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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Necessary Steps: Marathon seekers get the structure and support they need by signing on with the Peninsula Chapter of Team in Training (TNT).

Ready to Run

Training for a marathon is 90% perspiration, 10% lunacy

By Genevieve Roja

FOR ONCE, the tabloid stories weren't about Oprah getting fat, Oprah getting engaged or Oprah getting richer. Daytime's biggest talk-show diva had just completed her first marathon and survived. Junk-in-the-trunk, hips-to-there Oprah got her big booty in gear and trained and sweated and ... finished? It was about as believable as Elvis coming back from the dead in the form of an E.T. look-alike. But it was true. I caught a special on her self-titled show highlighting her marathon finish, complete with images of perpetual fiancé Stedman Graham wrapping his arms around her. Slimmed down, clad in a navy blue jog-bra and running pants and devoid of television makeup, Oprah looked smashing. It was the look of accomplishment she wore on her face that endured more than anything else shown during that airing. Years later, I still remember the moment. I think, if boom-boom Oprah can finish a marathon, surely I can. In three months, I'll get my chance.

Hook, line and sinker.

My original intention was to chronicle the story, not join it. But after tagging along with a friend to a circuit-training session, I considered the idea of running my first marathon. That was Tuesday. By Saturday, I had run six miles for the first time in years and committed to running the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska.

Ideally, I am expected to train five days out of the week. It is an awesome challenge, trying to make time for workouts and balancing my personal life, but I try to keep in mind the greater goal: to finish.

And now, there's group help available. I have joined Team in Training, which practically guarantees every participant will finish as long as he or she sticks with the program.


The New Bohemians: A dotcom escapee decides to take the money and run--halfway around the world. And she's not alone.

New Economy Nomads: Travel to bohemian lands is affordable.

Call of the Wild: Never mind the rain--sunshine and wildflowers are ahead. Now's the time to plan great escapes.

Close-by Campouts: Getting-away-from-it-all on less than a tank of gas.

Be Reserved: Popular Parks Can Be Booked Online.

Exterior Decorating: Gadgets for the quintessential car camper abound and some are worth the price.

Mission Accomplished: Three missions, one afternoon, a heavenly feeling.


I admit I have stayed motivated mainly because I have seen the bodies that show up every week: short, stumpy, fat, skinny, young and old. Some struggle and others may finish last, but they are just as determined as the person who has sprinted ahead of them.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society began Team in Training as one of its nationwide fundraising programs. Led by professional coaches, participants train roughly four to five months before a race day by developing an organized training calendar, among so many other things. It works like this: pay a registration fee; try to show up for all the training sessions; commit to raising a minimum amount of money in the name of finding a cure for leukemia and related cancers and the Society pays your way to a race location. Of the minimum amount each participant raises, 25 percent is used for airfare and accommodations and 75 percent goes toward the cause. So in addition to training, I have to think up clever ways to raise money (minimum $3,500) and solicit family and friends.

Training for a marathon is all about physical progression and is as much a journey as a destination. No one on that June race day will have decided to run 26.2 miles based on sheer will without relying on months of training. This is the beauty of Team in Training. They provide the coaches and the training schedule and I decide to show up.

As I write this, the training calendar for last week looked like this: Sunday--easy, short run; Monday--cross- training; Tuesday--coaches' workout; Wednesday--cross-training; Thursday--buddy run; Friday--rest; Saturday--regional run. The cross-training days are designed so that each participant does an activity that still increases fitness but minimizes the risk of injury or burnout. So I do a recumbent bike and yoga one day, kickboxing the other cross-training day. "Buddy runs" mean running with a Team in Training, or TNT, mentor and their group. Because each TNT chapter is so large--ours, Peninsula, is about 180 strong--we are split into several groups of eight or nine people led by a mentor, usually someone who already has marathon experience. A "regional run" means the chapter runs together at nearby running locales such as Rancho San Antonio, Sawyer Camp Trail in San Mateo and near Stanford Stadium. As the season advances, these regional runs become the most important, as do the other training runs. Both will increase in mileage, but never exceed 20 miles. In fact, TNT participants will never run the full 26.2 miles during the training season; that distinction is for race day and race day only.

Of all things I've been hearing from our coaches during the Tuesday workouts, nothing has been more emphasized than preventing injury. So each Tuesday, we do our share of stretching out all the running muscles: the quadriceps, abductors, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors. Then we go through the circuit: walking on our toes and heels, doing squats, leg lifts, push-ups and other strength-building exercises. Interspersed within the circuit, we run around the school, laps at a time. We are instructed to do these circuits on our own to build our conditioning and strength. We are reminded that we are putting our bodies through hell, so we must prepare for hell as best we can.

Countless times in the last few weeks I ask myself what possessed me to undergo this running boot camp. The cause is inspiration. Tuesdays we sometimes hear from cancer victims undergoing stem cell transplants or near-lethal chemotherapy. The thinking goes that training for a marathon is nothing like these experiences, losing hair and healthy red blood cells. I've always wanted to run a marathon, too, and running for a cure is added incentive. It's impossible not to remember family members lost to leukemia, pancreatic and breast cancer. I think of the marathon as an athletic milestone, one I can notch right up there with the time I ran Montevina Road with my rowing teammates during a hellish spring break full of double-day workouts. It hailed halfway up and I was hurting, but the finish line jubilance was monumental.

For more information about the Northern California Chapter TNT and to see upcoming marathon events, visit www.teamintraining.com. For the national site, go to lsa-teamintraining.org. For the South Bay chapter of TNT call 408.271.2873.

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From the March 8-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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