Monster Dash

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This, my friends, is The Cathedral of Saint Paul in Saint Paul, Minnesota on Monster Dash day. (Photo from race organizer Team Ortho.)

I’ve been in awe of this stately church since I first saw it. It lends a beautiful reverence to the landscape of Saint Paul and seems to keep a watchful eye over the city. I never drive by without noticing it.

Neither of us are even Catholic, but back in our college days JR and I went to evening mass once at the cathedral. I just wanted to experience it, and I was awe-struck.

When I was thinking about races for this fall season I knew a marathon was not in the cards. Two this spring was enough for awhile, but I did want to see what I could do over 13.1. That meant seeking out the right half marathon. The Monster Dash is one of the only late fall half marathons somewhat nearby, and I saw it started at my beloved cathedral. When I found out I had several friends running it too, I was sold!

It was sunny and breezy on Saturday morning, which should be perfect fall running weather. Unfortunately the wind and sun both got intense for me at the end, but at the start it felt beautiful.

I met up with several lovely ladies pre-race, and we chatted about our goals and race jitters.

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My friend on the left ran the 5K (while pushing her adorable son in the stroller), so my friend on the right and I headed to the cathedral together about 8:00 for an 8:30 start. There were giant bathroom lines and people everywhere, so we ended up getting into the starting area later than we hoped. The gun actually went off while I was still trying to check my bag, so I jogged on the far edge of the side walk and finally managed to get near the 9:00 minute pace signs as I crossed the start.

The course went down Summit Avenue for the first few miles, and every couple minutes I had a strong urge to stop and take a picture. The leaves were still rich red, gold, and amber, and the homes were magazine perfect. People were cheering in small clumps here and there, and the first five miles all passed pretty well considering the bobbing and weaving. I was running consistent 8:20 miles, and I hoped I could finish in just under 1 hour, 50 minutes.

It was continually entertaining to look around at the crazy costumes people were running in. Throughout the day I saw everything from fairies, witches, and Ken and Barbie to scuba divers, Indiana Jones and the boulder, and Adam and Eve. I also had another friend dressed with a group as the Harlem Globetrotters.

Around mile 6 I noticed the first signs of tired legs, but I spied my friend in blue up ahead which gave me a boost. She was on track to run a big personal best, and I wished her well as I continued trying to run an even pace. It wasn’t working quite as well anymore.

The sun was really beating down, and while it was still a moderate temperature (probably 60 at most) I was feeling the heat. The wind was also picking up in sections, which was cooling but also slowed me down. I feel like such a wimp for complaining about a gorgeous, sunny, breezy fall day, but somehow those things combined for more challenging conditions than I thought.

I was really thirsty at the water stop around mile nine or ten, so I slowed way down to drink a full cup of water and Gatorade. Bad idea. I instantly had a side ache that burned. I tried to breathe deep and easy as I relaxed my shoulders, but it persisted. I tried my second method of defense, which is to push hard on my side. About five minutes later I felt pretty normal, but I knew my pace had suffered.

Mile twelve brought a small hill that felt like a mountain, and I slowed again as I made the climb. I knew at this point I’d missed my shot at 1:49, so it was harder to find an extra gear. I did manage about 8:30 for mile thirteen, and I passed many of the runners who had passed me on the earlier hill. A great section of spectators lined the end of the course as I ran into the finish at the Mississippi flats on the edge of downtown in 1:52.

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I was a little (or a lot) disappointed to miss my goal, but I was spent and knew I had run hard. I appreciated the salty chips, creamy yogurt, and cold beer among other things at the finish. :-)

I headed home pretty quickly after the race, and I was amazed at the smooth traffic and parking both getting in and out of Saint Paul. I had prepared myself for bumper to bumper frustration, so I was pleasantly surprised. The rest of my weekend was filled up with farm stuff and household chores, but you’d better believe I was in bed as early as I could be Saturday and Sunday.

Where does this race leave me now?

I just don’t know. On Monday night as I write this, my body is still trashed. It feels more like marathon soreness than half marathon soreness, and I didn’t even run my best time.

I think perhaps my lingering cold and the long fall days took their toll on me this month. I also missed some runs and cut others short due to sickness and just plain busyness, and apparently it caught up with me. Like many races, I find I’m happy with my effort but left wanting something more.

I may take one last shot at the 5K this year, but either way l’m excited to keep putting in the miles and going after more finish lines in 2015.

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Posted in Race Reports, Running | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Season of Dairy Giving

I know, I know. It’s not even Halloween yet, but November and December truly are coming soon.

The holidays from Thanksgiving through Hanukkah, Christmas, and the New Year are so much about giving. Yes, it’s easy to get bogged down in the shopping and commercial hype, but the giving, sharing, and love are still beautiful. In the midst of family celebrations, I’m sure many of you also give extra time, money, or both to support causes you believe in.

We all know these causes need support through the whole year, but something about the holidays makes us a little more willing and a little more generous.

