Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Body Politic

Left, right, left, right, left, right …. For six miles, the two legs had moved along cooperatively with only minor complaints, but that all changed in an instant. “Oww!” said Left Leg. “My knee hurts!”

“Oh, big deal,” Right Leg said. “Who cares? You lefties are always whining. Makes me sick. All I hear from you is complaints. ‘My neuroma hurts! My big toenail just fell off! My plantar fasciitis is killing me!’ Now, it’s ‘my knee hurts!’ Grow a pair!”

“Anatomically, that is not possible. But you know, you right-wingers have no compassion,” said Left Leg.

“How come it’s always you that has these problems? What are you, some kind of a left-leaning sissy?”

“Always me, huh? How about those two times you developed trochanteric bursitis and had to get those cortisone shots right in your hip?” Left Leg reminded him.

“Hey, at least I took the shots like a man! Ooh, ‘trochanteric!’ Big word, college boy. What a snob!” said Right Leg.

“As I recall, you attended every class I did in college. Man, my knee hurts! I think I need a doctor,” said Left Leg.

“A doctor? Why don’t you just use Obamacare? What a loser!”

“Both you and I happen to have great medical insurance through employment, so I don’t need the so called Obamacare,” said Left Leg. “But think of all those who are unemployed, have pre-existing conditions, and don’t have jobs that provide insurance. What should they do?”

Right Leg snorted. “Who cares? That’s their problem. They should have thought about it before they got sick. Damned liberals! Who do you think should pay for their care? You? Me? Ha! Just you wait until Rick Santorum gets elected!”

“We just need to tax the rich a lot more. You know, redistribute all the wealth. No one needs a million bucks to live on,” Left Leg said.

“You make me sick! All of you lefties do!”

“Lighten up, right winger! You are so harsh and judgmental!”

“Look here, left winger, or should I say left whiner? I’ve had enough of your complaining! You are the epitome of everything that is wrong with this country. I wish you’d never been born!” Right Leg spat. “But not because of an abortion, of course,” he hastily added.

“What are you, some kind of a Hitler Youth alum? Oww! My knee hurts! I need some Ibuprofen!”

“Typical of you substance-abusing, liberal jerks! When something hurts or you need to get in a better mood, just turn to drugs!” Right Leg smirked.

Left Leg retorted quickly. “Yeah? Like your hero, Rush Limbaugh?”

Right Leg quivered in fury. “Never, ever mock that great man again,” he screamed as he launched a vicious kick at Left Leg.

Brain jumped in and stopped the kick before it landed. “You’re always taking his side, Brain.” said Right Leg. “You’re as far left as he is.”

Brain said, “I’m exactly in the center. I swivel to the left and to the right as needed, but I always stay in the center. If Left Leg tried to kick you, I would stop him as well.” At this precise instant, Left Leg, thinking that Brain and Right Leg were preoccupied, tried a quick, sneaky kick of his own. But Brain, reacting with lightning speed, short-circuited that kick as well.

“See? I rest my case,” said Brain. “I’m your Commander in Chief, and don’t either of you forget it. When I say jump, you ask 'How high?' Now, both of you, shut the hell up, and keep moving.”

For another mile, there was relative peace. Then the sniping began anew.

“Stop limping! You are making me work harder. Typical of you liberals, let everyone else do the hard work so you can just be a lazy bum. Left leaning jerk,” said Right Leg.

“You are a little stronger and more capable than I am. Plus I’m hurting. So why shouldn’t you work a little harder than me? That seems fair, you reactionary Neanderthal,” replied Left Leg.

“Fair? What’s fair about it? What are you, some kind of Pinko?” asked Right Leg.

“Conservative Nut Case” shouted Left Leg.

“European Socialist!” retorted Right Leg.





As fast as Brain is, before he could even react, Left Leg and Right Leg launched kicks at each other simultaneously, and the entire body crumpled to the ground.

“I’ve had quite enough of both of you!” Brain shouted. “Pick us up and get moving! Now! I can play hard-ball too if need be! Remember Alaska in 2005? Maybe I’ll give you a good dose of that to make you get along and work together again. We’ll take a one minute break so you can think that one over.”

“Alaska? Midnight Sun Marathon? 2005? Oh my God!” said Left Leg.

“Pouring rain! 26.2 miles! Cold winds for the last four miles! I shudder just thinking about it,” said Right Leg.

“Mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds!” said Left Leg.

“Those were hummingbirds, you left leaning mor … er, those were hummingbirds, weren’t they?”

“Do hummingbirds drill a hole in you the size of the Lincoln Tunnel? Do they suck out enough blood that, were it alcohol, even Lindsay Lohan would beg to stop drinking?” asked Left Leg.

“Nope, you’re right! Ha, ha, get it? You’re right!” said Right Leg.

“Oh, God, remember afterwards? Brain submerged us in a tub of ice water for 15 minutes? My lips were turning blue!”

