Why I’ll Never Run with Team In Training Again


My 1st Half Marathon! Rock N Roll San Antonio 11/16/08

My 1st Half Marathon! Rock N Roll San Antonio 11/16/08

Before I receive a lot of heckling for posting please know that I think The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is an incredibly worthy charity that is doing amazing things to help find a cure for cancer. But this post doesn’t have anything to do with LLS. It’s strictly based on my personal experience with Team In Training (TNT).

For those that may not know, when you agree to train and run a race with TNT, you commit to raising x amount of money. I had to raise $4000. A month before the race you provide a credit card # stating that if you fail to raise the total figure, you agree to personally pay the balance. But you don’t have to recommit. You can opt to not participate in the race. 

When I signed up in June, I was told that I would have a ton of support and one-on-one meetings with our captain and we would have group events to help raise funds. So I started by sending out almost 200 letters which included SASE’s to make it convenient for their return.  I received about 5 of them  back. Ouch! No fear, quite a few of my blog readers and practical strangers donated quite generously.  I was shocked and awed by their generosity. And it all came close to about $1000.

I was feeling pretty good at the end of July, but oddly there were no meetings about fundraising or group events to participate in. Some folks were having things, but it was mainly friends who knew each other and signed up together to participate. But I was flying solo. So I would do it alone. 

When I finally met with someone from TNT office, the story I got was “Yeah, it sucks to not have really big donations from your letter writing campaign. Well, you can send out more letters, postcards, emails and blog posts.”  OK, but I’ve already done that. I mean I began to feel bad even discussing it with anyone. So I told her about my other ideas and she thought they sounded good. OK got a plan. 

1) Hold a silent auction at POSH’s fashion show. That was a great idea. People joined in and donated very generous items to that event. But when I tried to call TNT to get some publicity, which is supposed to happen, I couldnt get anyone to return phone calls or emails for over 2 weeks. Nothing. I had to have my running coach call in and try to get me support. Apparently the girl who was dealing with our team quit and someone else was taking over, but she wasn’t responding to any one’s request (so I found out at the race) Now I’m not sure of the impact of that, but I did an ok amount of business. I raised almost $900. Not real great considering I had over $2200 in products & services. But it was almost a fourth of my required total. 

2) I had a yardsale. Once again, no publicity from TNT. Really a poor turnout. Made $150. But I had to pay a sitter to keep the kids and watch over the sale while I went for my long run with the team so that cost me another $60. And yes, I could’ve skipped the long run, but it was stressed that it was the most important run of the training. So I went a little late to help get the sale started, only to find there was no trail map. They are supposed to be provided at the beginning of every run so people will know where to go.  After 2 hours of driving and looking I finally ran in to some of them. Got set on the right direction and then ran in to the coach who huffed at me when I said there were no maps, “Well we’ve ran this course 5 times”. OK maybe some have, but I haven’t. And that’s not really the point. They’re supposed to be there as a resource and they were not.  Just another little snafu.

3) I applied for the Walmart community grant of $1000. It was recommended by TNT. I figured if I raised about $3500 I could put in the rest of the money. I applied for the grant in early July but there were 2 administrative errors in processing it. So as re-commitment approached, I spoke with the manager in charge and explained to her the situation and why I needed a definite answer on whether or not I would be approved.  She said it would go through, it was approved they just had the wrong address on it and it was corrected.  

GREAT!  I can recommit and I’ll eat about $1000. I’m ok with that it’s for a good cause. When I checked on the grant the following week, like I did every week all summer long, I was told that the manager I had dealt with was no longer there. The new manager told me I was not going to get approved.  In fact, I was told that multiple people had applied for the grant and only one person was supposed to and they had been telling TNT not to send multiple people to the store for the same charity. Really?  But every time I spoke with someone from TNT they told me that was not true.  Then I was told by Walmart that in fact I had been approved for the grant, but unfortunately when the check came in they called the top application instead of the bottom one, which was the first one that had applied for it – me. But Walmart insisted there was nothing they could do and they told me is was a TNT issue. When I called TNT and explained the situation and asked for help. I was met with blank stares, different stories, etc. And when I began to get frustrated with the different stories I began to get shuffled around hearing, “Well, I really don’t deal with that issue. Just have fun at the race.”  And that’s what the next person would tell me as well. Seriously have fun when I’m out $2000. I’m sorry but that’s going to be a real stretch.

But I did have fun at the race. As you can see by the picture, which I though was pretty darn good for having just ran 13.1 Miles!! Woo Hoo!! I enjoyed the race and the events. It was really an amazing experience going to the Expo and doing the dinners, etc. It was a good time. Which is why I feel horrible about how things ended up. I came back and made a few phone calls to the TNT office asking about the check and how to get the issue resolved and I couldn’t get a phone call returned. 

