5 of the Best Lessons I Learned from My Worst Race

As many of you know I set a goal of running a half marathon every month leading up to my 40th birthday.

Going into the process I said all that mattered was that I finished every race. I wasn’t going to be concerned with finish times, but rather enjoy the experience. But along the way I have battled my own competitiveness.

Last Sunday I ran #8 in Sandusky, OH. It turned out to be my worst race of the series. There are a number of factors that lead to my finish time, and in looking back this race taught me more than any of the others I have ran. So while it maybe was my worst finish time, it was my greatest victory so far.

Only 13.1 to go!

Only 13.1 to go!

I’d like to share with you some of my lessons learned from this race…some of them may seem like ‘no brainers’ but even as someone who lives and breathes fitness and healthy living, they are a good reminder.


In general, my family eats a healthy diet. Of course we enjoy pizza or a restaurant burger and fries from time to time, but our diet consists of lean proteins and veggies. After 10 days of travel and numerous meals out, my body was pleading for it’s normal food intake.

Surely I did my best to make the healthy choices when available, but between the numerous hours in the ‘Mothership’ (our family suburban), multiple meals out and a visit to an amusement park there’s only so much control one has on their food choices.

My eyes were opened to how lethargic the body becomes when fueled with ‘junk.’ Sure I ate salads, grilled fish and found a stand at Cedar Point that sold fruit cups, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the other meals. I lacked the energy I needed to sustain the 13.1 miles.

We have been home less than a week and now that I am back to my regular food intake I have more energy and feel stronger.

Lesson learned: a consistent healthy eating lifestyle is necessary to achieve physical gains. I don’t believe this is a change that can happen overnight, but with gradual changes and true commitment to it being a lifestyle and not a diet anyone can adopt healthier eating habits.


Because I teach numerous classes throughout the week (and do them with my classes) I don’t often have time to get in the long runs necessary to train for these races. I am fortunate enough that my cardio and interval classes give me the endurance to run for 2 hours at a time.

Over our 10 days of travel, 5 of those were spent in the Mothership. Each of those legs of travel (but one) was close to 500 miles. So as you can imagine, the 5 days spent ‘vacationing’ were focused on having the most fun as we could as a family. I didn’t want to take time away for myself.

We spent time in the ocean boogie boarding and swimming, we walked an entire day through downtown Nashville, we spent an entire day walking an amusement park – but none of this could replicate a true workout.

I do believe at times that my body needs rest. But as someone who doesn’t sit much throughout the day, 8+ hour car rides not only made me stir crazy but dramatically affected my strength and endurance.

Lesson learned: exercise has to be consistent and intentional. Even if you can just fit in 20 minutes – it’s worth it! You have to make it a priority and in retrospect, my family wouldn’t have ‘missed’ me for 20 minutes or a half hour. I could have taken advantage of the time they were showering or I could have let them know how important it was for me to take a break – they would have understood. Don’t cheat yourself out of a workout – ever.


I’m certainly not the best at a consistent bedtime. I preach about it often but my bedtime often varies which sometimes makes early mornings that much more difficult.

On vacation bedtime and waking times become unpredictable for our family. We stay up late enjoying activities and time with each other. We sleep in and enjoy not having the pressure of daily responsibilities. On the other hand, there are nights we crash early from exhaustion and get up at dawn to head out on our next adventure.

Between inconsistent sleeping patterns and rotating beds and pillows, it goes without saying our bodies were exhausted.

Between poor nutrition, lack of intentional exercise and inadequate rest – I had created a trifecta for reduced performance.

Lesson learned: our bodies need rest. Whether it’s a rest day from exercise to heal muscles, or mental downtime from the responsibilities of life, or actual sleep, we need to recognize the impact fatigue can have on our abilities. Improper rest from working out can lead to injury, improper rest from ‘life’ can lead to mental and emotional fatigue, and lack of sleep can lead to all of these things.

Reality Check

I started out the race really strong – too fast, in fact. But I felt good. I went into the race with little expectations because of all the things I mentioned above, but began to think, ‘What were you so worried about? You got this!’

