By Holly Joy Berkey

When I was a young girl growing up in suburban west Michigan, I distinctly recall some of my fondest memories being endless summer days spent outdoors.  From dawn till dusk, each day was spent running and playing tirelessly with my neighborhood friends.  Hours of Kick the Can, Capture the Flag, and Kick Ball were played, trees were climbed, hills rolled down, and grass stains earned on the knees of all who traversed the soft grassy yards of my neighborhood.  The street I grew up on was home to more boys than girls, and I melded in as the tomboy of the crowd, simply happy to play outdoors and enjoy the fresh summer air with other kids my age who enjoyed to do the same.

As I grew up, my interests changed, and the joy of running free in the wide open spaces became simply a memory.  There were boys to chase, malls to cruise, and social groups to befriend.  Grass stained knees were traded for awkward heels and thick makeup. I no longer had the desire to be that tomboy, because I thought that for a boy to take notice of me, and for the girls to want to be my friend, I had to fit a specific mold.  I needed to be pretty and thin, I needed to laugh at the right jokes and act cool.  And as I progressed through my teenage and college years, instead of taking the time to figure out who I was, I did my best to become the girl who I thought everyone would want me to be.  Never once did the idea that I could be feminine, I could feel pretty, and I could also hold onto the tomboy in me that truly brought out the happiest part of me.

Thankfully, after years of trying to be someone I wasn’t, I stubbled upon my love of running quite by accident, and this eventually lead me to my love of obstacle racing.  And as I fell more deeply in love with living a healthier lifestyle, something in me reignited.  For the first time in years, I felt passion, I felt excitement, and I finally felt alive!  With each race that I ran, with each pound I lost, and with each milestone I acheived, I realized that I had found my true identity, one that I am not only incredibly proud of, but feel blessed to have discovered.

Today I am honored to feel as though I can consider myself a tomboy.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love that I am able to wear makeup, jewelry, and heels, and through that I am able to feel feminine and beautiful, but it’s great to know that this is not all that defines me.   I can also wash off the makeup, throw my hair in a ponytail, trade the heels in for a pair of trail shoes, and feel just a beautiful getting muddy, sweaty, and tackling a tough race.  Being able to meld into these two roles as a woman also makes me feel incredibly empowered.

I am not an object, I am a force to be reackoned with.  I am a strong woman who can acheive great things not just by how I look, but by the things that I can do.  I am not a trophy, I seek to earn a trophy.  I am a beautiful tomboy.

My hope is that women from all walks of life can feel this way as well.  There is no shame in being feminine, but there is no reason you cannot be both feminine and incredibly fierce.  With this same idea in mind, Spartan Race recently began their “Beauty and the BeastMode” photo albums, which displays side-by-side photos of women who have submitted a photo of them dressed their best along with their favorite photo being covered head to toe in mud at a Spartan Race.  You can see by the genuine smiles of the women in these photos that they have discovered their true ability to live life to the fullest, and to let their beauty shine in every facet of their lives.  So many women are discovering the fulfillment of being free to live a healthy, active life while not feeling pressured to give up their girly side.  I’m so happy that I did, and I hope that you can as well.

If you have yet to try an obstacle race for fear that it may be too masculine a sport, I urge you to please try one.  Grab a group of friends, dress in all pink or wear a tutu if you’d like, then get out there, get muddy, and celebrate the wonderful, amazing things that we, as women, can do!  I promise you that it will be a life changing experience!

For all of you who have already joined the Spartan Chicked ranks, you are amazing, I respect you, and keep up the good work!  I hope to see you out on the course someday!

~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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Written By Holly Joy Berkey

It seems that one of the biggest concerns facing many women training for an obstacle race is that of a lack of upper body strength.  We fear that our perceived inadequacy may hinder our overall performance come race day, and our confidence is shaken as we dread that we may not be able to complete many of the obstacles we will encounter.

While our male counterparts seem to effortlessly tackle monkey bars, 8 foot walls, and rope climbs, many women feel as though we were given the short end of the stick with regards to upper body strength.  We struggle through these obstacles, and some of us just never quite find a way to conquer them, grimacing with defeat as we complete a penalty or end up bypassing the cursed obstruction. Granted, our physical makeup is quite different, and each sex has strengths and weaknesses the other does not, but just because we may not be blessed with a propensity for upper body aptitude does not mean that we cannot achieve it.  I truly feel that a large part of the issue is due to the face that, from a young age, most girls are made to feel as though we aren’t supposed to focus on building strength in our upper-bodies.  Almost as though it’s unladylike to be strong.  We’re convinced that pull-ups are impossible, push-ups should be completed with knees resting on the ground, and don’t even think about lifting weights, because you’ll bulk up and look much too manly.

