Making 5K Strides

Running has become very seasonal for me over the past five years. It’s not the most important thing I do, but I continue to enjoy it. It has great and rough points like everything else, but almost without thinking, it’s something I do.

January brings a time to set new goals, and I try to get on the treadmill a little longer and brave the winter cold on decent days to start getting in better shape. By February and March I’m in training for the Earth Day Half Marathon in April, and I’m possibly eyeing a marathon or another half later in the spring. Fall is a time when I relish running outside in the crisp air, and I start running longer more consistently if I have a 10 mile or half marathon on the calendar. By December I’m evaluating the almost-gone year, doing a few more miles on the treadmill, and thinking ahead to future goals.

But summer —

Summer is the season of 5K’s. Nearly every small town around has a festival that includes a race on Saturday morning. Then there are the schools, hospitals, churches, and businesses that organize runs as a fundraiser or family event. Sometimes a 10K is included or the distance is changed to 4 or 5 miles, but 5K is the norm.

Usually my spring training leaves me in decent shape for summer 5K runs, but I’m often missing that fast speed work to stay strong in the last stretch. I’ve come to find that a 5K can REALLY HURT when you run it hard, but there’s a true feeling of satisfaction crossing the finish knowing you gave your best effort for those 3.1 miles.

Last year was rather dismal for my 5K progress. I did a nice April race where I just didn’t run up to my potential and an August race that was hot, humid, and more hilly than I’m used to. I never got within a minute of my 23:10 PR (from
February 2012), and I decided maybe I didn’t really like 5K’s that much anymore. After taking over five minutes off my time in the previous few years, possibly I was now beyond the point of improvement. Maybe??

Looking back now I realize how silly that thought was. I had a few lackluster races, but I’m still only 29. I don’t have any super fast teenage or college times to beat, so if I keep working hard there is plenty of room to go faster.

This summer I now find myself having run three 5K races in the past six weeks. The first was our small town’s race, which was two weeks before Grandma’s Marathon. I didn’t think I would run that well, but I wanted to support the local event and program it benefitted.

It was a small race – under 100 runners – and I ran 24:10. I was under 8:00/mile pace, and somehow I managed to be the first female across the line! This has never happened to me before, and may never happen again. I savored breaking the thin tape they held out for me at the finish. The previous year’s first female had been much faster, but somehow the right mix of runners allowed me to win this year. It was just the confidence boost I needed going into Grandma’s and to convince me I wasn’t horrible at 5K’s after all.

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Over July 4th weekend I ran another with my family, and this time I came in at 23:32. It felt great to see “23:XX” again, and it was a hot day so I knew I could go faster in better weather.
The fun of this race was magnified by having so much of my family around either running or cheering.

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Then last weekend, I ran another. I got the urge to look up area races in the middle of the week, and I saw a 5K/10K in a nearby town. I thought about doing the 10K, but I decided I wanted to see if I could keep my 5K improvement going.

It was a humid morning but overcast, so as July running weather goes it wasn’t bad. I started near the leaders and just tried to keep the pace uncomfortable. My breathing and arms were as relaxed as possible, but I knew I wouldn’t run my best unless I kept attacking the pace.

I was exhausted as I hit mile two, but there were a few people just far enough ahead of me to keep me chasing after them. I passed two, but I couldn’t quite beat the third guy to the line.

Final result?

23:12; fifth place woman overall.

I was thrilled with this time, even though it was a mere two seconds from my PR. {I think the course was a few hundredths short, so that curbed my disappointment of not being a few seconds faster.}

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I’ve been keeping up a strong running schedule through July, so I’m convinced that when cooler temperatures arrive I may finally get a new 5K best.

No matter what, the journey is fun. Local races are certainly different than the excitement of a marathon finish, but there are still great things about running in your hometown or with family and neighbors. Not to mention you feel okay getting out of bed the next day!

I may be done with marathons for the year (I think), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of worthy goals to go after.

