somewhere along our eight mile route. I was pretty sure that it was in the last mile, because I had gotten chilled and decided to put my jacket back on. My gloves had been hooked over my water belt, which I removed to get to my jacket. I surely dropped them at that point. I decided to trace my steps at a walk, and I did - back up Boulevard, down Idlewild, up Sheppard to Grove. There was not a sign of them. Realizing that I could have lost them further back, I gave up at that point, and walked the mile back to my car. I had just added nearly two miles of walking to my day, giving me about 11 miles on my feet. I have another pair of gloves to us (or lose), but I really liked the ones had had just lost. They were "glittens" - gloves that converted to mittens on a really cold day. Ah well - hopefully someone who needs a pair of gloves finds them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cold Weather Running

I'll take a little break from my discussions about why Team in Training is not a scam to talk about training. The Shamrock Half Marathon is just eight weeks from today, and I need to step it up a bit. I have been doing some running this week, but no more than 2-4 miles at a time. Thursday, I only did a mile, but it was speed drills in which I ran treadmill intervals as a pace of seven minute miles - a very fast pace for me.

I considered going out with TNT yesterday, but there was some freezing rain and since I am not on the team, I would not get a cancellation email or call. So while they probably ran Saturday morning, I didn't want to drive all the way to Byrd Park and find that no one else was there. So I took it easy yesterday, which was not difficult, since there was a cold and steady rain much of the day. Yeah, I wimped out.

Today, although it was still cold and drizzly, I decided that I had to get in some running. I don't really like running in the cold, although compared with up north, it is not so cold here. I tend to get soaked with sweat from my body while my hands, ears, nose, and face get cold. My nose runs like crazy. But today, I decided that I would train a minimum of five miles and a maximum of eight. As things turned out, I covered eight miles, running about 65% of it and walking about 35%. I am no speedster, but I feel like at least my run interval is improving and I stuck with it almost every time today - not cheating on my run intervals and lapsing to more walking as I have done several times recently. After doing hardly any running for the last 18 months, I still have a long way to go. Eight miles (twice now) is my longest distance, and that is a long way to go from a half marathon. I would like to start increasing my run interval by about 5-10 seconds a week, and starting adding about a mile a week to get up to 12 or 13 miles over the next six weeks. That would give me one week or possibly two to reduce mileage for a given week, and then it would give me a two week taper. My thinking is that if I do 12 or 13 miles two weeks before the race, I'd cut back to about six or seven the weekend before.

Right now, I am not on pace for a PR. It might be doable, but I will have to remain injury free and train consistently to have any hope of that. But my plantar fasciitis pain is 90 to 95% better, and I am coming up on 10 years of surviving Hodgkin's lymphoma. So PR or not, just to do this race works for me.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Do TNT Participants Even Care About Doing Their Race?

A lot of comments out on running blogs state that TNT participants are not dedicated to doing their races. According to these folks, in the events, the purple people usually just coast and cut the course or even just take a bus near the end. Most of them, so the tale goes, don't have the physical conditioning or grit to do what they told people they would do when they asked for donations to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This is all part of this ridiculous myth that Team in Training is a scam.

In one such post, labeled "Team in Training Does it Again!" the author stated that his wife was in the 2007 San Diego Marathon and saw a bus pull up at mile 22 or 23, and at least 20 TNT folks got out to finish the last few miles to get their medals. This started a whole diatribe from all kinds of other people about what a scam TNT is. How lazy we are. Calling participants fat asses and "tubbies." One guy said that the "majority don't even do 26.2, just collect the pledge money and allow corporate suits to drive Lexus's." Others said if we do do the race, we cut the course.

So is this true? Do the majority of us, or even many of us, do the absolute minimum? Do we take a bus to the end? Do any of us do this? While I am willing to believe this happens, I think it is very rare. I have never seen it - ever. In fact, I have seen the opposite, and not just with TNT. Anyone doing a marathon, century ride, or triathlon - wearing purple or not - has a lot of grit and determination.

Let's talk about the bus in the 2007 San Diego Marathon. If the guy's wife says she saw this, then I am willing to believe she did. After doing some checking, things like this are entirely up to the race management, not TNT, which has no involvement in it. Some races will pick up the stragglers who don't reach a certain point in time and shuttle them off the course. Others might give them a ride to a few miles from the finish line. Each race will use its own discretion about it, and it might even change from year to year. I did this same event one year earlier, in 2006. Our coaches stressed to us during our training about the cut off points that we had to hit, or we would be taken off the course by a sweep van. If we had passed the 13.1 mile point by the cutoff but couldn't finish, we would be given a half marathon medal. In the Arizona Marathon, there was a race course volunteer carrying a balloon. She told us that anyone behind her by a certain mile point would be removed from the course.

