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Runners use training programs to prepare for marathon events

| Friday, May 2, 2014, 11:33 p.m.

Michele Denti had no intention of taking part in the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon in 2013, but when a friend's running partners backed out at the last minute and she didn't want to do it alone, Denti agreed to step in.

She took a bib that was going to go unused, and they walked most of the 13.1-mile course. It took more than four hours to finish.

“I did the Great Race when I was 15, but it was my first anything related to the marathon,” said Denti, 42, of Dormont. “All I wanted was to not get picked up by the sweeper.”

Along the way, however, Denti soaked in the atmosphere, the support from the spectators who cheered her on despite not knowing who she was and took note of all the people running around her.

“I have asthma, but I was looking at all these people of all shapes and sizes and thought, ‘There's no reason why I can't do this,' ” she said. “I guess it inspired me.”

Denti joined the “No Boundaries couch to 5K training program'' with Fleet Feet Sports in Bethel Park last July, and Sunday will again take part in the half-marathon. This time, she plans to run.

“I know I have the training and I know I can go there and I can do it,” Denti said. “Our pace group (with the training program) is the slowest pace group, but the camaraderie between us is something you can't measure. Each one of us has supported each other throughout the whole program, and we won't leave anyone behind.”

Denti is one of a number of runners who will be competing Sunday after signing up less than year ago with area 5K or 10K training programs run through specialty shops such as Fleet Feet and Elite Runners and Walkers. Running three or six miles might have started as the goal, but their aspirations didn't end there.

Suzanne Natter, 51, of Whitehall, began coaching couch to 5K participants for Elite Runners and Walkers' Robinson store location last summer. Most never heard the terms “pace group” or “VO2 max” or anything related to race training. They started off alternating between one-minute runs and one-minute walks, she said.

“It's interesting to see how far they've come and the obstacles they've come through,” Natter said. “I've got six people running the half-marathon and 10 more doing the relay in two teams of five. I told them when they started that it's going to be life-changing.”

Stephanie McFerron, 34, of Scott Township, was in Natter's group. She was taken aback when her Mother's Day gift last year was enrollment in the couch to 5K program, but her husband was a runner and her 7-year-old son wanted to start running not just with dad, but mom, too.

McFerron said she never had anything athletic in her life.

“It was definitely tough,” she said of starting the training. “I was able to do all the intervals, but at the end of running three minutes I never imagined how I was going to be able to get to five minutes.”

McFerron and her husband are running the half-marathon Sunday, and their two children are participating in Saturday's kids' marathon.

“It's turned into something we can all do together on the weekends,” she said. “It's really become a nice family activity and like nothing we've ever done before.”

Brooke Pletcher, 42, of Upper St. Clair, participated in the No Boundaries couch to 10K program last summer. She'd run before and trained for the Philadelphia Marathon in 2010, but was a solo runner and never took part in group or training runs. She ran her last long run of 20 miles in preparation for the marathon, suffered a stress fracture in her foot and wasn't able to do the race.

Since then, she'd been fearful of injury and hadn't run more than three miles before she decided to join the training group last July.

“I didn't realize the benefits of being part of a group and how much education you get about training and injury prevention as well as motivation,” she said. “It's really hard but being part of a group is phenomenal. It's so amazing to watch people of all shapes and sizes meet their goals. It's the positivity you get that it's just really neat to be around.”

Pletcher plans to run the full 26.2-mile marathon on Sunday. She's nervous, since training runs stop at 20 miles and she's heard stories about people struggling between 20 miles and the finish line. But, she said, she has faith in the education and training she's gotten through the group.

“It's definitely taken away a lot of my fear and anxiety,” she said. “You trust the program, so it doesn't feel like you're doing it by yourself. You're able to do it with a group who started as members but slowly became friends. It makes all the difference in the world.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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