How is your summer exercise and training going? What do you like best (to eat, drink, recover) on a hot day after your workout?

Posted in Race Reports, Running, This and That | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Dairy Farms, Myths, and Why it Matters

I take my dairy seriously. I work with cows everyday, and I eat dairy foods everyday. I’m particularly interested in the role dairy products play in a healthy, active lifestyle.

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When I see “dairy” in the media, my interest is piqued.

Sometimes balanced perspectives about informed food choices or farm families make news, but often it’s sensationalized claims and inflammatory language aimed at making us worry about our food.

On a personal level, I believe in the large body of research on the health benefits of eating dairy foods. Nobody likes long lists of research, so I’ll just mention a few here, here, here, and here.

I know we’re lucky to have a well-regulated food supply in America with an excellent record for safety. Whether you’re buying organic or conventionally raised milk or dairy products from anywhere across the country, they are quality and nutritious . I support the right to choose which foods you buy, and I know many factors — taste, preference, economics, nutrition, science, and availability — come into play. It is my sincere hope, however, that you don’t make your food choices based on fear.

I feel saddened and frustrated when I read myths about food and farming that promote misunderstanding and fear. Unfortunately, I suppose that’s the goal of scare-tactics.

One of the first terms I think of when it comes to these tactics is “factory farm.” It doesn’t sound nice, and it brings negative connotations.

What exactly is a factory farm?

Let’s explore some possible scenarios…

Does a factory farm mean you use robots?

That can’t be right because I know of plenty of caring farms like this one using state-of-the-art robot technology to milk their cows. Organic dairy farms even use robots.

Many dairies of all sizes and types also use regular milking machines (handled by people) to milk cows, and that works well too.

No matter what type of equipment we’re using, caring for the cow well is always the goal.

Maybe a factory farm means the farm is owned by a corporation?

Many businesses, large and small, can decide to incorporate or hire outside employees. This is true across all farms too. A family may work with an accountant or lawyer to develop a business structure that makes the most sense, whether it’s a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or a corporation. None of this will have an adverse effect on cow health or welfare.

So is a factory farm just based on size?

If that’s true, then I wonder what the cutoff is? Average dairy farm size has definitely increased over the years, but so have things like labor efficiency and cow comfort research in today’s barns. There is no minimum or maximum size for organic or conventional dairy farms, but any type of farm must be properly permitted for their location and inspected in order to sell milk.

Dairies can be large or small no matter where they are, what label they sell their milk to, or even if they have their own dairy processing plant.

What about antibiotics??

Antibiotics can be a touchy subject, but I don’t think they need to be. First, any dairy food you buy will always be free of antibiotic residues. Any drug that’s approved for dairy cattle will have a specified withhold period. During that time the cow’s milk will be diverted from the main tank and dumped. Milk is tested before it leaves the farm and again at the processor to ensure it’s safe, clean, and antibiotic-free. Many farms believe in modern animal medicine, including antibiotics, when appropriate, and a thorough system is in place to ensure antibiotics don’t enter our food supply.

Organic dairies are not allowed to use any antibiotics, so they must find alternative remedies and deal with sickness or infection in other ways. The key to remember is whether you eat organic or conventional dairy, it’s all antibiotic-free. The only difference is organic cows can never be given antibiotics, and other cows may have needed them at some point.

On our dairy we work with our vet to make responsible choices and get proper prescriptions when needed. Within the last few years it also seems like more new supplements and natural remedies are available. I use more natural preventatives for my calves, and we give all our cows these little green vitamin pills (which are organic approved) shortly after they give birth. Antibiotics are not always the answer, but sometimes an infection or respiratory disease means I think they’re the best choice.

It’s official; I don’t know what a factory farm is.
Okay —

Like any savvy reader, you’re probably questioning my motives and biases about now. I’m a dairy farmer defending my beloved dairy foods.