As a child of the 80s, I grew up in the realm of step aerobics, jazzercise, and Jane Fonda workouts.  Women bounced happily around in leotards and leg warmers, and seemed more interested in keeping a “feminine” shape than truly being strong and fit.  The misconception seemed to be that if a women completed any manner of strength training, she would become “butch” and much too masculine.

I think that our generation is still battling this mistaken belief, and I regularly hear women lament over their inability to complete upper-body focused obstacles.  I also used to feel this way, and was content with the belief that I could not attain certain physical strengths simply because I’m a woman.  I was convinced that pull-ups were a workout only men were able to complete, so I didn’t even bother trying to find a workout that would hone this skill.   At obstacle races, walls of any size required a boost from anyone around willing to lend a shoulder or knee, and monkey bars and rope climbs were just plain scary.  I had the mentality of “I can’t do this”, when instead I should have been thinking, “I can’t do this yet”.  I’d love to see women change their expectation of their limitations, and realize that there are so many things that they can do, even if they cannot do it just yet.

In my case I was able to ever so slowly change not only my own perception of how strong I was capable of being, but I was also able to learn to identify myself with being feminine, fit, and tenacious.  As I have become a more experienced obstacle racer, I also learned how to properly train my body for the tasks I will be asked to complete at each race.  Monkey bars have become much more manageable to traverse, I have learned proper techniques to climb ropes with ease, and each wall I am now able to climb unassisted gives me a jolt of excited adrenaline.  I can do the things that I was made to believe that I couldn’t.  I can complete tasks that I believed were too difficult.  And that is a truly amazing feeling, as it provides me with the confidence to know that I can continue to train, improve, and excel at future races.

The reason I’m sharing this is because I know that many of you reading this may share the same lament.  You may doubt that you can ever achieve the upper body prowess to conquer certain obstacles, and this lack of faith in your abilities may be hindering you from accomplishing incredible personal results.  But I’m here to tell you that with hard work and dedication, you too can achieve results that will astound you.  You may just surprise yourself!

Now I know I can tell you that you can build your upper body strength till I’m blue in the face, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you commit to working on building that strength.  And before you think that you’ll bulk up, don’t worry!  It actually takes a lot for a woman to develop large muscle mass (you won’t look like a body builder unless you purposely strive for that particular look.  And if you are a body builder, you go girl! Rock it!), so any upper body strength training you do will simply aid you in building lean, beautiful muscles in your arms, shoulders and back.

Ready to get started? I recommend incorporating push-ups, planks, and dips regularly into your workouts as a great way to begin building your strength.  I also try to work in a fair amount of heavy lifting as well.  As a mother, I’m blessed with a 50 pound child to lift, carry, and wrestle with, and I’m convinced he’s a huge factor in my increased power and grip strength.  Don’t have a child to incorporate into your training?  No worries!  Sand bags are a great alternative, and are easily found at any local hardware store.  Hand weights are also fantastic, and are awesome for an all-around workout if combined with squats and lunges.  If you have access to a gym, one or two sessions of weight training a week will make a huge difference as well, but a gym membership isn’t required to gain results.

Over time, you’ll begin seeing improvements in your ability to lift heavy items (if you’ve ever completed a Spartan Race and encountered the dreaded bucket carry, you’ll greatly appreciate a stronger upper body at this obstacle!), and maneuver obstacles like a champ.  So don’t give in to the myth that women are unable to do certain things due to a lack of ability.  We can do it, and we can do it well!  With time, dedication, and focus, you too can conquer the course!

~Holly Joy Berkey

www.muddymommy.com

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Written by Holly Joy Berkey

Prior to be embarking on my own personal journey of self-discovery, I recall enviously watching runners as they seemed to effortlessly float through my neighborhood.  They seemed so majestic, and made running look so easy!  But the thought of strapping on a pair of old tennis shoes and fumbling my way, huffing and puffing, along the pavement provided me with a completely different mental picture.  There was no way I could ever be as awesome as the seemingly mythical creatures that paraded past my home.  No possible way.