“Lips? You have lips?”

“It’s a figure of speech,” said Left Leg.

“Man, I had blisters the size of Cleveland on my feet for the last 10 miles of that marathon,” said Right Leg.

“Yeah, me too, but even bigger. More like Chicago.” Noticing that Right Leg was about to say something, Left Leg added, “Actually, you know, I think you did have the bigger blisters.”

“Well, maybe. We both endured plenty. Then at night, remember while Brain slept peacefully all night long, we suffered together in agony until morning? The heartless sunnuvabitch!” said Right Leg.

“Yeah, you’re right. He didn’t care. He drove us like slaves all day and then he just slept. Completely oblivious to the pain of others. Reminds me of, well never mind that. Remember, he even forced us to wear running shorts on that cold, wet day? Shorts!” said Left Leg.

“What’s he even doing to us, making us do all this running at our age? Who’s he think he is, Steve Prefontaine?” asked Right Leg.

“Uh, Righty, I hate to break the news, but ‘Pre’ has been dead since 1975,” said Brain.

“Well, who does he think he is, then, Bill Freakin’ Rodgers?” said Right Leg.

“More like Joan Benoit Samuelson,” snickered Left Leg.

Brain jumped on that one. “Lefty, was that a not-so-subtle put-down of women? I must say, I’m surprised at you, taking that position. Aren’t you being a little hypocritical?”

Left Leg retreated in alarm. “No, no! That’s not what I meant. Really! I believe in full equal rights, a woman’s right to choose, and all that feminist stuff. I’m proud when I can run like a girl!”

Right Leg grimaced and shook his foot slowly, but said nothing to make the situation worse. Instead, he reflected on what really matters. “We’ve been through a lot together, you and me. I’d be doing a lot of hopping if you weren’t here, Left Leg,” he said.

“I couldn’t do it without you, Bud! You always got my right flank, and help me stay balanced,” said Left Leg.

“Okay,” said Brain. “I’m glad we got that settled. I depend equally on both of you. You are both very important parts of the body that I command. If you two aren't working together, if one of you isn't doing your job, then the whole body is out of balance. Together, we can do great things! Hell, we did a marathon in Alaska seven years ago, ignoring rain and pain, and two since then. Aren’t you proud of that? We all need to work together, or we go nowhere. We become ineffective and incompetent!”

“Yeah,” said Right Leg with a guffaw. “We don’t want anyone to mistake us for the US Congress! Talk about ineffective and incompetent! Even I have to admit that Boehner and Cantor are an exercise in futility and are obstructionists.”

“We agree 100% there, pal! But I also realize that Pelosi didn’t get much done either, before Boehner took over for her,” said Left Leg.

“OK, boys! The meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society is now adjourned. Let’s get moving. We still have five more miles to go,” said Brain.

“Five more miles!” cried Left Leg and Right Leg in perfect harmony. “We’re exhausted. We need to stop! We can’t do it!”

“You can and you will, guys,” said Brain, as he sent a tiny jolt of electricity down Spinal Cord first to Left Leg and then to Right Leg a split second later. “You can and you will.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wildlife, Winds, and Wicked Good Sunsets

I wanted to post this on Sunday, but then I got the horrible, awful news about my friend Faith dying from Hodgkin's lymphoma, the same type of blood cancer that I had 10 years ago. So I wrote about Faith losing her fight, which still seems unbelievable to me. Then, Monday was my friend Nicki's fifteenth anniversary of her life-saving bone marrow transplant, so I had to write about that yesterday. So I am posting this Tuesday about some unique training for the half-marathon.

Saturday, I had to leave our TNT Silent Mile training after just 1.5 miles to get to a 2PM meeting in Sandbridge. With the Shamrock Half Marathon just three weeks away, and me feeling ill prepared for it, I needed to get in 12 miles today. So after the meeting, I left about 4:20 to start out a training run. It was a beautiful clear day, with the temperature around 50 degrees at the start, but with incredible winds. My original plans were to run down to the wildlife refuge visitor center - 2 miles away - and then a mile more into the refuge to the point where the dike trail is blocked for the season. Turning around and returning would give me six miles. Then I would run north along the beach road for three more miles, and turn around to get in 12 miles. That was my plan. But when I got to the point in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge where the dike trail should be closed, imagine my surprise when it was open! So, change in plans - keep running to False Cape State Park. I've hiked into there before but never run.

I was moving pretty smoothly at first, cruising down the refuge road, a very strong wind to my right rear. Running about 80% of the distance, my pace is around an 11:15 mile. This is less than half the speed of a world-class marathoner. So I am going to have some catching up to do if I plan on setting my world-record in the marathon in the near future. As I moved along, I didn't see any wildlife here other than a belted kingfisher, but I sure enjoyed the scenery, like these stunted oaks.
Once I got to my assumed turn around point where the dike trail gate is normally closed in the winter and realized that I could just keep on running, I started to see wildlife. The winds were incredible, and all the ducks and other waterfowl seemed on edge. I saw dozens of mallards and this huge flock of American coots, some egrets, a great blue heron, and a couple of cormorants. The views are always so pleasant in the refuge, with marshes, bays, little stands of trees, and sand dunes on the ocean side of the dike trail.