Before this gets lost in the lights and ribbons of December, I thought I’d let you know about a small way to immediately help a person or family experiencing food insecurity. It doesn’t cost a lot, but it will make a difference.

It’s called The Great American Milk Drive

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Click here to give

If you go online and donate milk, you can be assured that nutritious, fresh milk will help a family that needs food assistance. A few dollars will give a gallon, and if we all chip in the impact becomes exponential. Well over 100,000 gallons have been donated so far, and as we near the holiday season I’d love to see that number skyrocket!

You may be wondering, “Why milk?”

First, milk is a hard thing for food banks to provide. It’s perishable and requires refrigeration, so it’s more expensive to handle and store than dry goods. By providing only milk, The Great American Milk Drive ensures milk and its vital nutrients don’t get left out.

It’s also what people are asking for.

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Parents know they and especially their growing kids need the protein, calcium, and vitamins found in milk. It’s healthy, delicious, and I can’t imagine going a day without it. I don’t want others to be without it either, so I’m proud to donate and help meet this need. I also feel especially connected because we care for cows who produce milk and ultimately make this whole drive possible.

From our farm to you, I wish you a Happy Halloween next week and a blessed upcoming holiday season. I hope you’ll think about sharing the goodness of dairy with those in need.

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Posted in Agriculture ( in general), Cows, This and That | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Still Chasing

Five years ago this month I had a big first.

I packed myself and my running shoes in the car, drove to Fargo, North Dakota, and encountered snow flurries on the way. In the middle of October.

I was worried I hadn’t even brought a hat, but my best friend didn’t let me freeze the next morning. She borrowed me a black Carhartt hat, she got me to the start, and she was at the finish cheering when I completed my first half marathon.

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She ran the 5K while I ran the half, but I still maintain she’s faster than me any day. Her free time is also divided between riding horse and driving motorcycle, so I couldn’t fault her for not training for the half. :-)

I had a lot of thoughts during that cold 13.1 miles, but I don’t think I ever doubted I would finish. I knew I wouldn’t be very fast and the end might not be pretty, but I would get there.

Fast is a strange concept when you’re a middle-of-the-pack girl like me. I know I wasn’t fast when I first started running longer distances. Now that I’ve taken almost 30 minutes (okay, 27 minutes) off my first half marathon time I still don’t think I’m fast. Faster maybe, but I guess fast is an illusive concept that will keep me training and chasing the next goal. I suppose unless you’re an aspiring Olympian we’re all just somewhere in the middle striving to feel healthy, alive, and just a little bit better than we were the day before.

Maybe I have this desire because I was never good at sports as a kid. I’ve always had knobby knees, pointy elbows, and been more thin than thick. I wasn’t built to muscle my way through high contact team sports, and I also lacked the coordination necessary for most of them. In reality, I think I also lacked the confidence. I should have been fast because of my skinny limbs, but I wasn’t that either.

My best friend is also the one who convinced me to try track in seventh grade. That was the push I needed to finally join a team. It wasn’t exactly a success story because I didn’t train or focus well enough to be very competitive, but I did see improvement. I ran hurdles because not too many girls wanted to, and one singular year I qualified for the section meet. I was ecstatic.

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I only stuck with track through tenth grade, but I don’t regret the other things (4-H, music, speech, FFA, drama, work, academics, and family & friends) I filled my time with. They shaped me into me and helped develop the skills I needed for college and beyond.

I would never have been a great runner, but for some reason running was waiting for me five years ago. It gave me a renewed chance. I also think it’s a blessing God helped me rediscover once the happy chaos of college was over. After four busy years, I was a newlywed living in a small town with few friends or connections beyond my husband and the farm. I love those things, but that kind of change is still tough.

I had the maturity at this point to train harder, and I found a community of support through other runners that encouraged me to go farther. My readers and this blog are part of that community too!

A year and a half after this October race I drove back to Fargo for my first marathon. Apparently I like flat when I’m tackling a new distance. My friend thought this was certainly more crazy, but she still helped me navigate to the start and was cheering at the finish.

I don’t know what the next five years will bring, but I suspect I will still be chasing.

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“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

Fall is awesome. I’m pretty sure I’ve always thought so. As a school kid and even as a teen I liked the rhythm of going back to school, and as a farm kid I knew the importance and beauty of the harvest season.

I now find myself excited to make thick soups and applesauce in my crockpot, and I love the crunch of crisp leaves and the speed in my legs during a cool fall morning run.

Yes, fall days on a farm can be really busy. Sometimes lonely too. I often find myself solo at the supper table after dark once I’ve brought JR a meal to eat in the field. But it’s only for a little while, and dry weather to bring in quality silage for the cows is a blessing to give thanks for.

Yesterday, after over three weeks of start and stop, we finished harvesting our corn silage. There is still lots to do to prepare those fields for winter (tillage, hauling manure, etc), but it can be done at a more normal pace than harvest.

