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You're a beginner if...you're a walker or weekend jogger or if three miles is a challenge. The Couch to 13.1 beginner plan takes you from a zero base of running to the half-marathon distance slowly to avoid injury and to get your body used to a jogging routine.
Brittany Silverman, 26, was the last person her friends would have believed could run a half-marathon. The social butterfly had not so much as stepped into her gym since purchasing a membership, let alone broken a sweat beyond high school P.E. class. "I was ready for a lifestyle change, and I knew that following a training program would do it," Brittany says. "I was tired of being the one cheering on the sidelines as all my friends did races."
Take baby steps
A self-professed running-phobe, Brittany used our Couch to 13.1 beginner plan to train for the MORE/FITNESS Women's Half-Marathon. "The schedule eases you in with walk intervals that are twice as long as the run segments and then gradually stretches out the running," says Gail Kislevitz, a coach for the New York Road Runners' marathon charity team, Team for Kids, who created the 10-week half-marathon program. "After two weeks I didn't want to stop to walk anymore. I felt like a runner!" Brittany says.
Build a social network
Brittany traded happy hour for postwork runs with the Nike Run Club three nights a week. "I became friends with another first-time half-marathoner there," Brittany says. "I felt as if I had a partner to do this with." If you run solo, Kislevitz suggests updating your Facebook page, Twitter feed and such with your progress to elicit online cheers.
Get in gear
Brittany needed to replace her sports bra, since having a larger chest had previously deterred her from doing high-impact workouts. "Adjustable padded straps and an adjustable rib band are best for bigger cup sizes," says exercise physiologist LaJean Lawson, PhD, sports bra expert at Champion Activewear, who fitted Brittany.
Pick "fast" foods
Eating for long runs was a new concept for Brittany. "Carbohydrates are your source for fuel, because they turn most readily into glycogen, which feeds your muscles," says nutritionist Felicia Stoler, RD, author of Living Skinny in Fat Genes, who helped Brittany revamp her diet. "It's best to eat high-carb snacks or meals, like whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana, an hour before your run." Stoler recommends a daily diet that consists of 50 to 55 percent carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and veggies, 10 to 20 percent protein, and 25 to 30 percent fats, like avocado and nuts.
She Did It!
Brittany's race time: 2:20:39 (10:44-minute-mile pace)
Tracey Spedden, 42, a mother of two, started running after quitting cigarettes almost two years ago; she signed up for a half-marathon as a way to keep from gaining weight. "When I smoked I couldn't even run to my mailbox," Tracey admits. "I thought that if I were going to get healthy, I should go all the way and start exercising, too." But after walking most of that race, she hoped to one day run the full distance.
Tweak your schedule
Tracey's mission was to turn her walk-jog habit into a regular running routine."You can become a better runner by being consistent and slowly increasing your mileage," says Kislevitz, who had Tracey follow our beginner training plan to steadily increase her mileage over 10 weeks. "Being a wife and a mother means it's hard to put myself before my family," Tracey explains. She carved out runs by getting up an hour and a half earlier, before her husband had to leave for work.
Make it a family affair
On weekends, Tracey started taking her daughter, Kristin, and son, Shane, with her to ride their bikes alongside her as she ran. "It became quality time with the kids rather than time away from them," Tracey says. Try these other mommy-and-me tricks from Kislevitz: Let your children fill up your water bottles or time your laps if you run at a track.
Track your progress
Getting more serious with your running means knowing how much you've improved from day to day. Kislevitz suggests recording the distance and time and how you felt after each run. Tracey logged her runs on a calendar: "Seeing this every day made me realize I was getting better each week." Having those markers, like how fast your average mile is, gives you a mini goal to aim for each time you head out, Kislevitz says.
Get over the mental hump
Tracey knew she could finish 13.1 miles, but having a plan this time made her confident that she wouldn't resort to walking. She chose a new mantra every week to get her through long runs. Her favorite phrases: "The goals we set are the goals we get" and "If it were easy, everyone would do it." Kislevitz also gave her a strategy for running uphill: "Don't look up, just hunker down and take it step by step. Before you know it, you're at the top."
She did it!
Tracey's race time: 2:36:18 (11:55-minute-mile pace)
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, March 2012.