By the time I reached False Cape State Park, it was fast coming up on 5:30. I had covered 5.3 miles from the start of my run. I could keep going to the state park visitor station, which would add 1.6 miles round trip. But if I did that, I would be coming out of the refuge for miles in the dark, which technically is not legal. So I decided to turn at this point, realizing that I would be in the dark no matter what for about 20 minutes even so. I figured that the 10.6 miles, plus the 1.5 miles running in the morning at the TNT Silent Mile, would give me 12 miles for the day - my training goal.

It was a really tough trip out. I was running into a stiff 25-35 knot wind coming out of the northwest as I ran mostly north. It knocked the snot out of me, with the wide open wetlands! Now and then, a little stand of trees gave a much appreciated wind break, though. The temperature was dropping, I had no warm hat or gloves, and no fleece. So I was genuinely chilled as I moved along into the brisk wind. I used to sail in a past life, cruising with joy along the rugged Maine coast in my 23 foot sloop. I would have hated to have been sailing in this kind of wind!

My pace kept slowing, and I probably dropped to a 12.5 minute average pace on the way out (including some time for photos, to slow to see watch deer, and to stop to see wildlife and the sunset) as I started taking longer walk breaks. I was tired, cold, and wind blown. I was also feeling some chafing. I'd brought my body glide down to the beach with me, but had forgotten to smear any on before running. And I didn't have a man's sports bra (two bandaides) with me, so had to chafe a little.

On the way out, still about 3.5 miles from getting back to the start, I was treated to an amazing sunset. I've posted photos below. The last mile or so of my training was in total darkness, which can be soothing, except when I startled a great blue heron in the dark just feet from me. I jumped a bit as it crashed into flight. I was tired as I came down the stretch, and probably walked nearly as much as I ran for the last mile. I felt like I had run uphill for the whole way back, even though it is flat as a pancake, because of the tremendous headwinds.

Sometimes I am a little hard on myself when running. It seems really difficult this time around. But thinking rationally, I had a rough last year in which I did almost no running. I had foot surgery 13 months ago. I had plantar fasciitis just after the surgery healed that lasted for months, often feeling like someone was driving a nail into my heel with every step. Even when I walked the Komen 3-Day in September, my left foot hurt with every stride for nearly 60 miles, though the pain was much less than before. So maybe I should cut myself a break. Hell, I may not get a personal record in three weeks at the Shamrock, but I have gone from almost no running for over a year to trying to get ready for 13.1 miles in just a few months. I know that 13.1 miles may seem short if you are in a car, but on foot, trying to run, it is a good long way to go. So just being able to do this race is worth something, even if I am slower than I wanted, as my training Saturday proved all too much. After all, my reason for plunking down 100 bucks to run the Shamrock Half Marathon was not to win the race, but to celebrate 10 years of surviving cancer this April. So in that sense, I can crawl to the finish line next month and it will still be a victory over cancer.

Here are the photos of the sunset:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Happy "15th Birthday," Nicki!

When one gets the awful and terribly sad news like I got yesterday about Faith, it is sometimes hard to remember the success stories. So here is an incredible one for today.

My friend Nicki had her "15th birthday" today. Nicki graduated from Mary Washington University about 12 or 13 years ago, and got married last year. Now, I am sure all that has you scratching your head - child prodigy, perhaps? - so let me explain.

Nicki was a healthy college sophomore when she learned she had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Although chemotherapy was expected to put her into remission, it didn't, and a bone marrow transplant was her only hope. And that was a slim hope - Nicki's chance of living, even with a bone marrow transplant, was just five out of 100! Well, she beat those odds. On February 27, 1997, Nicki, exhausted, sick, and weak beyond measure from bone marrow preparation treatment, received her life-saving transplant from a total stranger. What an incredible legacy and gift! Fifteen years later, Nicki is healthy and strong, and is a marathoner and half-marathoner many times over. Can you tell I am really proud of her?

On March 18, Nicki will be running the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach with Team in Training, once again giving back so that others can someday have the same good fortune that she did. I'll be in that race too, if my sore knees hold out. I'll probably somewhere behind Nicki, though!

It is weird to think that had Nicki not had cancer or had I not had cancer, our paths likely would not have crossed. But she did, and I did, and they did. Speaking for myself, my life is the richer for it.

So, Nicki, happy 15th! May you have many, many more anniversaries of this date in a long, happy, and healthy life. You have inspired me more often than you can know!