The TNT runners and walkers I have known and seen are very dedicated to completing their event. I saw a woman in the Anchorage Marathon who somehow finished despite blowing out a knee. We had to carry her on to bus at the end to go back to the hotel. One of my mentees in 2007 doing the Anchorage Marathon refused to switch to the half even though she had needed surgery and had barely been able to train for the last two month. She was young and strong, and knew that she would somehow finish it, and she did. That same year, another of my mentees walked the San Diego Marathon - the one with the bus incident. She was 62, and 9 months past abdominal cancer. She walked the whole thing and was very proud to finish.

What about cutting the course? I've been in two events - San Diego in 2006 and Nashville in 2009 - where a certain part of the course would have made it simple to cut the course and save miles. I have never seen any participant do this - never! Our coaches do, all the time, but they are not official participants. They have no race bib, no timing chip, and get no medals. Their job is to cover the race course, back and forth, making sure people are doing alright and helping anyone who needs assistance. A typical TNT coach will cover 30-32 miles on race day, and they do cut the courses to get between participants faster and more efficiently. Maybe people see them in their purple shirts and assume that they are cheating?

Speaking for myself, I have always considered doing all I can to finish the event a solemn pact between myself and the people that donated through me. They are doing the heavy lifting and the important task - giving money freely to support the mission of LLS - and in return, I've agreed to do a foot race. I believe that most participants - the vast majority actually - feel the same way and take the race very seriously, and are proud to achieve finishing a long distance event. Speaking for myself, if I were in a race and got injured and was bussed near the end so I could still finish, I would not cross the finish line. I want to do the whole thing under my own power.

So are we of Team in Training slackers who do the minimum, coast on race day, cut the course, and lallygag along so we can catch the bus? I say absolutely not in 99.9% of the cases. If someone out there is going to judge us all by the actions of the other 0.1%, then there is not anything I can do about that. But I will continue to do my best to dispel that myth by doing the right thing on race day.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Do TNT Participants Care About the Mission?

I've seen some claims that TNT participants don't care about the mission but are just trying to get a free trip. For example, there was this: "People sign up for groups like TNT because they think it looks cool, and they don't actually give a flip about the cause." Or this: they "do the absolute minimum to get by and then take an all expense paid trip paid for by charitable contributions."

Like anything else, there are no absolutes. Somewhere, is there someone doing TNT who has no interest at all in the mission? Somewhere, is there someone doing TNT who coasts while just taking a trip? Is there one such person out of the 40,000 or so who do Team in Training? I'm sure there is. My point is, they are the exception not the rule.

People doing TNT tend to have some interest or connection to the mission. They might be a survivor themselves - that is what got me interested. Or they might have a friend or family member who is a survivor or even died from a blood cancer. Or they might just have a casual interest in raising money for a good cause, even if there is not a direct connection. The latter group usually gets additional interest in the mission during the process of doing TNT, but even this group came in with some interest. I think the most passionate TNTer I have ever met, Coach Chuck, would have been in this last group. Once they learn more about the mission and what these awful cancers do to people, they get very interested.

Now, about doing the absolute minimum to get by, for an all expense paid trip - well, first, it is not all expenses paid. Significant but not all by a long shot. I'll be discussing this aspect of TNT in detail later. I've seen people put an incredible amount of effort into TNT. Frankly, if you are going to raise $2,000 - $5,000 and train for a marathon, half-marathon, century ride, or triathlon it is a lot of work. A lot of folks bust their butt in the process. I've seen people do it with a moderate amount of effort. I have never seen anyone do the minimum to get by who completes the program or comes close. Anyone like that is going to end up dropping out after a month or two. You cannot do TNT successfully and complete it with a minimum effort - you just can't.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Does TNT Fill Up Races Months Ahead of Time?

Wow, where do people come up with this stuff? I mean, seriously, where do they get these ideas and then talk about them as if they are the truth, getting others to buy in? So, out on a running board was this comment: "TNT people are what probably forced the Chicago Marathon to fill - screwing people who didn't enter in time so these fat asses get bussed to the 20 mile mark." And this comment: "They end up selling out races five months in advance even though many are unfit and can't complete training and many drop out cause they can't hit fundraising targets." I not only call BS on this one: I call double BS!

