By Holly Joy Berkey

After much of the country endured a very long and bitter winter, the cold has finally subsided and we now find ourselves eagerly anticipating the warmth of the summer months.  But along with the excitement of balmy summer days and the promise of sunshine and plenty of time spent outdoors, this time of year can also bring with it the jarring realization of forgotten New Year’s Resolutions, a sudden awareness of an overabundance of holiday indulging, and the overwhelming dread of “bikini season”.

Women are constantly bombarded with the pressure to fit a specific body type, especially as the warmest months of the year arrive.  It seems as though a wave of disappointment begins to wash over us as we are forced to peer back at the women on fashion magazines, smiling happily at us as they pose confidently in their tiny bikinis.  The headlines enticing us with their perfect “quick fix” to help us magically drop 10-15 pounds in just a matter of days.  And just like that our brains convince us that we are inferior, telling us that because we have not achieved the body we see before us that we have failed, and a sudden drop in self-confidence leaves us spiraling into a self-loathing depression.

Each year we repeat this cycle, and each year the pressure is on to achieve the perfect bikini body.  Unfortunately it seems that our society teaches us that little to no actual effort is required to attain long lasting results, and instead we are bombarded with ads promising that we can drop a copious amount of weight within just a few days by completing a quick workout and sticking to their prescribed diet.  This is not realistic, nor is it a healthy way to lose weight.

How many women do you know (or perhaps are you one of them?) who suddenly hit the panic button when summer suddenly arrives? Thus begins a manic flurry of massive calorie restrictions, diet pills and workout overkill guaranteed to burn out even the most determined of women.  Even though a few pounds may be initially lost, this weight reduction is fleeting, as sooner or later our bodies need proper nutrition, realistic fitness goals and a healthy approach to maintain lasting results.  The yo-yo effect can wreak havoc not only on your body, but on your self-confidence as well, as you swing back and forth between self-hatred and frantic desperation while trying to maintain a lifestyle based around deprivation.

So how do we overcome this vicious cycle and instead find ourselves approaching summer with confidence?  You may even wonder if this is even possible.  To begin with, committing to a lifestyle which combines healthy eating with a workout plan which is consistent and realistic is key.  Our bodies aren’t meant to gain and lose excessive amounts within a short period of time, but a pound or two lost a week by means of a healthy diet and exercise is much more likely to stay off in the long run.  We also need to realize that these goals take time.  Just as it takes time to gain weight (which is why we generally don’t realize the vast impact that we’ve made on our bodies until more pounds than we care to admit have crept onto our bodies), it also takes time to lose weight.  I’ve met countless women who have begun a journey towards better health, who become frustrated when results do not instantly happen, and then they give up, convinced that the desired weight loss will never occur.  It’s then that they then tend to revert to the “quick fix diets” which unfortunately will never truly deliver the results that are so desired.

But not only do women need to focus on committing to a lifestyle focused on healthy diet and exercise that is a long term investment, but also (and this is much easier said than done), we need to stop being so hard on ourselves.

I recently saw an incredibly inspiration video that had been shared in the Spartan Chicked Facebook group, and it moved me to think about how hard we as women are on ourselves, and a lot of times on each other as well.  The video hosted Tarynn Brumfitt, a woman who has struggled with body image issues for years, much like the majority of women in our society today.  As a former body builder, she realized that even with the “perfect body” she still found herself lacking confidence as to how she felt about herself.  She then went on to become a mother, which produced curves that left her feeling much less than perfect.  Upon taking on a project to ask 100 women to describe themselves in one word, she was horrified as each woman she asked replied with a self-loathing description; “Lumpy, Fat, Ugly, Average, Stumpy..” these are just a few of the replies she heard, and she began to wonder if her own daughter would someday feel the same way about her own body, refusing the see the beauty that she too possesses.  This changed something in Tarynn, and she has now committed to loving her body, no matter her shape, and began the “Embrace” movement, which is raising money for a documentary that will be centered on teaching women to learn to love their bodies.

Tarynn’s story is just one of many in which women are choosing to fight against the urge to fall into a pattern of self-hatred, fad dieting, and unrealistic workout goals.  What we as women need to do is band together to support one another in our individual objectives.  We need to encourage, love, and advocate for each other, and we need to commit to loving ourselves as well.  This isn’t easy, but it’s possible, and surrounding ourselves with other women who are devoted to this same mindset will help us be that much more successful in our own personal fitness and health goals.

I recently saw a great meme online that said, “How do you get a bikini body? Simple.  Put a bikini on your body.”  Several drawings of women of all shapes and sizes in bikinis were then displayed.  What a great message!  Yes, I do believe we should all strive to be as healthy as we can, but we also must realize that we are all at different stages of that journey.  Just because you may not look like a model on a magazine, does not mean that the great things that you are working toward achieving shouldn’t be celebrated!  Just don’t give up; you can do what you set out to do!