That’s really the issue I have and why I’m posting on it. Yes, LLS is a great charity or I wouldn’t have committed to do it. Yes, TNT does a lot of great work. Yes, the folks working there are probably underpaid and they are understaffed. Yes, I recommitted of my own free will.  But puhhlease! If you are a non-profit and you have people working to raise money for you, can you simply return a phone call!  This is customer service. I am a customer. I am the person who is going to blog and tell all my friends about this experience. And you can’t return a phone call? Not then and certainly not now.  That’s just not right – profit or non-profit. 

PS – I finished in under my goal of 3 hrs even with a lot of walking the second half. I just couldn’t find a grove. I usually run alone and I was a bit overwhelmed. But in a good way. I’ll post on running & training a bit later.


33 thoughts on “Why I’ll Never Run with Team In Training Again

  1. BeyondJEMS, what a terrible experience! (I clicked over here from Michael Hyatt’s Twitter, but I visited several months ago, too.) Anyway, I just wanted to say I’m sorry this happened to you. I worked for LLS a few years ago, and they ARE an incredible organization doing great work. I did feel overworked and underpaid while I was there, but at my chapter, we WERE taught to provide outstanding customer service to both volunteers and patients. Unfortunately, sometimes the individuals in an organization don’t live up to the goals and the values of the group, and it sounds like that has cost you a couple grand. I hope you’ll still give LLS a chance in the future…

    And also – WOW! Congratulations on finishing your race! You did a great thing.

    • I had the same experience as you but I dropped out because I would not commit to owing them anything and they told me I had to…I offered not to race if I couldn’t raise the money but they wanted the commitment of money. I will never ever support them again. If you check the amount that goes toward research for every dollar donated, you will find it’s to what you’d think. Too much goes toward salaries and other expenses. I also received lots of empty promises.

  2. I hate to her about your experience. What a shame. I had a great experience with the Charlotte NC TNT staff and volunteers a few years ago when I did a century ride. Recently though, a friend planned an art show and decided to donate some of the proceeds to LLS. I wrote and sent out a press release, got some local media coverage but could not for the life of me get a return phone call or email from LLS. It would have been very easy for them to take the press release and help get the word out among their contacts, yet no one ever would get back in touch with me. My friend ended up selling $20,000 of her art and still donated some of the proceeds despite the lack of response from LLS. Just an unbelievable situation.

  3. Unfortunately, this is a common experience when dealing with NGO’s. Specifically LLS, I participated in the Hike for Discovery. A friend of mine and I had an eerily simular experience. There was no support or publicity… a lot of empty promises on the fundraising end. However, the physical training was great.
    As a career professional in NGO work, I must say that many NGO’s make the mistake of hiring people just because they are committed to the cause vs committed to the cause and professional NGO staff.

  4. As running goes its clear from the content of your blog that you are on top of you game and your passionate about this sport. Thanks for sharing with me and giving me additional inspiration. I too am in the process of writing about my fav pastime and in this process I am aiming to give some honest reviews of products that are out there in the market, already used for the sport. Thanks James

  5. Congratulations on your run – I, too, was at the San Antonio Marathon and had a great experience – and I, too, ran for LLS through TNT. I’m so sorry you had such a terrible experience – the South Texas Chapter was nothing but helpful with SEVERAL fundraising workshops as well as plenty of support! I’ve heard that other chapters are not as supportive of their members, which is a shame because LLS is such a worthwhile cause! I hope some of the upper-level folks will get involved to ensure that all chapters can be held to the same standards so no one will be afraid to be a part of TNT! I would highly recommend my experience – I was able to meet my fund-raising goal & I was able to train to run a distance I never thought I’d even WANT to run!
    Best of luck in your future running endeavors!

  6. I am glad to hear that I am not the only one with a negative experience. I have been trying to gain support from my chapter for an event this fall in 2011 and there is no support. With recommitment this Friday, I am going to have to drop out because I cannot afford to eat it if I don’t make my goals.

    Thanks for posting.

  7. I completely understand what you mean. i am currently signed up for the sept 29, 2012 race and I feel that I am flying solo, so much that I don’t even go to saturday practices anymore. I committed myself to do this and I intend to do just that. I am just going to complete the race eat up the big fat difference of the fundraising total and never look back.
    My advise to everyone joining is don’t get sucked in by all the promises. If you are a walker/runner and you have experience in fundraising go for it. You will help a lot of people.

