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Nancy Simko had done 5Ks before, but they weren't competitive.

Then she crossed the finish line during last month's Anyone Can Do a 5K in Schererville, hosted by Franciscan Health Fitness Centers.

The 64-year-old saw her time — 18 minutes — and it motivated her to do even better the next go around.

"It felt really good," the Chesterton retiree said of the event. "It made me realize I'd like to do more and now challenge myself to improve my time. Now I have a starting point and something to beat."

Simko and her fellow contestants in The Times' Lose 19 in '19 weight-loss contest have been taking advantage of race season to participate in several recent 5Ks on their way to shedding 419 pounds this year. Experts say the events are a great way for people to learn discipline that they can apply toward all their fitness goals.

"Preparing for a race mimics the attitude, drive and resilience one must have when making the decision to embark on a weight-loss program," said Jason Clinton, a personal trainer with Franciscan Health Fitness Centers Schererville.

"Losing weight can be hard — and there will be many ups, downs, highs and lows ... Running is the perfect the sport to teach someone how to overcome the negative self-talk and keep pushing even though you may feel uncomfortable."

There are, of course, also physical benefits to getting ready for and participating in races, he said. Those include increased flexibility, mobility, aerobic capacity and lower-limb bone density.

"Running also teaches delayed gratification," Clinton noted. "There is such pressure to have everything instantly, and unfortunately, weight loss is not one of those things that are likely to happen overnight. By continuing to stay consistent and disciplined to your training regimen, you will see the results on race day and make the experience even more memorable."

Andy Tylka, a Lose 19 in '19 contestant from Dyer, and his brother have been competing recently, using their Apple Watches, to see who can do the most daily physical activity. They aim for burning 1,100 calories and exercising 30 minutes.

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"In result, I have been walking or running almost every night to hit my goal," Tylka said. "This resulted in me realizing I can run a full 5K now with all the training. So I signed up for one to see."

The 36-year-old auto body shop owner plans to participate in Sunday's Valpo 5K.

Contestant Kim Collins, of Merrillville, took part in a 5K last month in Gary to benefit the Project on Outreach and Prevention on Youth Violence. She said the experience not only helped her get into better shape, but has inspired her to be more physically active.

"I was concerned that I would get tired and want to stop, but I didn't," the 41-year old law enforcement official said. "I believe my consistent cardio workouts helped me tremendously."

Steve Clark, a Lose 19 in '19 participant from Merrillville, pushed his 2-year-old daughter in a stroller in three recent 5Ks. He likes that the events are family-friendly activities that depart from his normal gym routine, but also that they're open to people of all ages and ability levels.

"It’s a very positive experience because everyone cheers for everyone else along the race path," the 47-year-old product specialist said.

Simko, the contestant from Chesterton, said the motivation of wanting to do more 5Ks will come in handy as she continues working toward her fitness objectives.

"You've got to change everything little by little. You can't do it overnight," the grandmother-of-five said. "I'm just trying to make my senior years healthier. Unfortunately, I have a lot of friends who haven't been as lucky with her healthy as I have been. I want to make sure I stay that way."

Beyond the recent race, she also tries to work out five days a week at Chesterton Fit Body Boot Camp. If she has to miss a session, she feels guilty.

"I just wanted to get that motivation going, and I feel I did. It keeps me moving and stronger, and that's what I want," she said. "I've been disappointed with not losing weight, but I figure it's a step in the right direction."

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.