Here is Nicki running in Saturday's TNT Silent Mile, and here is Nicki and me after running the Silent Mile together.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cancer Claims Another

I wrote a week or so about my friend Faith, and how her two year remission from Hodgkin's Lymphoma had ended. 90% of people getting Hodgkin's survive at least five years. With great sadness, I learned today that Faith will not be among them. Less than three years from her diagnosis, Faith passed away this weekend. Her sister Leigh has been with her this week as Faith's health declined. Having lost my own sister last May from breast cancer, I have at least some sense of what she is feeling.

I really hate cancer. In 13 months, it has claimed my friend Judy, my sister Ann, and now my friend Faith. I think back of first meeting Faith in the fall of 2009. She and I had met online and had exchanged emails for some months about dealing with cancer and Hodgkin's in particular. I finally met her in person at the Light the Night walk, joining her team "Faith's Hope". We walked again the next year, and she also joined me and several others in 2010 to cheer for the Shamrock Team. Now, here I am, preparing for Shamrock, and Faith is gone. She was a wonderful person, and will be missed very much by so many. I will honor Faith's memory in three weeks by wearing her photo during my run.

In two months, I will be a 10 year Hodgkin's survivor. Why couldn't Faith have had more time? If when you hear about Hodgkin's lymphoma, you think "Oh, that's a curable cancer," please remember that it is not always so. There is plenty more to do.

Dear Faith, rest well in peace. I shall miss you, and so much wish things had been different.

Faith and her beloved pal Henry In 2009, hoping for remission, Faith visited the Caicos with a friend to get some enjoyment after a tough fight with stage 4 Hodgkin's. It was great to see this photo of her enjoying life!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Silent Mile

Today, Team in Training had its Silent Mile Ceremony. Although I am not officially on the team, I was invited to come and speak. It is always wonderful to see the various teams - cycle, run/walk, and triathlon - in one place. In this case, it was the newly formed Summer Team. However, a couple members of the Spring team were there as well. One of these is my fellow-survivor Nicki, who has a big "birthday" coming up Monday. Nicki will be the subject of Monday's post. She and I will both be running the Shamrock Half Marathon in three weeks.

The last time I was at a Silent Mile for me, it was a big day - my birthday back in July! Yesterday, we had people present who have survived every one of the four major blood cancers - Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. One survivor, Paul, is currently undergoing chemo for CLL, had to get radiation for a tumor behind his eye, and is looking into a very risky bone marrow transplant, but he has not given up on the idea of riding 100 miles in June at Lake Tahoe! How's that for true grit? I always feel inspired by the stories of the survivors, and their bravery in facing their never-fun treatments.

After the speaking was finished we posed for a group photo, and then we were off to do the first mile in silence as remembrance of those who have lost their fight with cancer. 12 miles was on the training schedule for Shamrock yesterday, and that is what Nicki was doing. But I had a meeting in Virginia Beach at 2, and had to leave her after a mile and a half. I felt bad knowing she would be running alone that long. Of course, so would I later, but I would have rather run with Nicki. Along our route for that first mile and a half were signs reminding us of the mission, and I will share a few photos of these. Later this week, I will report on my long run Saturday afternoon in a wildlife refuge through what felt like a gale.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rough Running

Well, with just over three weeks to go to a half marathon, I have to say that I don't really feel prepared. My trip to New York City this past weekend tore a big hole in my long distance running preparation. I did get in three runs of four to five miles last week, one this past Tuesday, and a three miler last night. The three miler felt pretty good, as did a run or two last week. But my last run of last week, and in particular, my Tuesday run this week, were real struggles. I ran by myself in the city after work, in areas with lots of hills. I had hoped my friend Lelia and I could coordinate schedules and I would have her companionship, but it didn't work out that way. So I was by myself with no one to chat with. For some reason, it seemed to matter more with these two hilly runs.

I did achieve a bit of a milestone last week though. While running across the "Nickel Bridge," I actually passed cars! Yes - I am not making that up - I passed a bunch of cars! Of course, once the police officer motioned them into the opposing lane to get around the accident, they passed me right back. And the hills that I ran brought my temporary sense of triumph back to earth.

My run Tuesday just seemed really rough. I enjoyed the setting very much, running through Maymont and then along the Northside Trail to the Nickel Bridge and back to the park from there. But I just seemed worn out and did way too much walking. I also swallowed a gnat, which about made me throw up when the damned thing kept struggling in the back of my throat. I felt discouraged when I finished. But then, I thought about it and decided that at least I did it. Slow is better than no. I enjoyed the nice scenery along the way, got some fresh air and exercise, burned a fraction of a millimeter off my waist line. Yeah, I walked a little more than I wanted to, but so what?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Honesty in Fundraising

Without fundraising, there is no point to Team in Training. For most of us, in order to be successful at it, we put almost as much work into fundraising as in to training. I've already discussed why I believe the fundraising to be efficient, and why it is not a scam. I've talked about how, even though it seems counter-intuitive, raising money to go to a "destination marathon" can bring in more money to the mission than can running a local event. I've talked about how some of our travel expenses to out of town events - a significant portion actually - are covered by the money we raise. Now, I will talk about honesty in fundraising.