So should you rock that bikini?  Yes!  Wear it confidently!  Love the body you have, and keep working steadily toward your goals, I know you’ve got this! Spartan Chicked women are strong, confident, and dedicated, and as long as you don’t forget how beautiful you truly are, you’ll live with confidence as you continue on your journey of healthy, happy living.

~Holly Joy Berkey

www.muddymommy.com

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By Holly Joy Berkey

As I sit at my desk, pondering all of the things I can write about as I sip on my morning cup of coffee, I cannot shake the overwhelming thought that has been constantly been permeating my brain over the last few days.  What’s that you ask?  Well, in less than a week’s time, I’ll be running the longest race I have ever run in my life.

By the time you read this I’ll have packed my bags and headed north to western Michigan, to participate in the nation’s largest 25K.  Over 21,000 people from around the world will attend this event, and it’s one that I’ve had my sights set on running since early on in my running journey.  Being that it’s hosted in my hometown, there will be something very nostalgic about running a race in the city that holds so many memories for me.  And since my adventures with running and fitness did not begin while I still lived in this northern state, I’m looking forward to introducing my new life to an old, familiar place.

And so, on Saturday May 9th at 8:20am, I will embark on a fifteen and a half mile journey through the streets of downtown Grand Rapids.

Distance races can be daunting, even for seasoned runners.  They are challenging, both mentally and physically, and have the ability to make a runner feel invincible, or completely discouraged, based on how the race itself progresses.  I myself have only run a handful of distance races races, both obstacle and road, and each one has brought with it a distinct memory of either triumph or failure.  Some races I’ve excelled, felt strong, and gained a personal record that I was elated to have earned.  Others I’ve learned a hard lesson due to either beginning too fast, having to deal with pain or discomfort, or struggling through due to lack of proper nutrition or hydration.  These factors left me yearning for relief, as I mentally switched from seeking a personal record, to instead simply praying for the finish line to come quickly.  I do believe though, that it’s these difficult races in which I learn the most from, that keep me wanting more, and that provide me the resolve to continue improving.

But it’s not just distance that can be frightening to people.  The current events that provide me personally with apprehension are the ones which involve higher mileage.  For some, a 5K sounds impossible, for others contemplating an obstacle race is daunting, as the threat of failing obstacles can be a crippling fear.  Each race brings with it it’s own set of challenges to overcome, but when it comes down to it, racing wasn’t meant to be easy.  If it were easy, everyone would do it.  People wouldn’t prefer to stay on their couches, watching the world go by, too afraid to try.  Racing is tough, it tests your mental grit, and forces your body to complete a task that your brain tries to convince you that you cannot do.  But it’s in overcoming these demons that helps push people past their comfort zone into realizing what they truly are capable of.

So how do you overcome these fears?  I’m sure that each person reading this today can come up with at least one concern that eats away at their psyche with regards to racing.  Some people let these concerns deter them from ever trying, they simply give in and tell people, “That’s not for me, I could never do that.”  But the thing is, they can!  They just have to get out there and give it a try.  There are a myriad of examples of people who have missing limbs, debilating disabilities, and major physical handicaps completing amazing feats in the racing world on a regular basis.

Take the example of Todd Love, a Marine who lost his legs while deployed in Afghanistan.  He has heroically completed several Spartan Races, refusing to let his disability hold him back.  His girlfriend, Amanda Sullivan, was involved in two serious car related accidents in 2009, which left her with severe spinal injuries and damaged her right leg to the point that it does not function. With the use of forearm crutches, she has also completed several Spartan Races, and with a smile on her face, has positively influenced so many people to get out and try to achieve physical gains they did not believe they could make happen.

You are blessed with a body that has the potential to achieve amazing things!  No matter what physical obstacles you feel that you may have, it’s the mental obstacles that will hinder you most.  Three years ago I was unable to run a full mile, but by changing my way of thinking about what I had the ability to accomplish, I slowly but surely worked my way toward running that mile.  I distinctly recall the very first time I ran three miles without stopping to walk, I was elated!  I felt on top of the world, so ecstatic that I had just completed something that not long before was a feat that seemed impossible.  If you start slowly, and believe in yourself, you too can experience these physical gains, and the progess you make will aid in giving you the confidence you need to continue on.

Now, as I prepare for my longest race yet, I still feel that twinge of nervous excitement.  I have high hopes that I’ll finish this race feeling empowered, yet I know that I could just as easily finish feeling deflated.  Distance running takes precision, strategy, and the resolve not to give up.  And this 25K is just the beginning of a string of longer distance events I’ll be completing, as I plan to finish two Spartan Beasts and a full marathon within the next 8 months.  I’ll be honest, these are events that scare me a little.  They make me nervous, they make me question my ability, but it’s this small amount of intimidation that gives me the resolve that I must do them.  I’ve changed from a person who says “I can’t”, to a person who resolves “I will’, and as I evolve as a runner I strive toward testing myself in new ways.

