A Story for a Reluctant Marathoner

My wife shared something interesting a few weeks ago. She told me that before she started running marathons six years ago, she never liked running.

That’s an understandable statement. But as of today, she’s run nearly 40 half-marathons and two or three full marathons, helped me through a few 5ks, and seriously joked on a few occasions that, should she be able to time it properly, she would run a 5k with me and then the subsequent half marathon while I was off somewhere resting.

How does someone who was “never into running” get into the mindset of seeking opportunities to race?

I blame Team in Training.

Team in Training members before a race.

Team in Training members before a race.

Team in Training(TNT) is a fundraising arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma society, which is devoted to finding a cure for lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.  TNT began in 1988, when its founder, Bruce Cleland, formed a team that raised funds and trained to run the New York City Marathon in honor of his daughter, a leukemia survivor.

In that story lies the seeds of how an organization can get a person not fond of running to complete her first marathon.

It starts innocently enough: attend a meeting.  Many marathoners-to-be attend this meeting because they have a friend who has participated in a Team in Training event, but the story is the main part of the draw — these marathoners-to-be quite often know someone is suffering from cancer, or is a cancer survivor.  Thus, people join Team in Training for a few reasons:

a) running a marathon, a half-marathon, a triathalon, etc., is on their “bucket list.”
b) it’s for a good cause — a race for the cure
c) in memory of, or in support of, a loved one

The first meeting is devoted to TNT’s story, and to pairing new runners with coaches and mentors.  The second meeting gets the Team running, a few miles only, enough to whet their appetite, enough to empower them to believe that they can complete a marathon.  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

But it’s not just the coaches and mentors that provide the motivation.  I theorize (nobody’s told me this outright) that the fundraising itself becomes a motivator.  At first, TNT’ers aren’t running for themselves, they’re running for someone they know.  Later, as they spread their story, they’re also running for those who have donated to help someone they know.  Additionally, repeating the cause for which one is running helps keep the motivation alive when the coaches and mentors aren’t present.

The Team in Training pasta dinner before the race is the culmination of all these efforts.  First-timers are cheered vociferously by the veteran runners as they walk into dinner, a foreshadowing of the race’s finish line.  The camaraderie of all the Team members is nearly instantaneous — they’ve all been through the same training, they’re all running in memory of someone.  It’s the ultimate psych-up before running 26.2 miles.

In the end, my wife didn’t set out to run a marathon for herself, or by herself. Rather, she ran a marathon for the victims and survivors of leukemia and lymphoma.  Nor did she run by herself.  She ran with a Team of people.

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