  8. My Team in Training (cycling) experience was pretty bad as well. 1) My “mentor” who ended up being a real jerk and thought he was Lance Armstrong, embarrassed me on Facebook! He posted a video for all to see criticizing my cycling technique. I had to call him and tell him to take it down! 2) My “team” all knew each other and never accepted me. Ii felt like I was in some kind of cult. 3) The pressure to raise money was way way way too extreme. 4) I decided not to join TNT this year and when I met up with my old “team” at a local bike event, NON of them wanted anything to do with me.

    In my opinion, TNT seems rather cult like and definately cliquey.

    • Well Keith I was hardly Lance and I ended up getting sidelined with A-Fib that year. That was a joke on FB and when I found out it bothered you I took it down. Didn’t know you were that sensitive.You never listened to any suggestions on fundraising and really never made any attempt at it. You were the last to arrive at events, the first to leave, and always had to be somewhere else. You call us cliquey but never made yourself available to be part of the group.

      I took you to the Dr. when you needed it and called to see how you were doing. I don’t think a “JERK” would take the time. Never got a call from you when I went through my A-Fib procedure.

      I know this is falling on deaf ears but it felt good to write. I won’t anything on Facebook as I have blocked you.


  9. I’ve done two marathons with TNT the last two seasons. This year I’m a mentor. I can absolutely understand the bad experiences – TNT is definitely about the people in your local chapter. Here in Portland we’re working really hard to be inclusive – the only way to grow the mission is to include new folks and get them invested. It’s just a shame that some of you had bad experiences and makes me sad. For those still considering TNT, reach out to your coach and your mentor. Ask lots of specific questions and trust your gut. Our coach cares deeply about the mission and shows up to several fundraisers a year. If you feel on the outside looking in, say something early on in the season. TNT _can_ be a wonderful experience, but it’s all dependent on your team and the relationships you build – and it’s a two way street…you have to have inclusive, motivated, caring, coaches, mentors and teammates.

  10. I had the same bad experience with TNT. I ran with the Texas Gulf Coast chapter for the Austin 10/20 and luckily, my fundraising goal was only $1700. After bothering my friends and family for months, I was only able to raise about $1300. Which is quite a lot, if you think about it. But I had to foot the other $400. I felt exactly the same as you; that I was flying solo, there was no help, they made empty promises, etc. Yet, it was still a fun race with a good dinner the night before and fun activities after. But those little things didn’t quite make up for the horrible lack of support and focus on the money I experienced. I’m glad I’m not the only one that had a bad experience…

  11. TNT is a complete fraud. The money goes to the executives at LLS. TNT even lies in their fundraising materials saying ” 78 percent goes to research”. That is an outright lie.

    • Janice, with all due respect, you are just flat out wrong. Please check out the link I’ve provided by an independent organization that rates charities.


      As you will clearly see, in 2012 (the most recent year for which there is data), 73% of the money LLS raised went to the “programs and services it delivers.” 7.6% was spent on administrative costs, and 19.4% was spent on fundraising. Again, this is the analysis of an independent organization that is working from the documents LLS provides to the IRS.

      The LLS website notes that in 2013 the charity put 77.6% of their money into programs and services. That equals 78% if you round up. It’s a 5% raise from 2012 – numbers that were evaluated by an independent organization. It’s not a lie. In 2013 less than 9% of LLS’s expenses were spent on administrative costs (that includes the salaries of executives at LLS).

      In no way is TNT or LLS a fraud – in fact, they are a well respected charity and the number prove it out.

      I’ve not done an event for LLS in almost a year, and I don’t work for them. The organization has issues, but fraud and lying about where the money goes is not among them.

      I’m sorry that some of you have had negative experiences with TNT. I’d be the first to say it’s not for everyone. But let’s not spread mis-information, Janice. That’s just not cool. Happy holidays everyone!

        • Janice, the article you link is based on information from 2001. It’s more than 10 years old. But to make matters worse, the analysis by Dr. Hays is contaminated by his emotional rhetoric which distorts the meaning of the numbers.

          Let me try to address the same issue raised by Dr. Hays, but without the negatively slanted emotional rhetoric.

          Every charity has to solicit donations, the question is how and at what cost. Instead of hiring professional fund raisers, TNT pays the athletes training for running/cycling/walking events to raise money. About 20% of the money raised by TNT is used to “pay” the folks raising the money. The payment, or compensation, is in the form of race entrance fees, transportation to/from the race, ect. You will notice that this percentage is lower than it was in 2001 (when it was 25%).