A number of the posts on the running forums blasting, inaccurately in my opinion, TNT as a scam have no basis in fact and don't even attempt to use factual information. But here is one discussion I found that is critical of TNT and its honesty in fundraising that is thoughtful and analytical - not based on some personal rant. It is worth reading for anyone doing Team in Training. The main assertions are (1) that 75% of the money raised does not go directly to research and (2) participants don't disclose that they get a trip out of the deal. To summarize what the author, David Hays, says about the latter: Participants don't explain that that they are getting travel expenses paid - others are essentially paying their way to the event. While TNT does raise a lot of money for a good cause, TNT runners should fully disclose to potential donors that 25% of the funds directly benefit the runner.

Let's address the first point first. 75% of the money goes to the mission of LLS. Part of that mission is curing blood cancers. But there are other raised parts to the mission, which I have discussed here. So if you are doing Team in Training, just remember this distinction. Only about a fourth of the money raised goes to cancer research and cures. Another fourth goes to fundraising and administrative costs. The other roughly 50% goes towards patient services and to education and advocacy.

I've discussed the travel costs that are covered in the other posts referenced here at the start of this article. I don't think we participants go out of our way to talk about the travel costs. Maybe we should do that more. I personally think that as long at 75% of the money collected goes towards the mission, it should not matter whether the fund raising portion of the money collected goes to paying professional fundraisers or to rewarding a runner with a trip to a race for their hard work. The bottom line is that money is going to be spent on fundraising one way or another. But I agree we can be upfront about it. I did tell my potential donors about it, if not directly in emails then in conversations with them. I don't remember anyone having a particular issue with it, and if they did, they wouldn't donate.

Let me say this - I have never badgered anyone to donate. How many times do you get a phone call from a solicitation that just will not take no for an answer? I have, plenty of times. If people don't reply to my emails, I don't bug them. I do send frequent updates. If someone asks to come off my update list, I take them off with no argument and no abuse. If people donate to LLS on behalf of my efforts, I thank them. It is simple as that. I'll take that over being browbeaten into a donation by a phone solicitor who's company (and management) will get 15-20% of what I donated. And I will add that I have donated plenty of times to people doing TNT and similar events, and they have never badgered me, either.

When I next do TNT, I now have plenty of posts - with more to come - discussing the fundraising and where the money goes to that I can point donors to. And now, you can point your donors to these as well, should you choose. Be open and honest, and explain with some of the points I have brought up. If people don't like the idea of helping to pay for your trip to a race, so be it. I wonder how many of them would mind paying some professional fundraising company executive's 6 figure bonus instead?

I'll write about my personal experience with raising money for TNT and what percentage of my funds raised covered my travel expenses on my next post on this topic.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Faith in a Cure

(Note: please see my post of February 26 about the sad news of Faith losing her battle)

I've written before how Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of the more curable cancers, and is sometimes called the "good cancer." Well, if you are like me, a nearly 10 year survivor from this disease and living strong, I suppose you could call it a good cancer, although even that is a bit of a reach. For others, though, it is not a good cancer by any stretch of the imagination.

One of these folks is my friend Faith. She had stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma starting almost exactly three years ago. It was in her spleen, bones, and lungs. She went through many hellish treatments, raised an outrageous amount of money for Light the Night in 2009 with her Team "Faith's Hope," and went into remission near the end of the year.

But think about how difficult it is to kill cancer. You have maybe a billion cancer cells in your body if you have detectable cancer. If you are stage 4 like Faith was, maybe you have several billion malignant cells. During treatment, every single one of these cells must die. Let me emphasize that again - every single one must die! If even one such cell, lurking somewhere in your body, survives, it will begin to divide. And divide again. And again. Repeat that process enough, and suddenly you have a tumor - probably undetectable. Some cells split off and travel through the lymph or bloodstream, lodging in some hospitable spot deep in your body. Another tumor starts up. Then another. Before you know it, you are not feeling so well and get it checked out. And suddenly, you realize your days of being cancer free are over, at least for now. And the worst of it is, these tumors are probably dominated by cancer cells that are resistant to chemotherapy, since they came from cells that survived these harsh and miserable chemicals.

That is what Faith learned recently that she is facing again - stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma. And this time, her treatment will consist of a stem cell transplant after ruthless chemotherapy to destroy the cancer and her marrow. Right now, Faith is just trying to get through each day and night - the fear of the treatment, the misery of feeling so sick, the horrible migraines that she is experiencing. Her days are dominated by long and difficult medical appointments. I feel so badly that she has to go through this once more. It is very unfair, because once should have been more than enough.