There is one event - the Nike Women's Marathon and Half-Marathon in San Francisco - that Team in Training might limit other racers in. This race is a major fundraiser for TNT, and last year, about 18% of the finishers were in the purple. But selling out the Chicago Marathon? Really??? That race does sell out, and it allows 40,000 entrants. In 2011, 426 of these participants were with Team in Training, raising $900,000 for blood cancer research and patient support and advocacy. There is simply no way that slots reserved for TNT sold this race, or others with the possible exception of Nike, out. Big races are popular and you have to enter early. That is just the way it is. Even the Boston Marathon, with its strict time requirements, has more qualified people wanting to run it than it has spots for.

Here's another one: the Shamrock Marathon and Half Marathon. The half sold out several weeks ago. I signed up a couple of weeks before. Yeah, I would rather have not put that $100 on my credit card just before Christmas, but it was either that or not run it. Everyone knows that this race fills up early. There are a total of 150 TNT people in these two races, which allow 7,000 for the half-marathon and 4,000 for the marathon. Most of the 150 TNTers are in the half marathon. So is someone who waited until January to sign up and got frozen out going to blame one of the 120 or so purple people from freezing him or her out of a race with 7,000 spots? If so, then they are just not talking sense.

Now, to the comment TNT folks taking away slots and then not completing training or dropping out for fundraising reasons, this is just not true. About 12 weeks before our race, we either drop or recommit. Until that time, LLS has not registered us for the race and we have not taken a slot. Once you recommit, you are going, even if you fill the minimum fundraising yourself. Even if you get injured after that point, you will still go, and yes, you would take a race spot as of that point. I have rarely seen it happen that somone is hurt too badly to not do the race. If you get an injury once you've signed up, you will take care of it and do everything you can to still do the race, even if you have to slow down. Someone who cannot complete the training will usually realize it before the recommitment point and drop well before they take up a race entry. I'll be discussing fundraising minimums and recommittment in a later post.

Well, so ends my latest post refuting these ridiculous claims that Team in Training is some kind of scam. No, 464 TNT runners and walkers didn't force the 40,000 slot Chicago marathon to fill up and screw all the "more deserving" runners who had not entered in time. Races are getting popular, and most races do a pretty good job of letting you know when they fill. If you don't enter in time - don't blame Team in Training as a convenient scapegoat.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Discussing Cults and TNT

In some of the message boards claiming what a scam TNT is (which I am refuting), there are sometimes comments about us being a cult. I already wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece about TNT as a cult, but wanted to come back to this in a more serious vein.

Here is one comment I read that kind of suggests the writer's view of us as a rude cult: "During races if you pass a TNT cheer squad and you are not in purple, you will not be cheered - just silence." And here is another: "I can't tell you how many times I've seen some purple clad a__hole cut in front of others in expos saying 'she is running for charity, the rest are just running for themselves.'" Other people simply write: 'It's a cult!"

Here is the best definition of cult to this situation: "A group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc." Switch the word veneration to dedication or interest and that might describe it, but that changes the definition to something other than a cult. I don't consider us a cult any more than I do the Hash House Harriers (a drinking group with a running problem), the local Saturday morning marathon team, or the ladies sewing circle.

I am no sociologist, but it seems like from our earliest days, we have wanted to form groups. It is part of our nature. We are a social animal. You cannot have social bonds with one million other people. So we join groups with common interests. We form teams. We root for a certain sports team together. We join clubs. We have a circle of friends, and some have a larger circle of Facebook Friends. We go out and find Meetup groups that we are interested in. This happens all of the time. It is not peculiar to Team in Training, although some of the same ideas are at work. Join together for a cause that is bigger than you - to cure blood cancers. Run and have fun while doing a good thing. Get in better shape, make new friends. I don't see that as cultish - I see it as normal human behavior: to join up with people with the same interests.

I do want to address the two specific comments about the rude behavior. Regarding the cheer teams, I don't doubt that has happened sometime. I have not seen it. I have voluneered three or four times for cheer squads for TNT, and in every case, our written instructions tell us to cheer for everyone, not just TNT runners or cyclists. I joined several teammates after we ran the Country Music Half Marathon in 2009 to cheer the marathoners for several hours, and we cheered and encouraged every single runner and walker who passed by. And two years ago, I joined several friends to cheer the Shamrockers. Yeah, we went there specifically to cheer for our TNT comrades and would not have been there were it not for them, but once we got there, we cheered everyone who passed by. Did we cheer a little louder if we saw someone we know? Sure? Wouldn't you? But we cheered for the whole field.

Regarding the comment about the rude and dismissive line-cutters at the Expo, I have never once seen that, let alone multiple times. I see people who are happy, cheerful, and excited, but never rude like that or putting others down by pretending to be better. I just haven't seen it, not from a Team in Training person or from anyone else. I can't say it didn't happen, but I also can't see how it is common like the person that made the comment suggests.

