They did it.
Despite trepidations; despite knee and ankle injuries; despite warm weather putting in a late appearance this spring … nothing stopped the Fittest Loser contestants, with their trainers at their sides, from crossing a 5K finish line.
On April 28, the Fittest Loser contestants put their training to the test and joined nearly 2,000 runners and walkers for the DuPage Human Race 5K Run/Fitness Walk at The Esplanade in Downers Grove.
The race brings people together to support more than 70 charity organizations serving DuPage County, with runners and walkers choosing the charity of their choice.
The Fittest Loser contestants have been preparing to complete a 5K alongside their trainers since the start of the competition.
Participating in a 5K has been part of the Fittest Loser program since 2014. Josh Steckler, owner of Push Fitness, introduced the 5K goal to the competition as a way for contestants to get involved with events that connect them to, and make them feel like a part of, the fitness community.
In addition, Steckler said signing up for an event like the Human Race is a great motivator for people looking to lose weight or get in better shape.
"Knowing you've got that race to prepare for keeps you focused on your goals and the leaner and more fit you are, the better you'll perform," Steckler said.
Of course, signing up for a 5K can be daunting for anyone who has been inactive or is just starting a fitness regime, including the contestants. But the contestants knew it was a fitness challenge they would need to conquer.
Steckler said the biggest deterrent for people can be dealing with an injury or physical limitation, such as a back or knee problem.
With the right training and guidance, however, accommodations can be made to reach the goal of completing the race.
"The great thing about the 5K is that almost anyone can muscle through it if they have a strong mental attitude," Steckler said.
The Human Race was contestant Kim Rosewell's first 5K. She said she was a little nervous because she didn't know what to expect heading into race day.
In the end, Rosewell said the experience was much better than anticipated. She met her goal of completing the race in about 45 minutes, which she said is something she would not have been able to accomplish 10 weeks ago.
She ran alongside her trainer, Nicole Steinbach, and fellow Fittest Loser competitor, Shelly Daley. Rosewell said that running with Daley and Steinbach throughout the 5K helped her attain her goal.
"We ran the majority of the race and we took breaks to walk during the uphill portions," Rosewell said. "Completing the 5K with Shelly and Nicole was a positive experience and I feel like we motivated each other to complete the run and do our best."
On race day, Shelly Daley was unsure how she'd be able to participate because of an ankle injury that left her in a walking boot for the past two weeks.
She knew she could walk the course, but she wasn't sure about running it. To prepare for the Human Race, Daley's trainer, Michelle Jeeninga, had been slowly adding running into her weekly workouts, but wearing the boot meant Daley could train only her upper body for the past few weeks.
Still, Daley was determined to walk and run alongside her fellow competitors and Jeeninga. She completed the race in 45:41 minutes.
"I went into the run with an open mind and was going to try to run/walk/run/walk, but I actually was able to run about 2.5 miles," Daley said. "I felt so accomplished to be able to cross that finish line.It was my first 5K and it will not be my last."
Daley's goal for her next 5K is to be able to run the whole race and to involve her husband, Cullen, and two children in race preparations and runs.
"Always having a 5K on the calendar will keep us on our toes about always having exercise in our lives," said Daley.
This was Nicole Mueller's second 5K. She previously completed the PurpleStride Chicago 2017 5K run/walk, in support of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
To prepare for the Human Race, her trainer, Patrick Stille, had Mueller do plenty of his "infamous" squats along with other exercises to strengthen her leg muscles.
She also ran on the treadmill and outside to increase her cardiovascular endurance.
With two knee injuries, Mueller's goal was simply to complete the race, which she did with a time of 55 minutes. Mueller said given her previous injuries, race day went as well as expected.
She knew it wasn't going to be easy, but she pushed through to the finish line with Stille by her side.
"Patrick stuck by my side and pushed me through the entire race," Mueller said.
The Human Race was also Kirsten Binder's second 5K, with her last race having taken place in 2011.
To prepare for this race, Binder stuck with the fitness routine her trainer, Steve Amsden, has had her following since the beginning of the competition.
As the weather improved slightly, Binder also added runs on the pavement to her regular treadmill workouts.
On race day she was just shy of her goal of running the 5K in under 35 minutes. She completed it in about 38 minutes, but she did accomplish her goal of running the whole course and not walking any section of the route.
She said Amsden was by her side the whole way, pushing and challenging her with a mixture of positive reinforcement, guilt, and laughter.
Binder wished she had trained on a course more like the route of the Human Race, which contained elevation changes, but overall she's pleased with how she did.
"I gave it everything I have," Binder said. "You can't ask for any more than that."
Although Chad Lowry has previously completed several 5Ks and a 10K, it's been many years since he's signed up for a race.
Running has consistently been a part of his workout regimen since the beginning of the contest and as a result, Lowry's goal was to complete this 5K in under 30 minutes. His only concern was running in the elements, something the unseasonably cold spring hasn't allowed him to do.
"I've been running only on a treadmill, so I don't know what it will be like to run on the road and deal with hills and wind, to say nothing of the cold," Lowry said ahead of the race.
To maximize his performance he continued with his training routine, but rested his legs on the Thursday and Friday before the race, at the recommendation of his trainer, Mick Viken.
In the end, all the training and preparation paid off -- Lowry accomplished his goal of running the course in under 30 minutes.
"The race went well, and I was able to run a bit faster than I expected going into it," said Lowry. "My time was 26:18, and I'm pretty happy to have run a sub-8:30 mile."
So, would they contestants consider running a 5K again?
They also advised anyone interested in signing up for a 5K to go for it.
If you plan to sign up for a race, Steckler suggests focusing on a progressive training program that starts slowly and builds in intensity as the body adapts to workouts.
"Choose from a variety of cardiovascular exercises such as walking, running, sprint intervals, biking, swimming, and rowing," said Steckler said. "Don't neglect strength training, as this will not only help build your lean muscle mass and improve your posture and gait, but it will burn fat and have tremendous cardiovascular benefits if done correctly."