Then the wind hit, followed by hip and knee pain, then bring on the shin splints. Before long I was physically beat. I am used to ‘hitting the wall’ halfway through the race. It happens every time. But this was different. I wanted to quit.

I was disappointed in myself and my performance. But I’m not a quitter.

So I walked. Ugh, I was w.a.l.k.i.n.g. But as I looked around I saw other people walking too. Maybe they were feeling as broken as I was, or maybe they were feeling strong. Either way each of us was doing the very best we could. And one way or another the finish line was going to be in the same place whether I was running or walking.

I decided this would be the perfect time to do some interval work. If I can’t continue to run into the wind with the physical pain, it was time to set some goals. Push through a song with a steady pace. Then slow it down, catch my breath and regroup for another push. That lasted for a while until about mile 10 or so.

I knew I had a day ahead with my family at the amusement park. Was I going to risk ruining my day of fun with them just to run more of the race? I knew if I walked more than ran at this point I would be able to keep up and enjoy the day. So I walked.

Lesson learned: Don’t quit. A setback is just that. It’s not the end. Find a way to push yourself, and do the best you can. Don’t ruin an experience just because you are meeting the expectations you had set. Evaluate those expectations and adjust them if necessary. Keep moving towards the finish and know that this experience is going to make you stronger for the next time.


I continued to walk. Pushing myself into the wind, knowing every step was closer to the finish, closer to my family fun day at the amusement park.

My family has played such a major role in my races. They get up early to watch me start, then they bounce around the course to meet me and cheer me on at various checkpoints, always making it back to the finish to congratulate me.

This course was different. I saw them at the start, I saw them about mile 4 and I wasn’t supposed to see them until the end.

About mile 7 or so I called Don. I told him I was struggling. We talked he encouraged me, then put me on speakerphone and the Schindlings cheered me on. That’s about the time I put on my ‘girls’ playlist and started running intervals.

Just after mile 10 I stopped running. My head was hanging. I knew I was doing my best but I was still disappointed. Just after mile 11 I looked up and saw Don and Ella just ahead of me.

They carried me to the end.

They carried me to the end.

Maybe I’m getting sappy as I age, because again I cried. They knew I was having a tough day and even though they weren’t dressed to run, they were going to get me through my last mile and half to the finish. We ran some, we walked some, we did it together.

At the finish line we met up with the other two Schindlings – in a big group hug they all told me how proud they were of me and what a great job I did.

Lesson learned: even though this is a personal goal, I need the support of others. Achieving a goal means absolutely nothing if you don’t have people to share it with. Never underestimate the strength that comes from loving and being loved.

So while you may not be a runner, I hope the lessons I learned while running will help enrich your life.

I know that going into race #9 I will have a much better perspective on what it means to successfully reach the finish line.

Even Though It’s a Personal Goal I NEED My Family

Back in October I set a goal for myself to run a half marathon every month until I turn 40. The goal was as simple as that – register and finish 13.1 miles every month. No time expectations, no expectations other than to cross that finish line.

I just finished my 3rd race last weekend and I haven’t written much more than a some FB status updates about them so let me share with you what I’ve learned by running 39.3 miles.

Even though it's a personal goal, I realize I NEED my family to reach it.

Even though it’s a personal goal, I realize I NEED my family to reach it.

My First 13.1

My first was the Naperville half marathon. I didn’t choose it for any other reason than it was in November and close to my home. I started that race like I was on fire. I felt on top of the world and my pace was better than I had expected. Even though I had set the intention of just completing each race, all of a sudden I was telling myself, “You could finish this first one under 2 hours! You’re on pace for your best half marathon yet! Just think of how the next 11 are going to go if you keep this up!”

Then I hit the wall about mile 6 and my pace tanked. I was suddenly dressed too warm, out of breath and annoyed with just about every song on my playlist. What in the world was I thinking when I set this goal?

Then about mile 8 things started looking up. My husband, mom and dad were there cheering me on. I stopped for a few minutes and talked to them and had a bit more spring in my step running away from them.

That’s not to say the rest of the race was a piece of cake – it sure wasn’t. I stiffened up, I walked, I even questioned how the heck I was going to do 11 more races. But in the end, I finished.