Certainly we as dairy farmers need people to keep buying milk. It is indeed our livelihood. But there are much easier ways to make a living. Pretty much anything is less labor-intensive 365 days a year than milking cows.

But we believe in raising dairy cows. Our family farm has done so for over 100 years. We aim to make a profit because we’re a business, but we also like cows. Somedays I wonder if I even know how to do anything else. Could I do anything else?

Yes, I crunch numbers, organize spreadsheets, and share writing and pictures on my blog, but my entire life has always revolved around dairy chores in one way or another.

We may milk hundreds of cows instead of ten or twenty, but that doesn’t make our farm a factory anymore than having hundreds of people in a school or hospital makes them a factory.

Next time you hear or read a news story that tries to scare you into a food decision, just take a minute to breathe. Think about the background, and use your own good judgement. Maybe you want to do some quality research or connect with a farmer, but maybe it’s a scare tactic that’s not worth your time. Either way, I hope fear never has a place at your dinner table.

Got comments? I’d love to chat and hear your perspective.

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Posted in Agriculture ( in general), Cows, This and That | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Birthday Girls

In the world of baby calves, a single birth is the norm. Twins also come along, and they may account for 5% or more of births depending on the farm.

I’ve even heard of triplets, but we’ve never had any born here that I know of.

Two years ago on July 10th, two little black heifer (girl) twins entered the world. They looked more identical than any twin calves I’d ever seen, and I hoped they would both grow up big and healthy.

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I know you can’t see the twin behind very well, but this is the only baby picture I could find in my archives.

Cattle twins are a little different than human twins. If a heifer calf is born twin to a bull (boy), the chances are overwhelming she will be sterile and unable to ever get pregnant. Around here we call these females freemartins, but I’m sure there are other terms across different areas. If a heifer never has a baby then she can never give milk either. That means instead of becoming a dairy cow she’ll spend her life fat and happy being raised for meat. Which I think is still an important and noble purpose.

However, I prefer it when we can keep the heifers around for awhile as milk cows. These are twin girls, as I said, and they are both due with their first calf within the next month. August 1 and July 31 respectively.

It’s amazing to me how often I see them hanging out near each other. Do they know they’re sisters??

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I posted these 2-year-old birthday pictures on social media and got mostly positive reactions. Someone did comment that neither heifer looked very happy to be having a birthday. To this I say, “I’m still having a hard time getting cows to smile on command!”

Speaking of birthdays, I happen to be having one myself very soon. 29 forever. ;)

I actually wouldn’t want to stay 29 forever. Good things happen with each passing year, and as a runner I also appreciate moving into older age groups. Though I will say a lot of 30-something’s are often faster then us 20-something’s!

I hope you enjoyed meeting my birthday girls. Enjoy the thick of summer — because mid-July is about as thick as it gets.

Posted in Baby Calf Care, Cows | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Short on words, long on memories

I like words.

It’s refreshing for me to put words on paper or screen and know they capture the moments they describe forever.

Okay, maybe not forever. But they will be preserved, waiting for me, unless I decide I don’t want them anymore. {Words on a blog also take up a lot less space than the overflowing boxes stored in my closets and garage. :-) }

During the seemingly endless daylight of summer, it can be hard to make time to finish writing what I start. I really do start. Sometimes it’s a few paragraphs composed internally that never get farther than my brain, but more often, I write words meant for my blog that don’t make it out of the “draft” file.

Not all my posts will be finished – maybe some aren’t even meant to be. But to prevent this one from drying up, I’m going to cut the words short in a minute.

Instead of trying to describe the inquisitive steps of my niece as she saw our cows on Friday, I’ll show you her face.

I’m not going to give you a play by play of the fun and frenzy of the weekend, but I’ll chronicle some of it with photos.

I’m not even going to walk you through the hot and humid 5K we ran on Saturday, but I will say I’m happy I went. I’ll also mention that my sister in purple is amazing for pushing a double stroller 3.1 miles in nearly 80 degrees!

