Thursday, November 10, 2011

My T-E-A-M in Training Experience

This is a huge long post about my recent training & completion of my first half-marathon, mainly to help me remember when I'm looking back in time someday... it is also posted over on my TNT website if you care to read more about the WHOLE experience from the beginning, but I'm not sure how long that site will exist, so I'm posting it here too!

Six months ago I embarked on a journey with 2 friends and a goal -- finishing theSavannah Rock'N'Roll Half-Marathon. When we decided to train for our very first half, I knew I would need something huge to motivate me. After all, just a few days before, I had simply walked the 3-mile course of a race for which I signed up to RUN the 5-mile course. Jennifer, Amy & I passed the TNT tent and tossed around the idea of training for our first half-marathon. I knew all about Team-in-Training because my sister had participated with the Columbia team just 2 years ago to complete her first half-marathon in Myrtle Beach. At first, I was overwhelmed by the idea of raising the money, but at that point, I couldn't even imagine the outflowing of support I would receive in the coming months. I was also overwhelmed by the task of running such a long race. Many times I had spoken the words, "who would want to run for 2+ hours straight?!?". I think the things I learned over the last six months relating to both fundraising and running can definitely be summed up in the TNT motto "TEAM - TRAIN, ENDURE, ACHIEVE, MATTER". Leading up to the race, I wore a purple bracelet with the TEAM motto to remind me what it was all about.
Best 6am picture we've ever taken... me and my biggest supporter!

TRAIN - Each and every week, our coaches provided us with the opportunity to run as a group 3 times. We had two week-night "short" runs and a EARLY Saturday morning "long" run. Of course, the main goal of these runs were to train our bodies for our eventual goal. We gradually built up our mileage, all the way from 1 mile to 12 miles. As we ran, we also trained our minds to complete our race. By the time our 12-mile training run came around, I no longer doubted that I would be able to complete the 13.1 miles on race day. I knew I was trained. I had learned many important lessons.... the importance of breakfast, what to drink before/during/after a run, how early to wake up, how much to stretch, what clothes to wear, what supplies I needed with me at all times, what snacks to eat along the way, my favorite flavor of gatorade, where to find porta - potties, what to do when you couldn't find one, and how to recognize signs of trouble in myself and fellow runners. Training as a group was a great experience for me, and a successful one. Without my teammates, I wouldn't have been able to complete the training on my own.
6 months ago, we walked 3 miles... here we are after running 13.1!

ENDURE - Our first training started with these instructions: "Run this direction for 15 minutes, then run back...go as slow as you need to go to keep running the whole way." Looking back on that day, those 30 minutes seemed like an eternity. However, they were just a tiny FRACTION of the time we would spend on the road in the coming months. To be exact, they were less than 1/5 of my total race-day run. We slowly built up the endurance to run longer amounts of time and distances. I remember clearly the first day I ran the entire 5-miles of the Riverfront trail without worrying about whether I would make it the whole way. It was such a mental hurdle to overcome. Here are a few of the simple things I've learned about endurance: (1)long distances are easier to run early in the day, specifically, first thing. (2)attempting endurance in the middle of a heat advisory = ill-advised. (3)good company is better than any itunes playlist (4)an itunes playlist can go a long way to encourage you if good company is unavailable (5)running long distances leads you to share things you wouldn't ordinarily share with strangers (6)your brain doesn't work so well at the end of long distance running...just try doing some easy math and test yourself :) Most of all, I learned that the biggest obstacle to endurance is your MIND, not your body. I have short legs and don't run very fast, but my determined spirit took me a long way in my training. Each time I ran, I knew the total distance in my head, and didn't allow myself to quit until I had it completed. My teammates and I endured through injuries, SC's famously hot weather, rain, storms, early mornings, and many other obstacles along the way, but it was definitely well worth it when we finally crossed that finish line.

Hanging out before the START...
See those greenlights in the background?
Green means GO!

ACHIEVE - Each week in our training, we set and achieved new goals. Before joining TNT, I had never run more than 5 miles in a single stretch. Leading up to joining the team, the longest I had run in recent history was 4 miles. We began building up our mileage from 1 mile all the way to 12 miles. Each time we increased our goal, I achieved a new personal record for distance. The sense of accomplishment each week was just enough to spur me on to the next goal and the next. We also set goals for fundraising, and it seemed like each time I set a new goal, my supporters jumped on board and helped me to surpass the goal within only a matter of hours-to-days. With the help of all my generous supporters, I raised $4107.90 for LLS. At our inspiration dinner before the race, it was a great feeling to hear that the South Carolina team in Savannah had raised over $235,000, and all the TNT'ers in Savannah had raised over $1.4 Million! I'd say we achieved our fundraising goal, and then some. Ultimately, our goal is to find cures for cancer, and that $1.4 million ought to go a long way. One day, when someone finds that cure, I'll know that I had a part in that achievement.
Blue Ribbons = My HEROES
Green Ribbons = My Supporters & Donors

MATTER - On race day, I had a ribbon pinned to my jersey for all of my supporters and a ribbon for each of our honored heroes who battled cancer. I was thrilled to share with fellow runners on the course what each ribbon signified. By far, my favorite moment during the race was being able to tell a runner whose mother had died of Lymphoma that the reason I was running was to help find a cure.During our training and during my race, I couldn't help but strive to honor my heroes through my efforts. Even when hardships showed up along the way, I knew it was nothing compared to the fight against cancer. TNT has another slogan "If you think training is tough, try chemo." Each time the going got tough, I could remember those people who were battling cancer, and I knew that I had to keep fighting. My efforts to raise money and awareness for LLS definitely MATTER to those who are in the fight for their lives. On race day, when I left my hotel room, there was a sign on my door with the pictures of all my honored heroes. It read "Good Luck Leslie! Never forget who you're fighting for. Your honored heroes are with you every step of the way." That was all the inspiration I needed to run the race of my life to honor each and every one of them.

The sign from my hotel room door on race morning!

Being a part of TNT was an awesome experience, and definitely taught me many lessons that I'll carry with me in the future, both for running and for life. My team was comprised of a few close friends, strangers who became friends, and some pros dedicated to teaching us what being part of this team was all about. I am ever grateful to the heroes who inspired me, the donors, family & friends who supported me, and the teammates that raced for a cure with me. I could never have done it without you.

My finishers medal and 13.1mile pin!

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