For Beth Nykerk, a second grade teacher in Holland, Mich., the idea of setting a new goal after completing her master’s degree in the winter of 2017 led to the start of her running journey. Inspiration from a close friend also moved her in this direction.

“I am the type of person who loves setting goals and working hard to reach them,” Beth says. “What really got me started long distance running was Allson. She’s ran countless races in Wisconsin and she would always talk with me about her running and training and upcoming races,” Beth says. “In May 2017, I tracked her and her husband during one of their half marathons. I was so excited whenever I received an update on their progress during the race and I found it so inspiring. She tried to convince me that I could become a runner also, but I still doubted her and I doubted myself a bit. But she finally convinced me to train for a fall 2017 half marathon. That first half marathon was the Grand Rapids Half Marathon in October of 2017, and that’s basically how I became hooked.”

This weekend, Beth is tackling the Holland Haven Half Marathon. This race, which takes place Sunday in Holland, will be part of her training for the Grand Rapids Marathon on Oct. 20.

“Last year was a pretty epic year of racing for me,” she says. “I made it a goal at the end of 2017 to run at least one race per month for the entire year of 2018 – I ended up running 16 different races throughout those 12 months. They were all Michigan races with various distances. Going from shortest to longest distance, I ran seven 5Ks, one 8K, two 10Ks, and the CRIM 10 Mile race. I also ran four half marathons, and Riverbank Run 25K in Grand Rapids.

As the Holland Haven Marathon, Half Marathon and 8K race weekend nears, MRG caught up with Beth to learn more about her running journey (she also shares a few tips for those running her city’s road races this weekend).

The allure of 26.2

At the end of 2018, I found myself thinking about finally running a full marathon. The thought had previously been daunting to me when I first started running, but after the 2018 year of races, I mustered up the courage to sign up for a full marathon. I heard great things about Bayshore Marathon (May 25th, Memorial Day weekend) in Traverse City, so that’s why I chose that race to conquer my first 26.2 miles.

So far in 2019, here are the races that I have completed: Tulip Time 5k and 10k, Gazelle Girl Half Marathon, Bayshore Full Marathon, Glen Arbor Solstice Half Marathon, and Zeeland Zoom 5k.

I look back and can’t believe how much has happened since I started training in May 2017. Initially I didn’t consider myself an athlete and sometimes doubted if I was a real runner. I have since realized that it doesn’t matter how fast or how far you run. Regardless of speed or distance…if you run, you’re a runner!

Hometown Racing

I am very excited for the Holland Haven Half Marathon on Sunday. It will be my first year running in this event and I’ve only ever heard great things and awesome reviews about the race. In early 2019, I asked the Holland Running Club members about fall half marathons and the vast majority of them recommended the Holland Haven Half Marathon. I heard that it is very well organized, well supported, and that the after-party is awesome. I love that there are three race distance options for Holland Haven – the 8K, Half Marathon, and Marathon. That makes the race accessible to a wide range of runners. I really enjoy that the Half Marathon is a point to point race, starting at Camp Geneva and ending in Holland (the Marathon is also a point-to-point race, from Grand Haven to Holland).

Training+ Racing Tips

  • Tip #1: Get a great pair of running shoes. Go to a shoe story like Gazelle Sports in Holland or Grand Rapids and talk to an employee there. They are trained in gait analysis and can help analyze your feet and find a pair of shoes to fit your needs. Local shoe stores provide excellent customer service and knowledge that you won’t experience if you just purchase shoes online.
  • Tip #2: Don’t compare yourself to everyone else. Yes, social media is great. You can follow lots of motivational and inspiring runners on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. However, don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you’re less of a runner. Pace isn’t everything.
  • Tip #3: I highly recommend a training plan or guide. Do some research and find something that works for you and your goals. Take easy runs easy! Also, when training in the hot/humid summer months, be smart. Hydrate and realize that your pace will most likely be slower if you’re training in high heat as opposed to cooler Fall/Spring/Winter temperatures.
  • Tip #4: If you’re motivated by other people, consider joining a running group or club. However, don’t feel obligated to. Everyone is different!
  • Tip #5: HAVE FUN! Remember that a race is essentially a celebration of all that you have accomplished during training. On race day, feel confident and reassured that you’ve put in work – trust your training.

Staying Motivated

When I first started running, I treated it completely as a solo endeavor. I would read basically anything I could online regarding running. I have since learned to appreciate the running community SO MUCH. I love following, chatting to, and meeting other inspiring runners. I find Instagram to be an awesome online community in particular (you can find me at @beth_nykerk_running) because it’s a great way to communicate with others who might have similar goals and to meet people who inspire me to become a better runner. There are some runners that I have met on Instagram and talk to nearly every day about how training is going!

What keeps me motivated: Running allows me to feel accomplished. It is so rewarding to set goals, work hard towards those goals, and reach your goals. Even if a race doesn’t go according to plan, there’s always something to learn that can help in future training cycles/races. I also love being a positive role model and example to my second grade students. I talk about running, show them pictures and videos of me at races, and bring my race medals in to the classroom. One of my previous students even asked me to run a race with her – a 5K on July 20.

Great Lakes Exploring

I love running and exploring both in West Michigan and also in Northern Michigan. There are so many great cities and routes to explore in both areas. Here in Ottawa County, there are an abundance of routes and trails to explore. One of my ultimate favorite places in Michigan is Sleeping Bear Dunes. My husband and I enjoy rustic camping every year at DH Day Campground just outside of Glen Arbor. I LOVE running and biking on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. I ran the Sleeping Bear Dunes Half Marathon in September 2018 and enjoyed the race – rolling hills and through the woods of the National Lakeshore. It was a slightly challenging but rewarding course and I managed a PR and third in my age group. Sleeping Bear Dunes has so much to offer for a variety of ages and interests. We also love exploring in Traverse City and come up once per year in the winter as well.

Beth Nykerk and her husband Ben live in Holland with their 5-year-old yellow lab, Lucy. Both are teachers – Ben is a middle school special education teacher and this year will be Beth’s 8th year teaching second grade. They enjoy hiking, canoeing, and biking. “Running is more of ‘my thing,’ but my husband Ben gets the award for being #1 spectator and supporter at all of my races. He is an expert at tracking me and finding me on any race course.” Follow Beth in Instagram at @beth_nykerk_running

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