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.

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