We covered silage with tires and plastic for the last time this season, and I can’t say I’ll miss it.

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During much of the fall we are busier than normal, so sometimes when I stop to look at my yard I cringe a little. Fall yard cleanup often waits until a few days before the snow flies, and sometimes it doesn’t happen then, either.

But maybe I’m okay with that. My house and yard will never be pristine – in any season. I have a feeling even if I didn’t farm I would get behind on these tasks. (Okay, I know I would!) But I still soak in the sight of leaves waiting to be raked, grass that’s a little too long, and cattle enjoying the last pasture of the season.

This summer I found myself making a little monthly feature of the current flowers in my yard. October appears different with pumpkins and orange leaves, but I still have a few hardy flowers blooming. Here’s a look around the past week.

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From one of my favorite reads of all time…

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” – Anne of Green Gables

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Undercover: What’s What?

Normally I feel pretty optimistic about agriculture and raising food. It’s a timeless vocation, and everybody needs to eat. What makes both my brain and my heart hurt are those who want to determine through fear what we should and should not eat.

Animal rights extremists are part of the picture farmers can no longer ignore. While I fully believe in caring for and treating animals well, I also believe in eating meat, milk, eggs, and other animal products. This unfortunately puts me at odds with many animal rights groups who, if you look closely, really aim to end all animal agriculture.

Don’t get me wrong — if someone wants to eat a purely plant-based diet they should absolutely be allowed that choice. I should be sensitive to that, and there’s no need for me to judge. In many cases we can get along and even learn from each other.

But everyone needs to be allowed to make their own food choices on the spectrum. When organized groups start trying to scare and manipulate people into avoiding animal protein, then I take issue.

Things get further confusing when you realize groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), give comparatively little to pet shelters and spend lots on lobbyists trying to influence policy against livestock farming.

As a side note, if you care about homeless pets, PLEASE give directly to your local shelter or rescue. They will put those dollars to work in your community, and you’ll avoid fattening the budget of misleading groups like HSUS. I’m an animal and pet lover as well as a farmer, and I’ve come to realize it’s so important to research the pet and animal charities you give to.

When groups do release videos of animal cruelty, we as farmers are left saying again and again that we don’t condone animal mistreatment. These cruel images are not the norm. A vast majority of farmers have a lot of integrity for what they do, and they care about their animals.

And I really believe that’s true. So many farms of all sizes have been in families for generations. Pride, responsibility, and a strong work ethic permeate the farming culture. Families raise their kids on the land, they drink the water, and they teach their children to help with animal feeding and care.

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My nephew and niece

Still, people are left wondering where these videos keep coming from. If they’re not the norm, why don’t they go away?

To this, I think the answer is two-fold. First, it can be very profitable to be an animal rights group that scares people. Groups like PETA and HSUS take in millions every year and spend large amounts on fundraising and salary to continue the cycle. Sensational videos tug at people’s emotions and get them to open their wallets. Beyond that, I’m sure some of the people within these organizations really believe the hype. They may think farms are truly bad places, they completely misunderstand them, or they want to stop everyone from eating animal protein. They’re working for a cause, and they’ll do whatever it takes to advance that cause.

This brings me again to the real question . Where do they keep getting these videos?

I’ve been thinking about that lately, and a simple example occurred to me. So just follow me for a minute…

If you take a picture of me with strep throat or the flu, I’m going to look a lot worse than I would on an average day when I’m doing normal things. I’ll probably have a blotchy face, red nose, and appear to be unhealthy.

Or, if you took a video of me the day after a 20 mile run, I’d probably look sore and stiff on my legs. That’s not representative of how I normally walk and move, but that would be what you see.

I think this parallels what extreme animal rights activists are doing as they dig and dig to find disturbing images to release. They get their people to pose as normal workers for varying periods of time and discreetly film (and sometimes create) situations that looks bad. They will quit or disappear once they finally get their footage – without ever reporting any problem. Some of this disturbing video may indeed be a frustrated worker making a bad decision or deliberately causing harm. And they need to be held properly accountable for that. Much more is likely an unfortunate situation where an animal is sick or hurt. It stinks, but these things happen to people and they happen to animals too. It’s not fun, but on our farm we do our best with the resources we have to treat any animal that needs. Sometimes farmers have to put an animal down. That’s not fun either. Awhile back I called it the worst job on a farm.

Some things on a livestock farm are dirty and bloody, and there’s just no way around it. But more often things on a farm are about country living, contended animals eating and resting, new babies being born, and regular people going about day to day chores.

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You guys are smart and I know you fundamentally get that. Still, it’s hard for everyone (myself included) to remember it when you’re seeing a disturbing undercover video or images.

I suppose that’s why I blog about topics like this — so we can remember. If I don’t talk about it, if other farmers don’t talk about it, nobody will.

I wish you all a great autumn week as we head into October. If you’ve got questions or comments on this topic I’m all ears!

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Posted in Agriculture ( in general), This and That | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments