Trotting a year later


What a difference a year makes. Last year, the Naperville Turkey Trot 5K was the first time I ran under a “START” banner. I was nervous and unsure I could run the whole distance. It was the first of many official runs this year which included the Shamrock Shuffle 8K, the Race to Wrigley 5K, the North Shore Half Marathon, peaked at the completion of the Chicago Marathon in October, struggled through the Hot Chocolate 15K with post marathon blues/fatigue and now…. Here I am again at the Naperville Turkey Trot 5K.

I was standing there again for another first. This was the first time my 10 year old daughter Renee and my 13 year old twin boys Evan and Jared were participating in an official race. My boys have been participating in cross country with their middle school so Alex and I divided our duties. Alex and the boys lined up in the 8- 9 minute mile pace area and Renee and I headed near the back of the line of 7,000 runners. Before we parted ways, we agreed on a meeting spot post-race and kissed and hugged each other.
Renee and I struggled to keep warm waiting for the start. We found my client Jessica and her family. This was their first 5K. I was especially proud of Jessica for putting on a brave face and coming out to participate. She was planning on run/walking the 5K but had just gotten the news that running is not something she will be doing any longer. Manifesting the heart of a champion, Jessica adjusted her goal and decided to walk the distance. She wasn’t going to let that news keep her on the sidelines. Yet another lesson taught to me by one of my amazing clients. The student becomes the teacher.


At last, the crowd started to move closer to the starting line. Renee clutched my hand and looked up at me with nervousness showing on her beautiful face. Renee had run this distance once before during a very dramatic family training run. We all stayed together and completed the training run in about an hour with Renee stating, “This is my marathon!” So here we were again and she was reliving that run in her mind.
We said good-bye to Jessica and started trotting slowly. Renee was wearing my Hot Chocolate 15K hoodie and I started spotting others wearing the same. I suggested that we count all of the iconic hoodies during the race to pass the time. Renee vehemently said “NO!” with a very serious expression on her face. .. the eye of the tiger. We strategized to slow jog and to stay to the right. She was starting to struggle and suggested that we walk as we approached certain signs on the street. I tried to distract her by pointing out silly hats, other kids her age and by telling her that water would be close to the 2 mile marker. After mile 1, Renee became another kind of runner. It seemed as though she was trying to kill her mother. All of a sudden, our slow jog became a full out sprint. No warning. No gradual increase in speed. Her little arms and legs started pumping and she was off! Not in a straight line of course. I had been holding back to stay with her and now I was sprinting to try to keep her in my line of sight. After about 1 minute of dashing through the streets like we were participating in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, she slowed to a walk. Thank God! She was beaming with pride knowing she left me in the dust. We walked together until the mood struck and we were off to the races again. She ran effortlessly and ran with joy as only children can. I overheard another runner say enviously, “Wouldn’t you love to run like that little girl?” as he pointed to Renee running ahead of him. I silently agreed proudly. We passed signs that promised water ahead and heard cheering from volunteers. Renee was super excited about the water station. She had watched me grab water from a similar water station during the marathon and was eager to do the same. We talked about pinching the cup so the water wouldn’t end up everywhere as we were walking and drinking. I saw it first. My heart sank as we approached and the water tables were empty. Renee’s face fell as she received a high-five from a volunteer instead of a cup of water. This was bad. Her lower lip jutted out, her eyes and nose crinkled and the tears started to flow. “All I want is water!” she wailed. Her sprints became slower and shorter. She tried to be strong and wipe her eyes dry. I told her that it was just one more mile and we’ll have water. She reminded me that I had said that before. One woman jogged near us and encouraged Renee by saying that it was her first 5k and that if she could do it, so could Renee. Renee was proud to tell her it was her first too. She whined most of the rest of the way resisting any comfort I offered her. As we made the last turn, another woman yelled over that she just had a baby 6 weeks ago and if she could do it so could Renee. As we made the run to the finish, my princess was not looking so happy. I told her we could not cross the finish line with a sad face because we had to run across with our hands up. Finally, it was upon us and I grabbed her hand as we stepped across the finish line and of course, we raised our hands up. We finished! I hugged her and told her I was so proud of her. She was having none of it. She wanted water and that’s it. God help me. They ran out of water at the finish as well. We found the Alex, Evan and Jared and got some much needed hugs. Renee dissolved into tears again asking for water. I was happy to see the boys gather her up in their arms comforting her and telling her how proud they were of their little sister and her first race. They headed to the car to get water and I headed back out onto the course.
It wasn’t too long before I spotted Jessica in her bright pink hoodie walking with her mom. Her dad had found a friend and was chatting with him somewhere. We were walking at a good pace and I walked them almost to the finish line. I wanted to get a picture of her finishing. I know this isn’t how she pictured this Turkey Trot. Despite that, she finished with a gorgeous smile and fantastic attitude.

Fabulous Finish!

The Kuhel family had a fantastic first whole family official race. There are 5 more racing bibs dangling on the refrigerator. Alex went all out and had a PR besting last year by 45 seconds. Evan and Jared stayed together choosing to take it easy finishing in 28 minutes. I would give my eye teeth for that finish time. Renee and I finished in 42 minutes which was a marked improvement over our training run. Jess and her mom finished in a little over an hour. Winners – Every single one of us!

My gorgeous trotters!

I learned something about myself during all my training runs and official races. I met heroes all along the way. I felt like a hero some days. Other days I watched people become heroes. On this day after Thanksgiving I’m ever so grateful. Yesterday was just what I needed to find my running mojo that I was sure had left me after the marathon. I watched my children become runners and heroes to one another. Jessica became a champion in my eyes. It’s been amazing to have this running “thing” come full circle. I now start shifting my goals. I’ve completed a year of being happy to finish races injury free. Now I’ll shoot for personal records for each distance, injury free as well of course. I wonder what will happen in the time between now and the next time I find myself waiting for the beginning of yet another Turkey Trot. I can’t wait to find out.

Until next time…Live Well, Toni Kuhel


2 thoughts on “Trotting a year later

  1. The first thought is –


    Toni, The best part of me coming to Xsport was you. As I plan to leave I take great pride in becoming a friend of yours.

    My second thought is –

    You are an athlete. I am glad to help in your journey of becoming a runner. Starting out in last year’s turkey trot and ending up a marathon finisher is huge accomplishment that no one can take away from you. Looking at all the unhealthy and unfit people we face day in and day out it should give you a lot of joy that you are not only a role model for those wonderful kids of yours, but to everyone one you touch on a daily basis.

    I predict great things for you in the fitness industry. You get it! You care! You help change and mold people’s lives! Keep it up and my hope as I leave Xsport our friendship continues. You don’t need to hear this from me, because you should already know it, YOU ARE SOMETHING SPECIAL.

    Jim Ristow

  2. Toni – I’m so proud of you and the whole Kuhel family! This year has been an amazing journey and I’m so grateful that you were with me step by step to share the joy and pain. Look what an inspiration you are to so many people – your family and friends are setting out on journeys of their own. Congrats to the speedy boys in your family who did fantastic in this event, and please tell Renee how PROUD I am of her for running in her first race with all of the adults! Despite the water difficulties, she now knows that she can survive tough situations and push herself through to victory. It’s clear that your own victories have been wonderful examples for her!

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