My Second 13.1

Along comes December and I’m carefully watching the weather forecast for Carmel, IN thinking, surely there must be something wrong. There is no way the high is for the 60s. But sure enough, I was able to head out for my run in shorts, a tank and my sexy compression socks!

This time my mom, dad, husband and the Schindlings (my three kiddos) were all on the course to cheer me on. And once again, started out HOT! I tagged along next to the pacer who was finishing in 2 hours.

Mile 4 I texted Don to say, “I’m on pace for a 2 hour race, I’m not going to stop when I see you all.” He understood and cheered me on.

When I turned the corner and saw them all standing there, a straight-up 2 hour finish didn’t matter anymore. I wanted to hug them, I wanted to thank them for taking their Saturday to cheer for me and the other runners and I wanted to let go of the self-imposed expectations that I was putting on myself once again.

I kept my family updated on my progress and was fortunate to see them several times throughout the race and because of the prayers of my mom and the somewhat aggressive driving of my husband they even made it to the finish line.

It was a great race and a great day.

My Third 13.1

So this past Saturday took my to St. Louis for a run in Forest Park. One thing that I was most excited about this race was the entry fee – $20!!! If you are a runner you know it’s a financial commitment to participate in races so finding a $20 race was a win in itself.

My in-laws came to the hotel and swam with the Schindlings while I ran and Don cheered me on. I broke all of my pre-race rules for this one. I normally don’t eat a single thing – mostly because it upsets my stomach and I feel awful.

But on Saturday I made myself a big, iced coffee, took a couple bites of Don’s breakfast sandwich and headed to the start line. I turned on my playlist, started RunKeeper and took off at a moderate pace.

The course was to complete a big loop through Forest Park twice which made it possible for me to see Don about every other mile. Between seeing him often and letting go of any self-imposed expectations for a finish time, I kept a consistent pace throughout and finished with my best time so far in this series of races: 2 hours, 6 minutes.

All that said, I hope what you get from my running stories is how important my family is to helping me achieve the goal of finishing a half marathon every month.

I couldn’t do it without my family sacrificing time to travel to my races.

I couldn’t do it without my family cheering me on during my races.

I couldn’t do it without seeing my family at the finish line.

So remember, even though we may set personal goals, there are people behind the scenes that just as important in your own efforts to achieve those goals.

Running Workshop at CustomFit in Lombard

With spring only 17 days until spring it’s the perfect time to start training for a spring race.

If you are new to running a 5K race is very doable to walk, run or a combination of both. Between the excitement and energy of the race day crowd and spectators coupled with the feeling of accomplishment when you pass the finish line, there is nothing like the rush of completing your first race. If you’re ready to start training now don’t wait for the workshop, drop me an email or give me a call at 574-387-1344.

Running Workshop flyer

Train for your first, or train for your fastest!

I am a race day junkie! I just can’t get enough of the anticipation of the start, the adrenaline that comes along with setting out on the race, the support encouragement I feel as I pass spectators who are enthusiastically cheering every runner on, and the pride I feel when I cross the finish line.

I want to share all of those feelings with you so on Sunday, March 15th I will be hosting a running workshop at CustomFit from 1 – 2pm. The workshop is designed to help new runners establish a training plan for completing a 5k and assist current runners with finding ways to increase speed and endurance.

During the workshop we will discuss:

  • Training tips
  • Running schedules
  • Crosstraining
  • Injury prevention
  • Running routes
  • Suggested races

Following the workshop all participants will have the option to join a FaceBook group that I will facilitate to help answer questions, connect people looking for running partners and to offer encouragement to stick with a training program.

Some 5K Race Options Coming Up:

Whistle While You Walk/Run Sunday, April 26, 8:00am

Mutt Strut Saturday, May 16

Reach Out for Outreach Thursday, June 15, 7:00pm

The cost to register for the workshop is $25. Pre-registration is required and spots are filling fast. To reserve your spot at the workshop drop me an email or give me a call at 574-387-1344. Whether you are new to running or are looking to improve your pace this workshop is for you.

Fitness and Finding the Right Fit

While I’m not a huge fan of moving, I am thankful of all of the great people that I have met in the various places we’ve lived. Cori Johnson is definitely one of those people. While we haven’t lived in Indianapolis for many years now, Cori and I have kept in touch over the years and have most recently been challenging each other with building our businesses. Each week we try and set goals and make each other accountable for accomplishing them.