So, is Team in Training a cult? If you think so, then so is every other group or club. Everyone wants to belong to something, and most people - especially as they get older - want to accomplish something good. With Team in Training, you can do both at the same time. It is not a cult, but it does strike that very human need.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Do Slow Runners Have the Right to Do a Marathon?

In the course of reading disparaging, and in my view, false, comments about Team in Training being a scam, I found plenty of negative comments about slow runners. For the most part, these were directed towards Team in Training participants specifically, as well as some about slow runners in general. Themes included: slow runners and walkers get in the way of real runners, they cheapen the experience for real runners, they are tubby, they gum up the works for everyone else, any one who takes five, six, seven, or even eight hours to complete a marathon does not deserve the medal... Need I go on?

Well despite my claim that I will set a world record marathon some day, I am one of those terrible and unworthy slow runners. Even more egregious, I do a good bit of walking along the way. So I feel obligated to make some comments about people's intolerance and superiority complex, which I feel is held by a relatively small set of runners - but too many of them, judging from all the runners' board comments.

Let me start with the obvious. Unless you can turn in a 2:30 marathon, or maybe 2:45 if you are female, I don't think you have the right to criticize someone else for being slow. Slowness is relative. I have a great admiration for people who can complete a marathon in three or four hours, but not if they dump all over others who cannot. Then I just think of them as being conceited and arrogant. Sure, I wouldn't be able to keep up with them in a run, but I wouldn't want to run with them anyway.

I particularly love the many comments about all the slow runners and TNT runners clogging the race course and ruining the experience for the real runners. We all get assigned a corral based on our likely finishing time. The faster you are, the closer to the front of the start of the race you are. Hey, fast runner, why did you decide to run in the rearward corrals with all of us slow runners who clog the race? That wasn't so bright, was it? Or maybe this is it - maybe all of us slow runners run our ass off until we can get in front of you, then we slow down to clog up the race course and make your life miserable. Come on, man!!!! We slow runners clog the race for you? Really???

Now as far as calling people tubby and criticizing them for being out in a race, unless your body mass index is 22, what gives you the right to call someone else tubby? First of all, a person's weight is their business. Second, in some ways, they have more guts and grit than the 3 hour lean marathoner. Try carrying an extra 40 pounds and not only running a long race, but going non-stop for seven or eight hours. I wouldn't want to do that. I also resent the many implications I saw talking about the "TNT tubbies," as if most Team in Training people are fat, lazy slobs who didn't care about their fitness level or the race. It's ridiculous.

Races can always weed out slower runners by setting a time limit. So, suppose a big city put on a marathon with a 3.5 hour time limit? It sure wouldn't be a big field, would it, maybe a few thousand people. How much do you think the fee would be? How many spectators would be out there cheering for you? Do you think that the thousands of spectators that line a typical marathon course came out just to see you? If so, you are well beyond being conceited. Hell no, they come out to cheer their daughter, their husband, their Aunt Martha, their dad, their wife. Along the way, they cheer for others, including you. So be glad that their slow Uncle Willie is huffing and puffing along five miles behind you, because otherwise there would be hardly anyone there cheering for you.

People participate in marathons for all kinds of reasons. For a very elite few, it is to win first place. Compared to them, all of the rest of us are slow. So for the rest of us, the slowest runners and walkers included, we are not going to win the race. But within ourselves and what we are capable of, we are going to achieve a victory all the same. If it makes you feel more secure to criticize those who are slower than you and consider them as unworthy to be in the race, go ahead. We'll be too far behind you to hear you, and all we care about is finishing the race and crossing that finish line within our own capabilities. Maybe we will even set a personal record. Yeah, it might be slower than the best you can do, but that is why it is called a "PR."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Discussing Race Etiquette

Okay, let's talk some racing etiquette points! In my last post, I tried to refute the claims I've seen that we supposedly rude and slow Team in Training runners (or TNT Tubbies as I saw us referred to all too often in running bulletin boards) were just ruining the race experience for real runners. I refute this, but have to agree that all runners - fast and slow, TNT and non-TNT - need to be aware of their behavior and etiquette on the marathon course.

I've been in five long distance races and about eight 10Ks - so I have some experience but not a ton. Even so, I've seen some of the things people complain about - too many runners and walkers abreast, people stopping on the course, people weaving in and out, runners carelessly tossing a half full cup of Gator Aide behind them without looking. I have seen Team in Training people do some of these things, and I have seen plenty of others not wearing the purple doing them. In my experience, a minority of runners use poor etiquette, but it does happen. To blame it all or even most of it on Team in Training is ridiculous, though.