          The question asked and answered by Dr. Hays is “how unreasonable is it for a charity to spend $.20 of every $1.00 donated on fundraising itself?” Dr. Hays uses exclamation points and boldface type to lead his readers to believe that this $.20 (or $.25 back in 2001) is unbelievably unreasonable and also inefficient. The problem is that he’s just wrong. It’s neither unreasonable nor inefficient. And according to Charity Navigator it’s also a meaningless statistic when evaluating the value of a charity’s work.

          Let me explain by comparing LLS to another charity fighting childhood cancers: Alex’s Lemonade Stand. This charity only spent $.05 for every $1.00 donated on fundraising costs. Or how about the well known V Foundation, which has the support of ESPN and raises money for cancer research? They spend $.01 for every $1.00 donated on fundraising costs. So, that means they each must be doing the community a greater service, right? On the surface it’s easy to fall into thinking so – but the bottom line is that the fundraising model used by Alex’s Lemonade Stand raised $12.5 million. The model used by The V Foundation raised $17.2 million. Meanwhile, the model used by LLS raised $292 million. You tell me which charity is using the model that will have the most impact on ending the suffering caused by cancer.

          My opinion? The $213 million LLS spent on programs (which includes both research and patient support) is having more impact than the $10.3 million Alex’s Lemonade Stand spent or the $15.5 million The V Foundation spent. That’s not to say the later two are less valuable – they just don’t have as successful fundraising models, and most would argue that this is a reflection of the bottom line that sometimes you have to spend more to make more. LLS figured this out, and the result is almost a quarter of a billion dollars raised for cancer research and patient programs.

          Could it be more efficient? Sure – but not without making the entire model untenable. Folks are on this blog complaining that they didn’t get enough support to reach their minimums. But the only way to lower that $.20 is to raise the amount of money required for each participant to raise, or not compensate the participant for raising the money. Either way, you will lose participants and that means you raise less money.

          While I assume Dr. Hays means well and is a good guy, his rhetoric gets in the way of seeing the issue clearly.

          As for the CEO of LLS – yes, he makes $580,000 a year. Remember Alex’s Lemonade Stand? The co-Executive Directors (a husband and wife team) EACH make just over $125,000 a year. His salary represents .19% of the money his organization brings in. Their salary represents 1.05% of the money their organization brings in. Again, to raise $250 million a year you have to pay talented business men and women to run the organization.

          And you’re welcome to characterize the money as being made off the suffering of others, but it seems a bit unfair. Do you really believe someone with the skills and business acumen to run a quarter of a billion dollar charity shouldn’t be thanked and compensated by only making 4x more than the folks who run organizations that make 20x less to help END that suffering???

          As for my numbers, all the numbers I mentioned are either on the website I linked (www.charitynavigator.com) or on the LLS website; and it’s all current, not over a decade old. If you still believe LLS and TNT are a fraud, so be it.

          • Justifying a 600 thousand dollar a year salary is ridiculous. This is suppose to be a NON PROFIT not the CEO’s personal ATM. Also, I read on leukemia scandal they have cut off patient services. And a number of people all agree he molested his own daughter. How do you stand up for a person like that?

  12. Hey JEMS, this is not the first that I am hearing of this. I run a small local charity Our Backyard Foundation and picked up a disgruntled TNT coach. He has now started a Family in Training within OBF. Want to make a difference? Come join us. Check out our web site. We are a small grassroots type of organization with NO salaried employees! That means 99% of the money passes through to the recipient. We could use help with our FIT (Families in Training). This is going to target families with young children, 6 and up as well as adult kids with older parents. We will train for 1 mile walk/runs for beginners and young children/older parents and train for tri’s and longer races for the families that need more of a challenge. What’s best is this will be focused on training and having fun while raising some money (we will try to avoid minimums) not bankrupting our athletes! I’m always available to answer questions through the web site. Good luck with things.

  13. Sources Say Walter is being held in custody at Federal Detention Center (MCC Manhattan). I hope he is never released and spends life in prison. And hopefully more LLS executives will be arrested soon.

  14. I’m having the same experience. There was ZERO support and I was threatened with getting dropped for not coming out of pocket the additional $1K so they could recoup costs. I’m not understanding what costs need to be recouped if I already raised well over the registration fees and had to pay registration fees anyway. It’s ridiculous.

