In the middle of Philadelphia, my legs ached, my feet blistered and 60-year-old women strode past me like they were fighting for gold in the Olympic speed walking championship.
I was in so much pain — all because of walking.
In October, I engaged on a journey of a lifetime — the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk, which spanned 60 miles.
Alongside my mother, a two-time breast cancer survivor, and our close friends, we trekked the streets of Philadelphia with thousands of others dressed in pink to fight for a cure. Together, our team raised more than $16,000 for breast cancer research.
Seconds after I registered for the event and pledged I would raise $2,300 to be eligible for the walk, the foundation sent me an email about training for the event. But, having been a runner all my life, I didn’t pay much attention to it.
Did I really have to worry about walking 60 miles? Older women and men walked the race. I was 20 years old and in pretty good shape.
I later ignored the emails from my Susan G. Komen “virtual trainer” that were sent to me nearly every day for 24 weeks. I scoffed at the instructional video that stressed the importance of sticking to the strict training schedule, because it will pay off come race day.
Walking in the race was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It was the most vigorous test of my athletic ability for one sole reason — I didn’t train properly.
In the months before the event, I continued my exercise routine of running about six miles on Penn State’s campus and downtown State College. But, I never walked, as my mother, our friends and the rest of the thousands of walkers did months before the race.
Last Wednesday as my Twitter feed flooded with tweets from newly announced THON independent dancers, I got that same weak in the knees feeling I felt as I limped through Boat House Row in October.
I realized these people don’t have enough time to properly train for the dance marathon.
The Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon announced the list of independent dancers Jan. 30, only 15 days before they take the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center for 46 hours.
Is two weeks really enough time to prepare?
Susan G. Komen urged me to train for 24 weeks, and I got to sleep in a pink tent after walking 20 miles each day. According to Aaron Caeble, strength coordinator for Expert Fitness Health Club in Westfield, Mass., the answer is no.
Caeble said dancers should train for at least six months before THON.
“Two weeks of training isn’t going to be enough,” he said. “You’re not going to ask a marathon runner who will run 26.2 miles to train two weeks before and be ready.”
The best way to prepare is to attend dancing classes, like Zumba, and work on light circuit training, Caeble said. Because there aren’t many ways to prepare someone’s body to go without sleep, Caeble said it’s crucial to focus on building up endurance and to maintain a good diet. He also advises dancers to keep a healthy diet free of alcohol and heavy on the carbs in the two weeks leading up to THON.
There is a fitness class offered at the White Building twice per week this semester aimed for those dancing in THON. Participants experience a mix of cardiovascular endurance and stretching, with intensity increasing up to the final week before THON. But if dancers were just selected last week, they may not have had a reason before to attend the class.
According to the THON Dancer Survival Guide, dancers are encouraged to stop exercising the week before THON. That gives independent dancers only nine days to officially train.
I urge THON organizers to rethink the dancer selection process. Dancers should know months in advance, rather than weeks if they are going to dance. According to the THON Dancer Registration Packet, those interested in dancing are strongly encouraged to follow an official eight-week training schedule. But, if dancers don’t know if they are going to dance, they may not have much incentive to deviate from their daily workouts of lifting, running or light walking for 30 minutes.
Also, dancers should be made well aware about the dangers of staying up for 46 hours straight.
The THON Overall Committee never reveals how many dancers don’t make it until the end. Having reported on the dance floor, talked to dancers as the final four hours approached, I know all 710 dancers will not see the final reveal because there is no way they are all prepared. Caeble expressed skepticism about how many dancers will remain unscathed and said it’s very unlikely that all will.
There’s no doubt that THON changes lives. I’ve seen how deadly cancer can be, and I’ve seen the efforts Penn State students and others throughout the country are doing to find a cure. But we have to be smart about how we find that cure.
Christina Gallagher is a junior majoring in journalism and is The Daily Collegian’s Wednesday columnist. Email her at email@example.com.