Do you measure up? Who cares?


It used to happen back in the day. Picture lining up in the neighborhood as team captains choose up teams for kickball, Red Rover, dodge ball, baseball, capture the flag or (insert your favorite team game here). If you are too young and haven’t had this experience, let me tell you, it was nerve-wracking. I was always the shortest and slightest person lining up. I can tell you I was never chosen first, and lots of times I was chosen last.


Standing there amongst my neighbors and friends, I couldn’t help but compare myself. Who wouldn’t?  I mean, we were all standing in a loose knot, waiting for Bobby and Sally to choose the most promising athletes first. It was only obvious to everyone there that they were sizing all of us up. Who is the fastest? Who is the strongest? Who knows the game the best? OOOOOOOMG!!! It was enough to make you forget that you were supposed to be having fun.

The good news is that I no longer have to line up in front of Bobby and Sally. The bad news is that I sometimes pose as my own Bobby and Sally. Before you get the straight jacket, you should read a little more. I will work myself into a tizzy measuring myself up against others. I have all the same questions. It’s just a different era. When I start worrying about how much faster, stronger, smarter, thinner, wealthier, or luckier someone else might be than me, it is total disaster. Let’s face it. Someone is going to be ——-er than you…all the time.

I’m in total favor of healthy competition. It can be what pushes us to be more than what we thought we could be. Beware of that little monster that creeps into your brain that says you don’t measure up.  I battle this monster all the time and some days I win and some days I don’t.  The best way for me to avoid this battle all together is to be the very best that I can be. Competing against myself is the only race that should concern me.  I might be slower runner than lots of people I know, but I strive to better my performance every time I train. I race myself. This is truly comparing apples to apples.

I encourage to you to give 100% effort in everything you do. Be confident in who you are, your abilities, your gifts, and your strengths. You are no longer waiting to be chosen for a team. Unhappiness stems from comparison, so leave that mess behind. This isn’t just relative to fitness. You know this applies to life.

Until next time…live well! – Toni Kuhel


The Pursuit of Running Happy

November 2010 – I am an unhappy runner 😦                        

Soon after the Hot Chocolate 15K in November, the running mojo that carried me across the finish line of the Chicago Marathon 2010 got up and left me. I found it impossible to find motivation to run endlessly on the treadmill or to gear up and face the wintery streets of Naperville.  I could motivate others.  I fully believed my clients could achieve their goals and each and every one of them was making significant strides towards health and wellness.  But here I stood and doubted myself.  It was only in Florida this February where I was supporting my client Jessica in her first Run Disney event that the fog started to lift.  She was going for a personal best in a 5K distance after having to abandon her ½ marathon goal upon advice from her doctor.  It was at the “Happiest Place on Earth” that I found that elusive running mojo.  Until that light bulb moment, I ran only out of frustration. Needless to say that was not the best idea.  My state of mind affected my runs so much that I avoided them most days.   I don’t know if it was finally seeing the sun after months of gloomy winter days, spending uninterrupted time with a good friend and her family, the constant happy music that is part of the Disney experience, or the most awesome race expo ever, but I could feel myself believing I was a runner once more. I realized I hadn’t really set any fitness or running goals. It’s a bit like heading out on a road trip without a destination in mind. How could I plan my route without knowing where I wanted to finish. My goal the previous year was to cover the distances in all my races ending with the Chicago Marathon and to finish injury free.  Check and check!!!  Now what? 

February 2011 – I’m an inspired runner 🙂  

Time to set new goals -Feeling newly inspired I called my husband Alex in a frenzy and told him to sign me up for the Chicago Marathon 2011. I knew that the race would sell out soon and I had really put off the decision for a very long time.  He had witnessed my struggle to get moving with a purpose after the marathon blues took hold.  I think he thought I had lost my mind, but he also knew I was serious.  Knowing that running for the sake of running was not enough motivation, it was clear that filling up a race schedule was the only choice.  Dream Big! Think Big! Do big!

It wasn’t enough to just run the same distances/races again this year. I set another goal to set official PR’s (personal records) in all distances. This means adding speed work to my training.  Words like farklet,  800’s, 400’s, intervals, hill work, and tempo runs were all going to have to leak into my training vernacular.  This old dog is going to learn a lot of new tricks this year.

I still wanted to complete the racing season injury free so I decided to adopt a run/walk strategy for long distances.  I met Jeff Galloway at the Disney Race Expo and he shared lots of wisdom and motivation regarding distance training. 

Jeff Galloway and Jessica

 He is the father of the run/walk strategy and has trained thousands of runners for all distances.  Jeff Galloway took the time to talk to Jessica and me and sent us off with a can-do attitude.  I also decided that I would never run 2 days in a row.  My body responds best to a break from the pounding of running and it just makes it more enjoyable for me. That leads me to my last goal.

I want to run happy this year. I’m aware that it won’t always be a fun run, but I’m determined to find happiness somewhere in each run I do. My joy might come from the weather being ideal, the kids joining me, going farther, going faster, or it might be as basic as being thankful for just doing a run.  I’m going to soak up all the positive energy of race day. I’m going to enjoy the experience of race day including the pre-race excitement and post-race festivities when possible. I’ll try to shake off the pre-race nervousness or post-race disappointment I might have.

