Every Friday, we feature a real-life person who has embraced a healthy lifestyle from a former sedentary, unhealthy life. We hope their story inspires you to start living and breathing a healthy life! Today's feature is Brandi Heinz who is training for the Wisconsin Marathon on May 5, 2012. She is also a participant of the 12x12 Project. We are so excited for her!

Sarah: When did you start running? Brandi: I started running in Junior High - thank goodness, because I did not have eye-hand coordination. I tried soccer, softball, volleyball ... no success there. I joined the track team and started out wanting to be a hurdler or sprinter, but I wasn't very fast. One day, the coach asked for volunteers for the 1600m run and no one raised their hand. I volunteered, and I believe I took third place in the race. I was hooked!

Sarah: What do you like best about running? Brandi: When I was younger, I liked running for the mid-distance and 5K races, then strictly for fitness. Now, it's a great outlet for stress and a very healthy hobby. I love having another race on the horizon to train for, and I look forward to Saturday runs with my running club. I like that it's something I can do alone or with people, anywhere. And I even sort of like that people look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them how far I ran. :)

Sarah: You just ran the Austin Half Marathon this past weekend. What was that experience like? Brandi: The Austin Half Marathon is the biggest, toughest, hilliest half marathon I've run - yet I still ran my personal best. I really enjoyed myself during the race. They had live music throughout the course, and the fan support was amazing! The ninth mile marker was lined with Livestrong supporters: walls of yellow on either side, cheering and blaring Black Eyed Peas, high-fiving us. I ran this race with my two sisters, so it was really special to share that experience with them. We even met Bart Yasso during the expo. He was awesome - gave us some great advice for the race (like how to handle all those hills)!

Sarah: You live in Chicago; do you run outdoor or inside during the winter months? Brandi: This is the first year I've ran outside, and it has made a big difference! Joining a running club gives me people to run with at night and during the snowy days, so I always feel safe. Since I've continued running as the weather changed, I've never felt like to was difficult to get used to the weather. I never consistently ran during the winter months in the past because the treadmill was boring. I'm really proud that I've kept it up this winter - I love telling people when I've ran 10 miles in the snow!

Sarah: You are also training for your first marathon (YAY!), how has your training been going? Brandi: I feel like it is just starting, since I had my half marathon milestone that I've been working towards. On my way back from Austin, I mapped out my marathon training plan and realized it's only 10 WEEKS AWAY! I'm taking this week off, then next week I'll go right back into it with a 10 mile run. Over the coming weeks I'll run my farthest distance runs I've ever done, getting up to a 20-miler. I'm excited and nervous at the same time!

Sarah: Girls On The Run is a cause you care about. Can you share with us a little bit about what you do with them? Brandi: I've volunteered with Girls on the Run in a few different roles, but my favorite is being a running buddy. Girls on the Run is a non-profit organization that encourages young women to lead healthy, confident lives through an after school curriculum that culminates in a 5K run. As a running buddy, you run with a girl on a training run, then at the race. My first buddy was a 5th grader who was FAST! She kicked my butt during the race, I believe we were the first group from her school to finish, and it was amazing! She was so encouraging to every other girl out there, whether they were right behind her or walked most of the distance. My second buddy was a third grader who hadn't run before. She was very nervous and didn't want a buddy, but five minutes into our training run, she was chatting up a storm. We even Skyped a couple of times before the 5K. Again, it was amazing to watch her encourage her fellow runners and come out of her shell. Running one of the Girls on the Run 5Ks is like nothing I've experienced! Within five minutes I had my hair sprayed multiple colors, writing on my face and arms, and my race bib decorated. It's such a fulfilling organization to work with.

Sarah: And for fun, what is the first you want to do when you finish the Wisconsin Marathon? Brandi: Take a picture with my medal and share it with everyone on Facebook and Twitter! Then, maybe have some chocolate milk and an ice bath :). I love sharing my running journey online because I hope that it inspires other people to try something new. If you would've asked me a year ago if I would run a marathon, I would've looked at you like you're crazy! And now, here I am ... and I sort of think I AM crazy. But after talking to all the different people who have ran a marathon, I truly do believe anyone can do it if they have the right mindset and people around them.