I have officially been participating in Team-in-Training for one month. I happened to pick the race with the longest lead time, so that I could spend a decent amount of time being spastic, which means I have three-and-a-half full months to go. I need every second of that time.

Before I took the plunge and signed up, I’d been curious about the Team in Training experience for a few years. If you’re like I was, I’m here to demystify the process for you.

In the first month our runs have lengthened from 2-miles to 6-miles. There are two organized runs per week. Tuesday night runs are training runs where we tend to keep runs short but focused on a specific training technique: finding a pace group, arm-swinging, cadence runs, etc. For the record, it took me a full year of reading Runner’s World to realize that “PR” meant personal record—these training runs are invaluable for a dilettantish runner like myself in learning the lingo.

On Saturdays, long run days, we gather in our pace groups for an easy paced run that increases each week by one mile.

Additionally, each week there’s a cross-training meet-up that isn’t required and I don’t go to because I spend enough time at the gym cross-training…did I mention the gym is heated. I like that.

Runners are recommended to run 1-2 additional times a week on their own.

You absolutely can train for a race on your own, in fact, most people do. What I really enjoy about TNT is the mission: feeling like I’m doing all of this for a good reason, and that these efforts actually matter for a greater good. The Pollyanna in my head also tends to regulate the curmudgeon inside of me that likes to remind me fairly regularly that running sucks.

Also, I really like the companionship. Don’t get me wrong, once we pass our first mile marker I’m no longer interested in making chit-chat with my fellow runners (not because I’m asocial, but because talking seems like unnecessary effort), but just being surrounded by people who are running for a cause is incredibly inspiring to me. When I think I can’t, I look around and see a whole lot of people just like me who are doing it…and then I keep going.

Between runs there are clinics: injury prevention, nutrition, what to wear to keep from freezing you’re a—off. They really do cover all the bases of being a runner, they even kindasorta make you feel like you’re an athlete, not just a shmo who rolled into practice as a way of celebrating her 30th birthday.

Before I signed up I’d heard that TNT was kind of like a cult, a really sweaty, good-intentioned cult. And it’s true, there are people there who do multiple races every year for 5, 6, 7 years or more. That means they’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars for cancer treatment and research. As far as cults go, I could think of worse ones. At least no one’s handing out Kool-Aid at gunpoint.

Those are the technical aspects of TNT, here’s what I’ve learned about myself in my first month of race training:

  • I don’t hate running as much as I thought I did. I mean, I don’t LOVE running like some crazy people do. But, over the course of the last month I’ve found myself looking forward to practice.
  • It’s possible to simultaneously be numb from the cold, and overheated. I’m still not ready to concede that one can wear too many layers while running in the winter. As far as I’m concerned I’d rather take the chance on being too hot, than too cold. As warm as my torso is, my fingers are always numb when I get home from a run. Does anyone have suggestions for good running gloves?
  • Running is not about speed. I’ve always assumed that a requirement for “running” was to move quickly. This particular fallacy has meant that my pre-training runs usually capped off at 3-miles—about as long as I could last at what I considered a running pace. My current pace is only slightly faster than my I’m in a hurry walking pace. I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit that I’m not going to win the race in April. All I care about is finishing it, and considering I’ve never run a half-marathon before I’m guaranteed a PR (now that I know what that means).
  • There’s no shame in walking.  There is a whole sub-category of training called run-walking.  Run-walking, as far as I’m concerned, is a science.  When my broken toe or crappy hip has been particularly troublesome I’ve left the running group to join the run-walkers, only to learn that run-walking is no easy out.  My mentor told me she ran-walked her last marathon and it was the most fun she’d had…and she’s one of those culty folks who runs four marathons a year with a few halves thrown in for fun.  I plan on running my half, but I like knowing that walking isn’t the booby-prize.

On to Month Two…