So, here are my thoughts on proper race etiquette. For the record, I switch between running and walking, so am continually passing people and being passed - often the same ones again and again. I also usually carry a camera and take lots of photos. If you are a TNT participant or are running for any charity, it is especially important to use good judgement and race behavior, since apparently a lot of folks are judging us by the actions of a few.

1. Don't run more than 2 or three abreast, and if you even have that many, keep off to the side.
2. If you have to stop for whatever reason, move off the course.
3. Start in a corral that matches your realistic time of finishing the race. I am slow, but I routinely pass people in races that started eight or ten corrals ahead of me.
4. Be considerate at water stops. No one needs a cup full of sports drink or water tossed on them.
5. If the race course is crowded and you are running with others, leave a little space between you so faster runners can pass between.
6. If someone is struggling or needs help, take a second to see if they are OK and offer them some encouragement. Unless you are trying to qualify for Boston, a few seconds isn't going to cost you anything.

Now as a Team in Training participant five times, I guarantee you that our coaches emphasize all of these things - over and over. And I believe this is not unique to just our Virginia TNT coaches. So I am not buying that most TNTers are inconsiderate jerks as some of the people posting in the running bulletin boards seem to think - in fact, I've seen very few who are jerks. Let's just all be aware of others out on the race course. Frankly, any race with 30,000 or 40,000 participants is going to have a few bad apples, and will also by its nature have some congestion. So it is even more important to use good etiquette in really crowded races.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Does TNT Ruin the Race Experience for Everyone Else?

As part of my series of posts refuting that Team in Training is a scam, I just have to discuss the charges I saw a number of times on running and triathlon blogs saying that TNT essentially ruins everyone else's experience. While I am calling BS on this one, I do agree that every runner and triathlete - whether wearing a purple singlet or not - should be aware of race etiquette and practice good sportsmanship.

Here are a few of the comments that I read, paraphrased to some extent: "I'm sick of dealing with throngs of TNTers every time I try to do a major race." "Inexperienced runners get in the way and gum up the works." "Charity runners attempt to equate themselves with much better runners. It is deceitful, disingenuous, and hurts the sport." "They are not courteous on the race course. They and their coaches tend to think that everyone in purple are the only ones who matter. They cut people off and stop in front of you." "No one likes TNT when five purple shirts are lined up across the entire road." I also saw a number of negative comments about slow runners, and very disparaging remarks about TNT "Tubbies."

Wow, where to start? Well, how about the comment about being sick of throngs of TNTers in every major race? This makes no sense. From what I can tell, the only races with throngs of TNTers is the Nike Women Marathon / Half Marathon (something like 18% of participants are with TNT), and perhaps the San Diego Marathon. Most races just don't have that many Team in Training participants - it is simply too difficult to do the fundraising. For example, the Country Music races when I participated in 2009 had 650 participants from TNT out of something like 35,000 participants. That's less than 2%. Here are a few more figures from various races last year: Marine Corps Marathon: 358 (of 30,000); Shamrock Marathon and Half Marathon: 160 (of (11,000); Dublin Marathon: 135 (of 11,245); Honolulu Marathon: 149 (of 25,000); RNR Savannah: 523 (of about 23,000). So throngs of TNT runners ruining the race experience for everyone else? Once again, I call BS!

The comments about inexperienced and slow runners, not just TNT, gumming the works also do not make a lot of sense. These runners and walkers will be in the later corrals. The only people they might interfere with would be other slow runners. Anyone with any speed will be well ahead of them. Of course, we've all seen runners who think they are fast enough for an earlier corral and are not. But that seems universal at all races I have been in. I pass plenty of people in the races I have done who started well ahead of me, and I am no speed demon - trust me.

I've never talked to a charity runner who equates themselves with the top runners. I have no idea why anyone would make such a comment. If you feel that way, please email me or leave a blog comment, because I just don't get that one.

The comments about inconsiderate runners might fit a lot of people on the race course. I've certainly seen a few from TNT who are not paying attention during the race, who run or walk too many abreast, who cut in front of people, who stop suddenly. I've seen plenty of others not in purple do the same thing. I think this behavior is not universal, and not even that common - our coaches at TNT stress race etiquette during our training, whether or not we choose to follow it - but anyone doing a race needs to be cognizant of their impact on others. Race etiquette is an important enough topic that I plan a separate post.