I ran tonight, going four miles, trying to prepare for the Shamrock Half Marathon in just over a month. Ironically, just two years ago, Faith was there at this race with me and some other friends cheering for the runners. Running rarely feels easy for me. I struggle with it at times. But as I ran along tonight, I kept thinking of Faith and how difficult things are for her right now. Facing what she is facing makes any reasonable run easy by comparison. I wrote the other day how running by itself doesn't cure cancer. How I wish it could, because I would be willing to run a lot of miles if it would cure Faith and some other pals I have going through this nasty crap right now. But life doesn't work that way.

Even so, I have faith there will be a cure for Faith. She is determined to have her life back once again. It won't be easy - far from it. It will actually be hellish. One day at a time, Faith. One hour, one minute, one second at a time if need be. Stay strong, stay positive, stay brave, believe you will get through this, believe in yourself and in your doctors. I have faith in you.

As you go through difficult times in your life - unpleasantness at work, problems with kids, relationship angst, money issues - or even a tough run on a day you don't feel much like running - think of people like Faith and what their day is like. For most of us, our problems pale in comparison to someone facing stage 4 cancer. And if you are so inclined, pause for a second and say a little prayer for Faith - that her doctors will be wise, that she will stay strong and brave, that a cure will be hers someday soon, and that she will have her life back for many decades to come.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

If You Don't Like the Weather, Wait a Minute!

Yesterday, I planned to go running with Team in Training, but my furnace was deader than Michael Vick's chances of being elected president of the American Kennel Association. Since I had promised to do a mission moment before the team run, I drove into Richmond to do that, then came home to try to line up emergency furnace repairs.

By a little after 1PM, I was able to get out for 10.5 miles of training. It was quite cool and very gray. I was cold but soaked in sweat. My nose ran like a broken fire hydrant. Then suddenly, about nine miles into running, the sun came out. I cast a long shadow as the sun beat down upon my back. It felt great.

I arrived back home, still in the sun, and did a five minute cooldown walk. By that time the sun was gone, so I went inside, traded my two soaked shirts and vest for a dry shirt and a fleece, and came back out to stretch. Was that a raindrop? Nope, just my imagination. How about that? Yep - a raindrop. Then another. And another. The sky was now the color of lead, and the wind picked up. I could feel the temperature dropping. I went into the house to finish stretching. I was barely inside when the skies opened up into a downpour. One minute later it was sleeting like crazy. A minute later, it was sleet mixed with snow. A minute later still, it was like a blizzard - heavy snow, the first of the year here in Ole Virginney, blowing sideways. The wind buffeted the house. All this in about a 10-15 minute time span, starting around 3PM. Oh, and did I mention the half dozen thunderclaps, a couple of them so close and so powerful as to shake the whole house? By 3:45 or so the snow had stopped, and by 4:45, the sun was out again.

During all that time, the furnace technician arrived, and the house was becoming warm! My checkbook? Noticeably cooler!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Are TNT Runners Curing Cancer?

As part of my continuing posts about why Team in Training is not a scam, I am going to write a couple of pieces about some good constructive criticism I saw out there about us. There were two comment in particular that were a little less caustic than some of the complaints I have seen about us Purple People. The first was this: "What does running have to do with finding a cure? The running is for yourself, it does not cure cancer - the only people helping the cause in the case of TNT are the donors."

True - running does not cure cancer. Nor does walking 60 miles in the Komen 3-Day. Would that it were that simple! In fact, when I am doing my fundraising, I actually emphasize that point to my potential donors. Without them, all I am doing is going for a long tiring run or walk. It is their donations and generosity that provides the ability for more research on cancer and potential cures, not me moving my feet. So there is a good bit of agreement on my part with that statement.

Where we differ is this: as I posted last week, there are many ways for non-profits to raise money. One of them, the one LLS uses with Team in Training and that many other organizations have imitated, is agreeing to do some kind of an endurance event and in return people will "sponsor" you by making a donation to the non-profit to support their mission. So while the running, cycling, and swimming in itself does not cure cancer, it indirectly inspires people to donate to that cause in support. We could argue whether or not they would have donated that same amount anyway even if you sat on the sofa with a TV clicker and a big bag of double-stuffed oreos instead of being up a 5:30 on a Saturday morning to run. I am guessing generally not, although I have no way to prove it. Maybe some would get a phone call or a flyer in the mail from LLS about its mission and be inspired to donate. But I rather doubt it. I get literally a dozen or more solicitations in the mail each week, and I don't even answer the phone anymore unless I recognize the number because of the barrage of calls requesting money. If I get an email solicitation from someone who I know is going to work their butt off to raise money for a good cause, I am more likely to check that out and donate.

Let's use my own case - in five TNT events and then the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure last fall, people have donated over $60,000 on behalf of my efforts. If I had never decided to go for it and see if I could do this - if as a cancer survivor I could do a marathon while asking people to donate (something that often feels uncomfortable) to a cause and being successful at it - how much of that $60,000 would have been donated anyway? How much would have been left on the table? Even if it was just half of it, that is $30,000 that got donated because I was willing to walk and run and ask. So while I acknowledge that it is the donors who are most important when it comes to helping the cause, I am not willing to say that they are "the only people helping the cause." That minimizes or negates the hard work of a lot of people, and I believe a good chunk of the money LLS receives through TNT would not arrive otherwise.