    • I agree, Alace. I have been trying to find ANY legal information on non-profits requiring participants to raise outrageous amounts, and then charging for the balance if it is not met. Is it legal?? JEMS blog came up upon my research, and I was so glad to find somebody talking about it. I, too, participated in a LLS event. A 100-mile bike ride — in my hometown (so no travel expenses). I was required to raise $1,600.00. They did charge me the balance I did not raise. I did not participate in training (not sure if they pay the coaches?). I received a jersey, a water bottle and two power bars. I vowed never to do another event for any non-profit that required these ridiculously high minimums. I did that same bike ride event for $50 (as an independent rider and not part of any non-profit team) , and received a t-shirt and power bars on the route. Too bad LLS has not figured out that they could have had my donation instead. It makes no sense: $1600.00 or nothing? I am in correspondence at the moment with a similar non-profit: Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer fundraising. They require $2500.00 per person to participate. So, I do all of the work and raise what I can, and they can punish/charge me ABOVE and BEYOND what the cost is to cover my participation? Of course, I cannot get a solid answer out of them. They sent me a link to their annual report. I simply asked how much it costs per person participation. Now, I participate in bike rides for MS Society or Special Olympics. They ask for $60 registration and suggest a minimum balance ($100-$250). It is a suggested amount, and they do not charge you beyond your registration fee. All non-profits should follow this: registration fees should be EXACTLY what it costs for you to participate. It should not be thousands above. People that can raise thousands of dollars will still do so. They don’t need to be REQUIRED to do so. Perhaps the CEO’s who are making $580,000 are only thinking of the people in their circles who can afford to pay those balances and can raise that kind of money from their rich friends. Because people who are in families who have been affected by leukemia or breast cancer, or who have been affected by the RECESSION, for that matter, do not have the luxury of that kind of fat bank account. So my question is still out there: is it legal for them to hold you to that balance? Or the better question: is it legal for them to force you to sign a binding contracts committing to that?

      • You folks slamming LLS and TNT are really out to lunch. First off, you had at least a month to train with your coaches and team prior to being given the opportunity to back out. It’s called “re-commitment” and if you back out you’re not charged a thing. Not a penny. So to pretend you didn’t know what you were getting yourselves into is laughable. Second, the reality is if you don’t require people to raise a minimum, they won’t do it. So you’re required to hit a minimum because if there wasn’t one, LLS would coach you and support you and get very little money donated to the cause. If you don’t like it, don’t do it, but stop slamming an organization that has raised millions for cancer research. No one forced you to sign up. No forced you to recommit. If you weren’t getting support prior to recommitment, why did you recommit??? That’s on YOU, not LLS or TNT. A little bit of information goes a long way.

  15. I have had wonderful experiences with Team In Training and got a lot of support for my fundraising. I was fortunate to raise my goal before re-commitment. If you are having trouble fundraising and not getting support than don’t recommit, the funds you raise will go where it is supposed to go. It’s a shame that I am reading about all of this negativity. my team was great and very supportive. I registered for another event and will be a mentor. If it’s not for you then don’t do it, and hopefully you will find another organization that fulfills your needs.

  16. I just wish the TNT Indianna chapter would quit allowing one of their runners to use my sons pictures and name for their campaign page. I have written them requesting them to remove it. No luck. Do you know what percentage actually goes to research?

  17. Ugh, some people are such babies. If you don’t want to be involved and receive the free coaching and support, stay on the sofa. Your issues sound like lazy fundraising and a lack of creativity, rather than a problem with TNT. Here is a free tip: spend less time complaining and blogging, more time training and fundraising for cancer victims who really need our help. Your post is embarrassing.

  18. I got tons of support for the two times I trained with TNT: the first from our local chapter: I still regularly work out with people I met there and they helped me fund raise both that time and the next time when I was in the virtual chapter.

  19. I had a similar experience, JEMS. I had signed up with a “friend” (who turned out not to be such a good friend). She had done two or three events with TNT previously and promised that fundraising was easy. It wasn’t. I was only able to raise about half of my fundraising goal. I was stuck with paying $1500. My mentors even promised to send some of their “regular” contributors/contributions my way when it became clear that I wasn’t going to reach my goal, but that never happened (and, I’m pretty sure that’s against the “rules” anyway). The group was very cliquey. In fact, one of the guys in the group owns a local bike store, and he is the source for a lot of the equipment that team members purchase. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t.

  20. I’ve just read these stories but I had a different experience. Why my experience goes back to 1997, I know that’s when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
    My bestie and I raised more then 10,000. $.
    The marathon was Ankorage Alaska. The most amazing thing I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve got the metal to prove it!

    I hate that things have taken a bad turn, because it changed my life.

  21. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with TNT staff. I have had the exact opposite. I’m doing my second event with TNT this weekend and the coaches are unbelievable (and we always had maps). Our staff person is amazing and always ready to help. She returns calls quickly and enthusiastic and has tons of ideas.

  22. I had the same exact experience but I was not in a position to fork out thousands of dollars, so I didn’t recommit. I have to say I was really disappointed with the lack of follow through, and honestly, disrespect. LLC left with me a really bad taste in my mouth.

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