You might wonder why I would want to promote someone else’s business on my blog and the answer is easy, we both want better health for those around us. Ultimately, I think that can be accomplished better by promoting the good things out there because as I have said, I don’t believe that fitness is a one size fits all deal. The more resources that people have available, the more likely they are to find what works for them.

There are so many things that I respect about her and her business: her counseling background enables her to coach women through the tough times to empower them in her journey, she knows the challenge of feeding a family with a healthy diet (sign up for her weekly menus), she has overcome injury setbacks to find programs that work for her, and overall, she is just one of the most positive people I know.

Image of Cori Johnson

I’m not letting “getting older” be my excuse for slowing down.

Stronger Than you Think

Cori Johnson

To be honest, I didn’t realize I had a “fitness story.” I have loved being active and moving ever since I was a kid. My parents weren’t exactly elite athletes, but I grew up in a household that valued good health in the most organic, natural way: we essentially were taught to eat right and enjoy the outdoors. We camped a lot. We hiked, went skiing, canoeing, white water rafting. I’m eternally grateful for what they taught me about the magic of just being outdoors and all that it has to offer.
My parents also supported our endeavors into sports. I began playing soccer at age five, and played through freshman year of high school. My high school didn’t have a girls’ team at that time, so I played freshman year with the boys. When I was told, “You’ll never play varsity because you might get hurt,” I suppose I could have put up a fight, for the betterment of all future female athletes. I wish I could say I did, but I didn’t. I quit and put more energy into running.

I first ran track in middle school and fell in love with running. I have always loved that running is available to everyone. I once saw a great quote that read something along the lines of, “There are country clubs you can’t get into, there are gyms you can’t afford, but the road is always open.” I love that. All you need to be a runner is a pair of shoes (and really, shoes are technically optional, we’ve since learned).

So, you may be thinking, “She’s been active since she was a kid. Fitness comes easily to her and she’s certainly never struggled with her weight.” You’d be wrong.

I am here to tell you, the phrase, “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet” is something I’ve had to learn the hard way. College shenanigans taught me that. I put on the dreaded freshman 25 (I’m an overachiever, I went for 25 instead of 15), and from age 18 until just a few years ago, maintaining a weight that I felt good about was a huge struggle.

I do pursue the rush of exercise. I love to move and be active. I love to try new forms of exercise- not because it’s trendy and I think it will be the answer to my weight issue, but because I love to see how my body will respond.

Nutritionally, I’ve been a train wreck. Although my parents planted a huge garden every summer, and we’d eat fresh fruits and vegetables from July through August, then canned and frozen the remainder of the year, I still am a child of the 80’s. What that means: processed garbage and horrible information about nutrition. Right when I was hitting puberty, we were suddenly given access to vast amounts of ‘fake food’ in our grocery stores, and being told that fat was bad. My passion for sports kept me ahead of the game through high school- I didn’t gain weight, but I also didn’t feel great. In college, I still worked out, but just ate much more of the fake food, plus my share of beer, plus the off-hours college kids keep, and the pounds came on.

Without going too far into my nutrition, which really is a story for another day, I’ll just simply share where I am now where fitness is concerned.

At 42, I can say with total honesty that I have never been fitter and healthier. I attribute that to Beachbody programs, Shakeology, and sharing this journey with like-minded people.

Here’s the deal… I ran for 25+ years. I ran more half marathons that I can count. I spent three summers training to run a marathon. Each summer I went out with an injury prior to getting to the start line of the marathon. I have spent more time in physical therapy and sports medicine offices than I care to remember… all from running injuries. Hamstring injuries, knee injuries, ankle injuries.

Three years ago, when I was playing soccer with my oldest and in my third attempt to train for a marathon, we connected ankle to ankle, and I suffered the most damage. For a full year afterwards, I couldn’t run without pain. But I knew I had to do something to stay active, and I was 100% certain nothing would fulfill the rush I got from running. I was totally wrong.
At that time, I decided to “retire” from running and try something new. I began with P90X. That was over three years ago, and since that time, I have never NOT been doing a Beachbody program of some sort. And here’s the really amazing thing: I am more flexible, leaner, and stronger than I have ever been before.