I challenge you to be this person as well.  Be the one to make a change, to get off the couch, to lace up your shoes, and to get out and get healthy.  And please don’t get discouraged or give up, real change takes time.  It took me nearly a year to lose the weight that I needed to, two years before I began racing competitively, and I’m still growing and learning each day.  I know I’m not yet the best that I can be, but I know I’ll never give up and I’ll keep working toward bigger achievements.

Not sure where to begin?  Be sure to set a reasonable goal for yourself.  I recently spoke with a friend of mine who had just begun running, but he was having a hard time staying motivated.  I recommended that he sign up for a local 5K, something several weeks out, and train with that event in mind.  Many times the knowledge that an event is approaching will create a resolve to train. I think it’s good for runners to sign up for one event a quarter, as this will maintain a constant goal to work toward.  We, as humans, tend to have a desire to improve each time we complete something, so once your 5K is complete, find another to sign up for and work toward a better time.  Once you feel comfortable with a 5K, it may be time to flex your running prowess and try a longer event.  The same goes for obstacle races!  Although I jumped in head on and chose a twelve mile event for my first mud run, there are so many events with varying distances, so start with something that makes sense for you.  Spartan Race offers three distances of races, the most common being the Sprint, which is typically 3-5 miles.  Once you’ve completed your Sprint, you can then decide if you’d like to try another Sprint to see how you’ve improved, or maybe then you will be ready to train for a Super, or a Beast!  It’s truly up to you as to what you can conquer, but if you keep in mind that much of the roadblocks that we encounter with regards to running and racing are mental, you’ll be able to find ways to surpass that self-doubt and complete the unimaginable.

So as I sit here contemplating the distance I’ll be tackling this coming weekend, I want you to know that you too can take on grander distances than you think!  Whether it is one mile, a 5K, or a marathon, just remember to take it slow, set some realistic goals for yourself, and never give up.  You can gain results that will astound you with dedication, commitment, and metal grit.  And perhaps someday you may just find yourself looking in the mirror at someone who no longer cringes at the idea of a mile run, but to someone who can run so many more than that.  You too can go the distance.

Holly Joy Berkey

www.muddymommy.com

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5 Ways you are a Spartan Chick – even if you’ve never raced

By  Heather Kokesch Del Castillo

1. You overcome obstacles every day. Whether you’ve set a new PR on your back squat, made a tough decision at work, or were faced with the challenge of having to be two places at once, Spartan Chicks overcome daily obstacles with the drive and courage that makes us strong in both body and spirit.

2. You think “I could never do that!” You, yes you, are a Spartan Chick! The Spartan Chicked community is backed by strong women not only physically, but also strong in will, heart, and willingness to lift up others. One woman in our Spartan Chicked community even defined the meaning of being a Spartan woman as “Doing things you never thought you could!” Even if you’ve never done an obstacle course race, you can work up to it with the encouragement of our empowering women’s community. There are plenty of Chicks who have yet to lose their sparkle and compete in their first Spartan Race.

3. You enjoy connecting with other women on all things female.  Camaraderie:  a feeling of good friendship among the people in a group. Among this group you can ask anything. Which shoes and calf sleeves are best for an OCR? What should I do if my partner doesn’t want to run a Spartan Race with me? How should I eat in preparation for a big race? You name it, and the Spartan Chicked group has discussed it. From racing, relationships, injuries and recoveries, to weight loss goals and accomplishments including some great before and after pictures and beyond, Chicks are here to showcase and share their powerful, smart, and capable attributes.

4. You’re driven by accomplishing goals. You are strong, competitive, fearless, and always looking for new ways to challenge yourself.  If in your workouts you are inspired by a variety of movements, a Spartan race will keep you guessing at every turn and ultimately test your limits. Exercise while setting the example that women are a force to be reckoned with as you pass men on the course; that is after all what it means to truly be “Chicked” – Spartan Chicks dedicated to passing dudes on the course, racing the planet, and promoting radness at every opportunity!

5. Life has handed you some serious personal challenges and you’ve lived to tell your story. Have you suffered through various health issues or injuries, survived beyond the end of a relationship, or witnessed a family member struggle with life’s ups and downs? Guaranteed you are not alone, the Spartan Chicked community has thousands of strong women who have endured all of life’s challenges, and in some cases many times over. These women share their stories daily and use their wisdom to guide others who’ve found themselves in the midst of a challenge. Whether you need some guidance or support, or have your own advice to share, you are welcome here.  When I’ve asked the group to define a Spartan woman, this response made me especially happy, “It’s simple. You say, ‘I think I can.’ Spartan chicks say, ‘You will.’ Then you do. Now you are part of the growing inspiration.” Join us and share your story too!

You can join the Chicked community by joining our Facebook group of more than 10,000 women. To register for a Spartan Race you can go to the website and challenge yourself to a race near you, or travel to one of many awesome destinations to race with other amazing Spartan Chicks.  I hope to see you on the course! Go Spartan Chicks!

 

Heather Kokesch Del Castillo – Spartan Chick, CrossFitter, Educator, and future Health Coach studying at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

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