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The San Francisco Marathon and Half Marathon may be months away (July 31, 2016, to be exact), but the end of January will be the perfect time to start training for it. When most people envision a marathon or half marathon runner, the first image that comes to mind is a seasoned athlete that finishes in record time. However, USA Fit East Bay, a marathon and half marathon training group program that trains out of Danville, begs to differ. For more than a decade, the certified team of coaches has helped hundreds of beginning runners achieve a long-distance finish with little more than a drive and commitment to succeed.

Local runners Becca Lopez, Ranjit Bhaska and Patti Montenegro, all from the East Bay area, are just such stories of beginners who achieved what they dreamed impossible. Read on to learn how training for a marathon changed their lives and how it can changes yours, too.

Becca’s Story
Concord resident Becca Lopez would never have considered herself an athlete. That is, until she joined USA Fit East Bay in January 2015. She used to refuse to run with other people because she felt self-conscious about her pace. However, the weekend group runs with USA Fit became the highlight of her weekends and introduced Becca and her husband, who also runs with the group, an opportunity to see more of the East Bay area than she would have otherwise.

“I love USA Fit because of the support and camaraderie,” said Lopez. “It never mattered if I was slow or new to the sport. There was always encouragement and company. The group was dependable and made training easy.”

Proud of her dedication and accomplishment. Lopez feels more knowledgeable about running, which has opened her up to a new community. Her first race after training with USA Fit was the Disneyland Half Marathon, and Lopez looks forward to many more long distance finishes in the future.

Ranjit’s Story

After hearing about USA Fit East Bay in the Pleasanton Weekly newsletter, Ranjit Bhaskar, who lives in Dublin, decided to take up the challenge of running in the San Francisco Half Marathon. At 220 lbs., he finally decided to get in shape through running, although he had never run even half a mile in his life.

“Every Saturday long run with USA Fit was an interesting experience,” said Bhaskar. “I was struggling to finish the Saturday runs until I finally found my running pace. The first two miles [of one of our 7-mile runs] were tough as usual, but then I entered a zone, which gave me an incredible feeling that I could run forever! I finished the run strong and sprinted to the end. This was a turning point for me because it game me confidence to run any distance.”

Another moment was a testament to the support that Bhaskar found through his team of coaches and fellow members at USA Fit.

“During an 11-mile run through Lafayette Moraga, I ran strong but ran out of water by mile eight. I felt dehydrated and had to walk the last three miles back. When I got back to the start, embarrassed, I was greeted with a loud applause by the USA Fit East Bay coaches that really lifted my spirits. That’s when I realized how dedicated these people really are! And, I’ve never forgotten to bring my larger water bottle after that!”

Bhaskar proudly lost weight throughout the 26-week season, regained the fitness he had lost from his youth and finished strong at the San Francisco Half Marathon with a time of two hours and 39 minutes. He then went on to finish in the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Marathon and plans to run the Berkeley Half Marathon in late November.

“The camaraderie of the USA Fit East Bay folks was the biggest gain for me,” said Bhaskar. “Without them, I doubt whether I could have attempted the half marathon. I also made lots of new friends, which made running races way more enjoyable.”

Patti’s Story
After running the Walnut Creek 5K last December, Patti Montenegro decided it was time to give running a full try and to finish a half marathon. So that January, she joined USA Fit East Bay. Montenegro was no stranger to fitness as she regularly participated in high-intensity interval training boot camps and basic MMA skills classes at her local UFC gym. However, she could only walk and hike when it came to hitting the pavement. She wanted to become a better athlete through running and thought that, at her age, she could train slowly and meet her goal with less injury.

“Since joining USA Fit, I’ve been able to run long distances with less walking, have more confidence, which has opened me up to being able to run more races with even more amazing people, and have had the opportunity to run beautiful trails during our group runs,” said Montenegro. “The information passed on to us as part of our training was priceless! We have very professional yet warm coaches.”

She completed her first race, the Diva Half Marathon and completed the San Francisco Half Marathon thereafter. She plans to keep running long distance races for as long as she can and has a number of races she plans to finish in the coming year, with, of course, the proper training that USA Fit provides.

“Training with USA Fit, my world got even bigger,” said Montenegro. “I have met so many great people since then and are doing more stuff with them. The highs I got from running and finishing the two halves this year was incredible. Running over the Golden Gate Bridge was surreal – never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be doing this and finishing. All of it has been nothing but great experiences on so many levels. The training and finishing races has transcended just racing into my work and personal life!”

If you would like to change your life, get more fit and become a runner in 2016, register today for USA Fit East Bay’s 2016 training program today at www.usafiteastbay.com. Orientation will take place Saturday, Jan. 30 or Feb. 6 from 8 to 9 a.m. at Osage Station Park in Danville. If you can’t make it, you can also register online through Friday, Feb.12, and start your first day of training any Saturday through Saturday, Feb. 13. Take $10 off your registration with code eastbay2016.

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