I won’t list all the programs… I’ll just say, if Beachbody produced it, I’ve probably done it.

I do the workouts, follow the training plan, in the comfort and privacy of my own home, on my own schedule. Then the magic happens online. I share my journey in what’s known as a challenge group, which is a private group on Facebook. There, I lead other moms just like me through these programs. They do the workouts in their homes, on their schedules, but we come together daily to share how we’re doing. Some days we vent, “That was SO hard.” Other days we celebrate, “Nailed it! And lost two pounds this week!” We share recipes, ideas, and accountability, and all support one another without judgment and with tons of love and humor.

But wait. There’s more.

Recently my 12-year-old, whose chosen sports as of now are running and soccer, has decided he would like to complete the Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini Marathon this coming May. If you’re not from Indy, you may not be familiar with The Mini, as we call it. But those in Indy know it to be an important part of our city’s culture, and even an important part of the history and culture of Indiana. It was my first half marathon, and I’ve run it every single May from high school until three years ago, taking off only those years when I was pregnant or had just had a baby. So, when my son said he wanted to run it, my first instinct was: “I want to be there with him the first time he runs it.”

I recently began running again to train to run The Mini with my son. I retired over three years ago because I was tired of being injured. Since then it’s been almost exclusively Beachbody programs. What is amazing…. I am running strong, able to hang with my 12-year-old, who is one of the top runners in his middle school and recently went to Nationals for Junior Olympics Cross Country, and so far, my legs feel great with no sign of injury (knock on wood).

I am constantly amazed at our bodies. I am one who loves fitness, yes. But here’s the thing about fitness: you have absolutely no idea how strong you are. I don’t think most of us will ever push ourselves hard enough to realize that. But I do know that I am not backing down. I’m not letting “getting older” be my excuse for slowing down. If I can push, and it feels great, and it keeps my heart healthy and my lungs strong, and my clothes fitting, well, I’m going to.

My dream is that other moms will realize that they are far stronger than they have ever realized, and enjoy all the rewards of good health and fitness: confidence, empowerment, and yep, clothes fitting well. I love to use my counseling background to help moms figure out what’s got them stuck and unable to achieve their goals, and set them on a path to enjoying great health and feeling amazing. And I love to bring together moms from all over the country, in our little corner of Facebook-land, getting to know one another as we share our journey, trying to balance the demands of our busy lives as moms and wives while still pursuing great health.

I truly encourage you to check out Cori’s site and sign up for her newsletter. She’s of course also available on FaceBook and I know she would welcome new members to her private groups.

Fitness is truly about finding what works for you. If you haven’t found the ‘right fit’ yet, drop me a line. Let’s talk about your goals and what type of program would work best for you. Just because personal training might not be the right path for you doesn’t mean I don’t want to help lead you to better health.

Making a Run For It

Running…seems like you love it or you hate it. I have to admit, I hate the training but there is nothing that I love more than race day! Whether it’s an adventure race with obstacles and mud, or a distance run, there is something about the energy of race day that keeps me wanting to look for the next best race.

I’m so thankful that this year I get to complete a major bucket list race of mine – the Ragnar. We have a team of 12 strong women that are going to run a relay from Milwaukee, WI to Chicago, IL. I can’t wait!

And it’s no surprise that my guest writer today is the team captain. She has set an amazing goal for herself and I am greatly inspired by her determination and hard work. She has me thinking that I might just have one more marathon in me before retiring from that distance all together.

picture of racer

Racing the States

My Odyssey to the Fifty States

by Melissa Polivka

I used to hate running. When I was fourteen, I was on the cross-country team because all my friends were. But I was miserable. I used to think about tripping myself during practice so I could get injured and not have to participate. Then miraculously I did get injured, and I had to quit cross-country. Yay! I traded my running shoes for swim goggles and found my zen in the pool.

Later, in college, I thought I’d pick up running again. It was free, and it was a good way to burn off those beer calories. I’d put on my headphones, leave the dorm, and run for hours. Most of the time I didn’t have any idea where I was, unwittingly exploring the northshore suburbs of Chicago, but I enjoyed the sense of getting “lost” and finding my way back home.