TNT coaches certainly give higher interest to TNT participants than general runners. That is why they are there. But I think most coaches will give encouragement and aid to any runner who needs it. Maybe it is not as common as it should be. Coaches reading this - read and heed, and give some thought to making a good impression on the race course. I have seen TNT coaches go above and beyond - I saw one coach in Nashville escorting an exhausted (non-TNT) participant all the way to the finish for the last half mile.

The negative comments about slow runners and "tubbies" are offensive enough that I will write a dedicated post.

I'll welcome any comments about this topic, as long as they are constructive and factual.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Does TNT Drive up the Cost of Races for Everyone Else?

This is the first of my detailed posts addressing charges that Team in Training is a scam, which I very much dispute.

The charge that I have seen in a number of running bulletin boards is that TNT is responsible for driving up the cost of race entry fees (and hotels in the city of the race) because courses are kept open 5, 6, 7, or even 8 hours for slower runners. Frankly, I call this ridiculous! And here is why.

First, any race has both fixed costs and variable costs. The variable costs are what will go up with each runner - the cost of your medal, official shirt, snacks, timing chip, and so forth. The fixed costs will stay about the same whether or not there are 1,000 runners in the race or 30,000. There are certain expenses that the organization sponsoring the race will have to cover, period. I don't know how much of each race fee, say $150 for the Chicago Marathon, covers the variable costs as opposed to the fixed costs, but with at least 35,000 runners, that fee will bring in $5,250,000 for Chicago. Lets assume that 75% of that amount is variable costs and 25% of the costs are fixed. So given that assumption, the fixed costs - which must be covered equally by the number of participants - would be about $1,300,000.

In 2011, there were 35,755 finishers in the Chicago Marathon. If they wanted to impose a strict time limit to avoid the cost of keeping the race course open for longer times, they could do this by imposing a 4.5 hour limit. 15,734 runners in Chicago beat this time, so let's call it 20,000 runners to be allowed, proving a 4.5 hour time limit. That 1.3 million dollar fixed cost, which could be shared by 35,000 runners (about $36 each) would now have to be covered by 20,000 runners ($65 each). So everyone's fee would go up by $29. There might be perfectly good reasons for limiting registrations based on time (Boston is quite successful), but reducing the fee because race courses are not kept open as long is not one of them.

Here is a second piece of evidence. The fee for the Nike Women's Marathon is $135 for the full marathon ($115 for the half). This race is an official sponsor of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and has very heavy Team in Training presence - out of 20,907 finishers, 3,728 (18%) were from TNT. I could not find numbers of TNT runners for the Chicago Marathon, but it is certainly much lower. Do you remember the movie "The Spirit of the Marathon?" How many purple shirts in the Chicago field did you see during the course of the movie? I remember about a half dozen, although I would guess that several hundred participants of the 35,000 in Chicago run for TNT. The marathon fee is $150, slightly higher - not lower - than that of Nike's.

Incidentally, the Boston Marathon has a fee of $130. The marathon has fast times to qualify. A small amount of charity runners participate, and they pay an extra fee to do so - plus they do fundraising.

So how is TNT driving up the race entry costs for everyone? In a word, it's not - that charge just makes no sense.

It also is illogical that TNT is driving up the cost of hotels. A marathon weekend is a huge deal for a city, and hotels and restaurants are going to be full. When demand is up, costs go up. It is possible that LLS can get a lower group rate by guaranteeing several hundred rooms at a hotel, but how is that any different from any other group - such as a convention? It's not.

If anyone out there has empirical data that shows how TNT is increasing the costs of race entry fees, please share it. Until I see proof, I'm calling BS on this one.

Team in Training is Not a Scam

I've been amazed about all of the comments I've read about Team in Training on various athletic message boards, including many that TNT is a scam. We've been slammed by a lot of people for all kinds of things. Some of these things undoubtedly have happened, although I am convinced they are not the norm. Other things clearly make no sense. Still others need some analysis and evaluation. So that is what I've decided to do in a series of blog posts over the next couple of weeks about these charges and issues.

Full disclosure: I've done TNT five times, all on foot - two walking marathons, one mostly walking marathon with some running, and two half-marathons where I ran about 70% of the time. I've volunteered as a TNT mentor several times. I've done other volunteer work for LLS: manning a booth at running expos, making phone calls to tell people about TNT information meetings, volunteering for First Connection, and cheering at races. I've never been paid a dime. I did get some of my travel expenses paid for the five events that I did for TNT. I'll discuss this in detail in a later post. But clearly, I believe in LLS and its mission, and in its major fundraising program, Team in Training.