The other comment I saw that I fully agree with is along these lines: the commenter complained about people doing Team in Training telling him that "75% of your donation goes directly to cancer research." It is important for all of us doing TNT to remember that LLS has a number of different program areas. As the author of the comment wrote based on him checking LLS financial statements, the donations break down as follows:

Research - 25.2%
Patient / community Services - 27%
Public Health Education- 18.4%
Professional Education - 4.7%

Total - 75.3%

As I discussed here, the other 25% goes to the administrative and fundraising costs of LLS that any non-profit has.

Therefore, if you are doing fundraising for LLS through Team in Training, just remember that not all of the mission is funding research. 75% of donations go towards the mission, but not to research. Maybe we tend to over-emphasize the research components.

So are those of us doing Team in Training curing cancer through our running? Well, not directly, of course. But I maintain that we are a part of the solution by being the catalyst for people to donate to the cause of cancer research and patient support and advocacy. If I live long enough to see that all cancers are curable or at least manageable, I know I will feel that I played my own small part in making this happen - through my running and walking, through my fundraising efforts, and through the many direct financial donations that I have made to various organizations.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Double Digits at the Beach

I was at the beach last Saturday and did some miles in the afternoon - a total of ten, actually. It was my first double digit day running (with a good bit of walking) in I don't know how long. Maybe even since the Seattle half-marathon on June 26, 2010.

My original intent was to take my camera along and snap some pretty photos of running along the beach. But as I got ready to run around 3PM, the weather - which had been nice earlier that day, nice enough for a two mile hike - was threatening. So the camera stayed indoors and dry. Sure enough, about three miles in, the rain started coming down. It would have been easy to turn around at that point and make it a six mile day, but I kept going. Five miles out. Five miles back. Cool and wet. Once, I felt so tired that I took a five minute walk break, and I probably walked half of the last four miles back. I felt really slow for this training - 11.8 minute miles overall. But I did it. Double-digit day at last.

During the week, I ran and walked with my running pal Lelia Monday after work, walking more than running. We had a nice session through Maymont and the neighborhoods around there. Where else in Richmond can you go for a run and see a bison?

Tonight, I managed to get in five miles after work, including two laps along a wooded trail. During the second lap, it was pretty dark and I could barely see where my feet were going, plus the temperature was dropping like a stone. It felt like a pretty good run. I missed my goal of getting in three runs this week before Saturday, where I hope to go for 11 miles. But I did get two good runs in. With the race just five weeks away, each one is important.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Is TNT Fundraising Efficient?

Some of the comments I have seen on running bulletin boards is that Team in Training is not a good way to raise money, that running and charities have no natural connection. The idea seems to be that if you want to ask people for money for a charity, do it. If you want to run a race, do it. But don't connect the two by saying "I am running the Anchorage Marathon. In return, would you make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society?" Instead, email or call people you know and ask them to make a donation to LLS because it is a good cause.

I really don't think this would work. Think about the ways that fundraising is typically done. I am not talking about the totally obscene fundraising done by political candidates which essentially turns our politicians into prostitutes and is wrecking our country's ability to represent everyday people, but charitable fundraising. Here are the ways I can think of: (1) The charity hires a fundraising company to make phone calls. (2) The charity hires a fundraising company to send mail solicitations (3) The charity or a fundraising company sends mass emails. (4) The charity holds some kind of an event or gala where people pay to attend. (5) The charity holds some type of telethon - think Public TV or Radio, or the Jerry Lewis Telethon where TV time is purchased or donated. (6) The charity participates in an athletic event or a walkathon. Can you think of anything else?

Think about all of these. The phone calls are annoying beyond belief to me. Most of the time, I won't even answer the phone. The "junk mail" is a close second, especially when I have donated to an organization and I get a letter a couple of weeks later asking me for more. There is also a cost to every fundraising technique, which is why the non-profits have a line on their income statement for the costs of fundraising. The companies that are hired to do the fundraising get a piece of each dollar raised - sometimes a very large cut of the total. I once bought some expensive jellies from a phone solicitation for some kind of police fund. I later found out that of the total donation, the police fund got maybe 30%.

Now given that, would most people respond if I called them at night asking for donations to LLS? I rather doubt it. But with TNT and similar events, people will respond. Even though there is not a direct connection between running and curing cancer, a lot of people will respond to the appeal through a personal connection with the person doing the event, or because they have a personal connection to the cause. There is some appeal to a non-athlete putting their body through all that is necessary to train for a marathon while in return someone they know makes a $25, $50, or $100 tax deductible donation to a good cause. Because we are all volunteers, there is no direct fundraising cost to LLS for this. What there is for a final cost is some of the travel expenses for the trip, and as discussed in my other posts, these are well in line with the typical fundraising expenses organizations have.