Have you ever felt this way?  Or perhaps, do you currently feel this way?  It’s easy to feel intimidated when you see seasoned runners gliding along with barely a drop of sweat glistening on their lean bodies.  You may think, “Where do I even begin?  I want to try, but don’t know where to start.”  Sound familiar?  Well I can happily say that just because you aren’t there right now, doesn’t mean you can’t be there someday.  And to supplement that, it also doesn’t mean that you HAVE to attain that ideal to be a successful runner either.  I’d like to share a few pointers that may help encourage you onward in your running journey, and I hope you are able to find the confidence, motivation, and strength as you take your early steps into the running world.

First things first, please remember that you are perfectly fine just as you are!  Now granted that’s no excuse not to incorporate some sort of physical activity into your daily life.  My hope is that you love yourself enough to take wonderful care of your body, and running is one really fantastic way to do this.  And yes, while there are beautiful, lean runners who will speed by you effortlessly just when you feel about ready to collapse on the pavement, there are also so many normal, everyday people out running who struggle, just like you, as they are also working toward gaining their legs as newborn runners. 

There’s no specific mold that you need to fit to be a runner.  Runners come in all different shapes and sizes, and no matter how fast or slow you may run, you’re no less of a runner just because you may not look like an elite athlete.  That’s really one of the greatest things about running, because although you may have to fit a specific body type to become a runway model (which, who does anyways right?!?), you don’t have to be confined to any look or shape to be a runner!  It’s simple, all you have to do is run.

There is an unspoken connection felt between runners that is so encouraging.  Whether you run before the sun rises, or as the final hurrah to a busy day, as long as you are out in the world running at the same moment we are, we feel as though you are family. There’s no judgment to pass, and no rules to abide by.  Discovering this fact will help build your confidence as a runner, and you’ll come to the realization that the only person you need to worry about judging you, is you!  Have confidence in yourself, and you can do amazing things, so don’t be your own roadblock!

Once you’ve gained your confidence, it’s time to prepare yourself to get out and run, which means you need some gear!  And here comes the overwhelming onslaught of running clothes, running shoes, running accessories, running supplements… you name it, there’s hundreds of different brightly colored products, beckoning you to buy their brand.  It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin!  I recall purchasing my very first pair of running shoes; I wore a sundress and sandals to a generic sports store, and selected a pair of shoes that were cheap yet cute without bothering to try them on.  I assumed that all shoes were created equal, and boy did I learn my lesson!

There are a few things that are very important to the success of a comfortable run, and the number one item is wearing correct shoes!  Many people do not realize that each runner has a unique style of running, and there are specific shoes created for each type.  For example, some of us run on our toes, some on our heels, some people’s feet roll in when running, and some roll out.  How can you find out how you run?  I highly recommend heading to a local running store for help in selecting your perfect pair of running kicks.  These stores are specialized for runners, and the staff will be educated to help fit you to the best shoe.  And please don’t go cheap on your running shoes just for the sake of saving a buck!  Buying a quality pair that fits your specific running style will not only provide a more comfortable, enjoyable run, but will aid in avoiding injury, which can be much more costly than a $100 pair of shoes!

When it comes to a lot of running gear, your selection of clothing, supplements, and accessories will mostly come down to personal preference.  Many items these days are brightly colored, with fun, funky patterns, and a pizzazz that shouts, “Look at me!  I’m awesome because I run!”  The diversity of available gear will give you the ability to display your own personality style, so have fun with it!  I can personally attest to the positive boost a great new outfit gives me, I’m eager to get out and run in my colorful new gear, so treat yourself once in a while!  Just because you’re sweating doesn’t mean you have to look drab doing it!  On a budget?  Some running clothes can be costly, but places like Old Navy and Target offer great options at a fraction of the cost.  And ladies, you’ll want to find running clothes that are not only sweat wicking (No cotton! It will stifle you and weigh you down!), but that also provides the support that you need to enjoy your run without discomfort or distractions.

Finally, if you find yourself lacking in the motivation department, grab a friend that will accompany you!  Having a friend to hold you accountable will keep you on task, will help the time go by quickly, and will help give you motivation to continue on.  You can get healthy together and nurture your friendship through regular running sessions.  Don’t have a friend who is willing to join in on your running adventures?  Running groups have become very popular, so you’re likely to find one in your area that will welcome you with open arms!  Don’t be shy, the more the merrier is the mentality of a running group!

Ultimately, running is what you make of it, so be sure to approach it with an open mind, a willing heart, and above all, don’t forget to have fun!  Running should be something that you love, not something you dread.  Now get out there, get running, and good luck!

Holly Joy Berkey

www.muddymommy.com

Sign up for your next Spartan Race right here!

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