After reading lots of message posts, here are the major complaints that people seem to make about Team in Training. Each of these will eventually become a separate blog post, and after I write the post, I will change the text here to a link to that post.

1. TNT drives up the costs of race entries and hotels for everyone else. I think this is totally untrue, and illogical.

2. TNT prevents more deserving runners from entering the race because they fill the races up five months early. This is another charge that makes no sense to me.

3. TNT ruins the experience for real runners and triathletes. I think this is bogus, but agree that TNT participants - and everyone else - need to be aware of race etiquette. There also seems to be a lot of resentment among "real runners" that "slow runners" participate in races.

4. TNT is a cult, and disdainful of other athletes. I previously wrote a tongue in cheek post about TNT not being a cult. To a non-runner, any group of runners may appear cultish.

5. TNT participants don't care about the mission but are just trying to get a free trip. This does not match my observations at all.

6. TNT participants are not dedicated to doing the race. In the events, they usually just coast and even cut the course or even just take a bus near the end. Sorry - not from what I have seen. Not at all.

7. The fundraising scams people - most of it goes to the trip and LLS overhead, and the runners don't follow-through. This is not true at all.

8. The fundraising would be okay if they did local races and not the destination events. Although doing local events with minimal travel is not a bad concept, I will show how LLS can get more money for its mission when people choose the destination events.

9. The fundraising is not efficient. There are many ways for charities to raise money. Many of them are very annoying to the potential donors. I think that TNT is fairly efficient, and no where near as annoying as getting unsolicited calls at dinner time.

10. The fundraising is dishonest, or at the least misleading. I read some misplaced and some thoughtful criticisms of TNT participants in this area, and will discuss these along with my own thinking. Plus, what does running have to do with curing cancer anyway?

11. TNT participants are mostly tubby people who are not serious about running, are sold a bill of goods, and have no business being out there. They cheapen the marathon experience. Definitely, I can't wait to address this one!

12. A lot of potential participants are not comfortable doing the fundraising, and when they do, they get pressure from LLS staff to keep raising money. This is one that I think needs some analysis and discussion.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Leaden Legs

For the second week in a row, I joined Team in Training today for some miles. I ran with my friend and fellow blood cancer survivor (15 years) Nicki. We are both going to run the Shamrock Half Marathon on March 18. The difference is that Nicki is fundraising for TNT and I am just running the race as a 10 year survivor. The other difference is that I was born like just after the Civil War and Nicki wasn't.

Unfortunately, this was my first time running since last Saturday, and I felt it. I did get in several decent walks during the week, and two sessions with water aerobics, but that is not the same thing. We did the hilly Riverside Drive route, running eight miles with a fair amount of walking, especially during the second half. I love that route, but my legs started feeling like they were made of lead. Nicki said she was also feeling it. So we did a fair amount of walking at times, and slowed our running pace. But even so, we did it. A lot of people never left the sofa today. I'll take eight slow and sore miles over sitting on the sofa clicking the TV remote.

Tomorrow, I plan on starting my series of posts about why Team in Training is not a scam.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Team in Training, A Cult? Really????

My friend Joe came over the other night, and cut right to the chase. "Holy crap, Art! You didn't tell me that you are involved in a cult!"

"A cult? Maybe I've taken stupid pills lately, but I have no earthly idea what you are talking about, Joe."

"Team in Training!"

I was incredulous. "Team in Training is a cult? Really?"

"Yeah, at least that is what I read on some of the running boards. Someone was asking about Team in Training. One guy wrote 'It's kind of cultish.' Another wrote 'It's a cult.' And a bunch of people wrote about what a scam it it."

"A cult? A scam? Really????"

"Well, yeah, that's what these guys say. Like on the race course, you guys chant strange things, like 'Go Team' over and over."

"Wow, Joe. Sounds like our cover is blown. Did anyone mention about our monthly ritual? The one where we dance naked at midnight in the woods on the night of a full moon, wearing only a purple headband? While we pay homage in Elvish runes to the Wicked Witch of the West while one of us slowly beats a drum made with the taut, tanned skin of a kinkajou? When we slaughter a young goat and smear its blood all over our bodies? And then - men and women together - we run naked and bloody all through the streets of Richmond while chanting unintelligible things?"

"No one mentioned any of that," Joe said, backing slowly away.

"That's because we are not a cult, Joe. We are just a bunch of people, like any one else, who like running and walking and cycling and swimming together while trying to raise money that will fight cancer. That's it. We are no more a cult than any other group of runners out together on a Saturday morning. Hey, Joe - want some coolaide? My friend, Jim Jones, mixed it up."