I give to a lot of charities during any given year. I donate directly through my pay at work. I reply to a certain number of the blizzard of mail solicitation that comes every day and every week. I sponsor a number of people doing TNT or other similar events. (I don't respond to phone solicitations anymore and rarely answer the phone if I don't recognize the number. It always seems to cost me money, or costs me time saying "no" repeatedly to someone who will be beaten by his supervisor if he takes "no" for an answer, or I have to listen to how Obama or Romney or Gingrich is the spawn of the devil.) All of the charities I donate to have administrative and fundraising costs. I know and accept that a portion of my donation will go towards these costs. It is just the way it is.

When I donate to someone I know (or even someone I don't know) doing a marathon for TNT, a Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society, a three-day walk for Susan G. Komen, or a long distance bike ride for the American Lung Association or the MS Society, I personally am fine with it. It feels good to support someone's efforts and hard work - someone dedicated enough to put their time and body on the line to try to make a difference - to raise money for a good cause.
Personally, I think it is a good way to raise money. It gets people involved in a cause and physically active who might not be otherwise. As long as the money goes to a good organization that is efficient - 25% for administrative and fundraising costs, not 50% - then I believe it to be a good thing. If someone who has worked their butt off gets airfare to travel somewhere to exhaust herself in a long race, well, in my mind, that beats that same money going to the manager of a fundraising business who gets a bonus because his phone bank browbeat enough people into make a donation. If people doing Team in Training and similar events flew first class; if they stayed in $500 a night resorts; if they were wined and dined at very expensive restaurants, then of course that would not be right. No one would donate to that knowingly. But that is not how it is - not at all.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

TNT and Local vs. Destination Events

In some of the comments I have read proclaiming Team in Training to be a scam, there were a number that essentially made this point: it is probably OK for people to do TNT if the race is local, but not if the participant is going to get a trip out of it. The objections are that some of the donated money is paying significant travel expenses if the participant chooses a destination event - for example someone on the East Coast who runs the San Diego Marathon. As I pointed out in my last post about fundraising, all non-profits have costs for fundraising, and LLS's fundraising expenses of about 17 or 18% are not extreme. It just so happens that some of those fundraising expenses are travel expenses for race participants, as opposed to paying a bunch of money to telemarketers. But what about the point that local events would be a better use of donated money because expenses are less?

There is nothing wrong with local events, and in fact, I have seen LLS promoting these more and more in the seven years since I first did TNT. The fundraising minimum is really low - about $500 to $700 - and the only cost to LLS is the participant's race entry, which is probably about $35. An example of this for my team would be the Monument Avenue 10K. Another type of local event would be one where the participant must drive to and stay a couple of nights, for example, the Marine Corps Marathon for the Richmond Team. For these events, we must raise $1,250 to $2,000. The expenses that LLS would pay are two nights in a hotel (sharing a room), the race fee, and two dinners. You could expect the expenses for this type of event to be in the $300 - $400 range for each person.

Contrast this with a destintation event, where the participant has a kind of adventure and travels to a far away place. For me, every one of my five events has been this kind. The fundraising minimum is much higher because the covered expenses are higher. These would include airfare, three nights in a shared hotel room, two dinners, and the race entry: all of which can easily reach $800 to $1,200. In return, we are raising $3,500 to $5,500 - which we are personally responsible for after we recommit. Frankly, it is a lot of work and stress to raise that kind of money. People might stroke a check for thousands of dollars if you are running for president, but no one I know can do that for someone raising money for a non-profit.

So would it be better if TNT just did local events? That way, less of the donated money goes to the travel expenses, but the participants are raising less money, so there is a lot less to go to the mission. For example:

Local event: Revenue $500, Cost $35, Net to LLS $465
Semi-local event: Revenue $1,500, Cost $350, Net to LLS $1,150
Destination event: Revenue $4,000, Cost $900, Net to LLS $3,100

So while it may seem like participants are wasting money that LLS could use for the mission to travel to a destination event, in actuality, I believe they tend to raise more money when they sign up for an exciting marathon or triathlon, and as a result, the net to LLS's mission is going to be much higher. Which is better - for LLS to spend $900 to send someone to Arizona for a race, knowing that they will have an additional $3,100 for their mission? Or for them to spend $35 for a participant to participate in a local 10K, with the person raising an additional $465 for the mission? I maintain the first choice is better for LLS - if that is what the person wants to do.

Exciting destination events are a major way to attract people to do Team in Training. Just as any non-profit has fundraising expenses, so does LLS. When a person is doing an event for TNT, some of those fundraising expenses will be part of their travel costs. There is nothing in this that scams people or uses money inappropriately in my view. Others may have a different opinion, of course. In my next post, I'll discuss comments I have seen about other ways people should raise the money they do, and whether or not these methods would be as effective or efficient.