Having set these goals in February, you might be wondering how it’s been since the glow of Disney has worn off.  I have been adding speed work to my training and it has been brutal!!!!  It hasn’t killed me (yet), and I’m getting faster with each session.  I’ve remained injury free and have done a distance of 11 miles using the Galloway run/walk and it’s kept me from being sore.  I’ve been pretty happy for most of my training runs.

My first race for improving my time was a mixed bag of success.  My goal for the Shamrock Shuffle 8K was to just to improve 1 second faster than my 54:30 finish time last year. Last year it was snowing, windy and frigid.  This year it was 80 degrees, humid and sunny.  Bump #1 – I do much better in cooler weather and I hadn’t trained in any kind of heat yet. Bump #2 – I was nervous. I couldn’t help but feel the burden of my first time goal. Bump #3 – I missed my goal and finished in 55:22. CRAP! I fought feverishly to be positive despite that.   I know that you are supposed to slow your pace when temps are above 60 degrees. I know that if this was last year I would’ve finished with a time of about an hour.  These are the thoughts I tried to bring to the front of my mind after seeing the time on my Garmin. I did meet one goal. I had the best post-race experience EVER with my client/friend Renee. We drank our hard earned beers and stayed to enjoy the sun that we cursed during the race. We relaxed and danced like crazy people all day.  We laughed and ate and pretended it was summer.

Renee and I pre-Shuffle sporting striped socks to be a little wacky!


Post race reward


April 2011 – I’m a happy runner 🙂 🙂 🙂

So yet again I will look at this coming year as one full of learning.  While I’m busy living my life with my family, friends and work, I have things to work on.  I will eat right, sleep right, think right, and train right. Most importantly in terms of running… I will run happy.  How will you fill in this blank?

 I will __________ happy!

Until next time…Live Well!

Toni Kuhel

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

The run for chocolate – 2010 Hot Chocolate 15K

 Well I haven’t been advertising that I was doing this run because I haven’t really run much post marathon. I signed up for the 15K option vs the 5K option because in my pre-marathon glow I thought “9.3 miles will feel like nothing after running 26.2.” In my post-marathon funk I failed to continue to run much and thus the idea of 9.3 miles seemed less appealing. I haven’t run more than 3 miles in a row since 10-10-10 (the date to motivate, aka the date that kicked my a$$). This was going to be…interesting.

Today was FREEZING! Despite all my complaining about the cold this morning, I was eternally grateful for a crisp fall day when just a short month ago I was sweating my head off waiting in the corral for the marathon to begin. Team 40/10 was well represented with Marcia joining us for her first official event participating in the 5K. We shivered together in an act of team solidarity waiting with Marcia and wishing her luck. After Marcia took off, Colleen, Julie and I dodged the other 5K’rs and went to find our 10 min/mile pace spot. We hadn’t started the 15K when the first 5K runners started arriving at the finish. I dreamed for a moment about crossing the finish line and hoped I would look as fresh but knowing I would not.

After hitting mile 1, Colleen was long gone as usual. Surprising myself, I stuck with Julie’s 10 min/mile pace for 3 miles. It was at this moment that my body said “Whoa there lady! This is all you’ve trained for in a while”. Needless to say I had to bid Julie a farewell. I shook off the disappointment of being the last of our bunch and hunkered down. I chided myself for a time for not being more prepared and then I saw the turn- around shortly after mile 4. This is when the terrain really started to piss me off. They thought it would be cute to make us run across grass and then turn onto a path. This path was an obstacle course impersonating a gravel path. First, it was narrow. Second, it was full of HUGE (well not exactly boulders, but really big) rocks. Third, it had its share of potholes. To boot…it was uphill! This went on for longer than I was hoping, but heck I was hoping for a flat easy run. Eventually mile 6 was upon me and again my body yelled “I gave you 3 more miles! Now what do you want?” As if these 3 mile reminders weren’t aggravating enough, I had a little more aggravation. Some big headed racer comes barreling down this narrow path announcing to all within earshot “RUNNER COMING THROUGH!!!” I was putting my eyes back in my head from them bugging out in shock so I didn’t get a chance to tell her that we were all runners… that and I was really tired. Whatever . I could hear the announcer screaming something so I knew the finish line was near. I tried valiantly to look enthusiastic as I raised my hands for a Moto Photo photographer at mile 9. I will always say that my children and the finish line of any race are the most beautiful things on earth. This finish line was no different, but I swear it kept moving farther down the street. I again tried to look like an accomplished race finisher for the photographers with my hands in the air, of course.

This course was different. No spectators for most of the course. It was peaceful for the most part. Chicago was looking like a jewel with its sparkling buildings, shimmering lakefront, and colorful trees. I’m still in awe when I look ahead seeing thousands of heads bobbing up and down almost in unison. I’m most happy when I meet up with friends at the end. Yes, they are usually all waiting for me to finish as the caboose of our little group. I’m thankful that someone is always waiting. Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet up with everyone I planned on seeing because it was too damn cold for early finishers to wait around, but I heard all had success . Today I got the pleasure of not only meeting my Team 40/10 members and their families, but also some of my fantastic clients. My running girls Becky, Renee and Kelli all rocked their respective races and made me so proud. They all looked beautiful post race and were already planning their next races. *Sigh* I love my job and my girls. Team 40/10 was chatty and laughing like we always are after an event. The chocolate fondue at the end was delish, but post race hugs were really the sweetest end to today’s race. I know it’s sappy but I’m pretty blessed to get to do this with some really fantastic people.

Until next time…Live Well, Toni Kuhel

My Running Girls!