After I was out of school and working, I ran occasionally. I can’t honestly recall what inspired me to start training for my first marathon. Maybe it was that Oprah did it. Or it could have been one of my old friends who had done a few. Regardless, I started to get serious, and began running a few days a week, with the goal of completing a marathon in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana.

I did the race and checked off the box reading “run a marathon.” It was a fun experience, and in some ways not nearly as difficult as it seemed it would be. I was the star of my family for the day. My loved ones came to cheer me on. I got a medal, and bragging rights. And I got to eat whatever I wanted to for a few days. The feeling was a little addictive, and I soon decided to run another marathon, this time in my current home of Chicago.

That race went even better than my first. Wow, maybe this could be my thing. In fact, now that I’ve run two races in two different states, maybe I could run one in every single state. So the next year I ran two more marathons, one in Wisconsin and one in New York. Four down, 46 to go.

In 2005, my husband and I decided to start growing our family, and I took the next five years off to be a mom. I liked the break from running, and I sure got out of the habit of exercise very quickly. But I knew I had unfinished business, and as soon as I felt I had the time, I started training again.

Training with kids was a whole new challenge. I am a stay at home mom, and with two kids, two years apart, finding the time to run was a puzzle. And I hate running strollers. I would wait until my husband would get home from work, watching the garage while wearing my running gear, so I could hand off the kids and head out instantly. Or I would pry my eyes open at 5:30am to go run, knowing the moment I returned the whole family would be awake and clamoring for my attention. And then on the weekends I would do my long runs that could last up to three hours. The entire time I would be thinking about the disaster mess at home I would return to, or all the problems my husband would be having managing the children.

We got through it somehow, and since 2011, I’ve been running two to three marathons per year. As of January 2015, I’m up to 20 total. My goal at this point is to complete a marathon in all fifty states by the time I turn fifty. That will mean another two to three for the next thirteen years.

This project has brought so much into my life. First, I get to see the whole of America. And I get to see it from ground level. I get to run places that a regular tourist might not venture to see. Second, I get to take great trips with my family and make memories. Third, I get to visit my friends and relatives in far flung places. And fourth, it gives me direction. This long term goal is a compass for the way I treat my body. I want to be healthy enough to finish this project, so I need to take care of myself.


I love this story because not only is Melissa striving for an amazing lifetime achievement – she makes the time, and takes the time for herself. Many of us can identify with being short on time and long in the list of things to do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find time for yourself.

Find something you love to do and take the time to do it!

Training For a Higher Cause

Is one of your goals this year to lace up a pair of running shoes and finish a race? If so, I first want to congratulate you on making a goal for yourself.

If you are new to running, or don’t especially care for it, you are going to need to find a way to remain motivated.

Last year I set out to run my first marathon. I knew that there was no way I would complete 26.2 miles unless I had a higher cause to run for. Even though my training season wasn’t ideal, I was still determined to start AND finish my marathon because I had committed to running for Solemates, an organization that benefits the non-profit group Girls on the Run.

There are several programs available to help you reach your goals and raise money for a good cause. I’m going to highlight two, however, do some research in your area and you may find a local cause that inspires you to get running.


This is of course a cause that is near and dear to my heart. Girls on the Run is an experiential afterschool program that prepares girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. Through the 12-week program girls participate in interactive activities such as running, playing games and discussing important issues empowering them to develop a greater sense of self-awareness, a foundation in team building and a sense of achievement.

To be a Solemate you are required to raise $262.

For more information on the program or to become a Solemate check out their website.

Team in Training

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training program is designed to help you train for a half or full marathon while raising money for cancer research. The great part about this program is that you are paired with an actual team to train for weekly runs so helps to keep motivation high. You can also choose a destination run.

The amount of money you are required to raise is dependent on the venue you choose to run.

For more information on Team in Training or to sign up check out their website.

As part of my motivation for my half marathon this coming June I am once again running as a Solemate for Girls on the Run. If you are interested in making a donation I encourage you to check out my page.

Now get those shoes on and get running!