"Uh, no thanks, Art. Well speaking of fundraising, are you guys scamming people? One guy wrote this: 'The majority don't even do 26.2, just collect the pledge money and allow corporate suits to drive Lexus's.'

"Nope - we are not scamming people, Joe. Whoever made that comment has no idea what he is talking about. None whatsoever."

"Well, some people said you guys lie during fundraising, and put a lot of pressure on people."

"Yeah, Joe, that's right. I usually tell people to donate to LLS through me, or a puppy will die!"

"You're kidding, right? Well, it sounds like you guys don't really take what you are doing seriously. How about this comment that I saw: 'They do the absolute minimum to get by and then take an all expense paid trip paid for by charitable contributions?' Is that true?"

I was astonished. "That doesn't sound like Team in Training either, Joe. Everyone I know works their butt off, finishes their event, and is proud to do it. As to the expenses, yes, we get some of the trip expenses paid - a significant portion, actually - but it is not all expenses paid fancy resort vacation. I can see I am going to have to discuss this in a lot more detail on my blog."

"Well," said Joe, "I'll look forward to seeing more explanations refuting some of this stuff. Some runners out there hate you guys, and seem to think you ruin the race for everyone else, and are scams and cheats. Why, one guy even said 'Truck TNT!' Except, it wasn't 'truck' but a similar sounding word with one less letter and a first letter between E and G, exclusive, as I recall."

"Joe, all I can say is that there must a be a lot of misguided people out there. And there are always naysayers that want to crap all over everyone else. I'll read up on some of these comments, and then blog about it," I said.

"Good deal," said Joe. "Now, I don't want any of that coolaide, but I'd love an ice-cold beer if you have one."

"You know I do! Say, do you know if the moon is full tonight, Joe? And do you happen to have a goat?"

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Making 2012 Special

I want to make 2012 a little special. After all, it is my 10 year mark of surviving cancer - Hodgkin's lymphoma - which was detected late in April of 2002. In a flash, I went from a seemingly healthy person to someone in the fight of their life.

I am trying to stay away from resolutions. I did horribly with the goals I set a year ago. 2011 was not a good year, especially with the death of a good friend and of my sister. Foot problems almost all the year caused difficulty with physical activities. But now, a new year is here! Huzzah!

So here are some of the things I am thinking about to make 2012 special from a Racing for a Cure standpoint. Some are pretty mundane, others more spectacular. If you want to see some of the places I would like to hike in 2012, go here.

I'll be running in the Shamrock Half Marathon on March 18. It is my statement that I am strong and healthy ten years after cancer. I am going to go for a personal record but have a very long way to go in a short time. Mainly, I just want to celebrate life and remember those lost. I'll also be attending the Team in Training Inspiration Dinner the night before for a little extra motivation.

Yesterday, I signed up for the Monument Avenue 10K here in Richmond. That is two weeks after the Shamrock Half. It will be my eighth straight time in this event. I am going for a PR in that one as well. I'd love to break an hour. That is slow to you fast runners but would be fast for me.

So barring injury, those two are definite. After all, I've shelled out $126 hard-earned bucks when I signed up! But what about some yet-to-fully-gel possibilities? Well, I would like to do TNT again. I have fundraised from the same group of people now six out of the past seven years, so the well may be a little dry. But I think it is worth another try, and maybe skip fundraising in 2013. Where and when could I run? I am thinking in the fall, perhaps San Francisco, the Marine Corps Marathon, or even Dublin, Ireland.

Some time back, I was thinking this would be the year to do a triathon or a century bike ride, but I don't think so now. I have done nothing to get ready, including getting a bike. I am not sure that is where my interests lie.

I'd like to run the Livestrong 10K in Virginia Beach again. Maybe I can finish first in my age group this time!

Under the realm of the more far out, I have been recently thinking that this would be a cool year to form a relay team, and do one of those 48 hour relay events. I would need 11 other people, and there would be some costs involved, like renting a couple of vans. But it would be an incredible experience. I'd love to form a team of 100% cancer survivors, but am not sure I know 11 other survivors who run or power walk. Yesterday when I was thinking about it, I could come up with about 6-7 names, including yours truly. Need to give this some more thought ....

Now, the crown jewel of 2012, if I can make it happen, would be to run the Honolulu Marathon on December 9, my 10 year cancer remission date. I've had my eye on that date and that event for years. But a trip to Hawaii is a major expense, one I am not prepared for at this time. Still, sometimes where there is a will, there's a way, and it would be such a wonderful thing to do while visiting Hawaii for the first time ever.

So those are some of my thoughts. Does anyone reading this have some special fitness events that they would like to do?