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Happy 4th of July. Thank you, veterans.

Posted in Family Fun, Race Reports, Running | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Just Enough: Grandma’s Marathon 2014

Just two days before the race, Grandma’s Marathon was looking less likely for me.

Rain kept drenching the farm making nearly every chore take longer, and several employees had problems come up that made scheduling dicey. Obviously the animals must be cared for when we’re away, and I’d resigned myself to staying home if I needed to. Maybe this redemption marathon just wasn’t meant to be.

My husband, who is usually more creative about these troubles than me, eventually got everything organized so we could head to Duluth on Friday night. I’m grateful to our people who worked an extra day or long shift to make it happen.

One of JR’s good friends, John, farms north even of Duluth, where only hearty souls can endure the weather winter dishes out. Okay, I suppose that’s sort of true for all of Minnesota. :)

Anyway, we dropped in at the farm and saw cows, sheep, and eager dogs, plus great people. John’s small niece was busily playing with something, which she proclaimed to be “re-raysers.” She was clearly pleased with the small dog-shaped erasers, so I was surprised when she handed the brown and white one to me. It immediately reminded me of my Calvin, with a round, brown back and white feet. She said she wanted me to keep it, and her dad said the e-racer would be good luck for me, the racer!

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They knew I was in town for Grandma’s, and I appreciated this sweet gesture.

I left JR with John for the evening, and I drove back south to get my race number and stay with my cousin in Duluth. While driving I chatted with one of my sisters who wished me luck. She also reminded me that true strength comes from God. I’d been reminded of that poignantly during my last marathon, and it was just what I needed to hear that night.

I also thought about how fortunate I was to even be there. I’d felt addled during the hectic week, but once we got on the road I just felt grateful. A marathon for fun is a non-existent luxury for billions across the world, and I was about to do my second of the year. I had an opportunity, and opportunity is not insignificant.

Duluth was COLD, 48 degrees, when I stepped out of my car, and I said a silent thanks for the weather. (It had been in the 80’s when we left home.) The North Shore usually does remain cool well into June with Lake Superior working its chilly magic.

A 10:30 bedtime was later than I planned for, but I still had a hard time falling asleep. By 4:30, I was up for good. It was race day.

My cousin (who went on to run a 3:33!) and many of her friends were running the marathon, and we caught an early bus up to the start at Two Harbors. It was foggy and lightly misting, but no real rain ever showed up. A 50 degree start meant we were cold while waiting, but I knew it would be better as soon as we got moving. I had plenty of gels and more bananas packed than I’d ever need, so I organized the fuel I wanted in my pockets and under my hat. I put the rest, along with my light windbreaker, into my gear bag to check. Shorts, tank top, and gloves it would be.

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The fog was thick enough that we couldn’t see the lake, but I knew it was just off to my left as I finally crossed the start. I promised myself I would run an easy first few miles to warm up and then settle into goal pace. I did stay comfortably behind the four hour pacer for the first few miles, and then I forgot to notice where she was for awhile.

I found a new running buddy about two miles in, and for several hours we talked jobs, running, kids, pets, and hydration. Sometimes I wonder whether it does use too much energy to chat with people, but I really can’t help it. I love the human interaction and sharing the race with others. As the miles progress I get more quiet, but talking makes the early miles so enjoyable.

We both had our eye on 3:59, though she said it would be a larger stretch for her. About mile six we randomly wondered where the four hour pacer was. I knew we were running almost exactly on pace, but I still got nervous thinking we might be behind. We picked it up a little, but when we passed 10K in under 56:00 I was certain we were ahead.

The weather continued cool and overcast, and when we passed right next to the shore a cold breeze would prick the goose bumps up on my arms for a minute. In spite of that, I felt it was nearly perfect temperature. The morning was still, and it was nice not to fight the wind.

Spectators were few but lively during the first half, which we came through just under 1:59. I was satisfied that I hadn’t gone out too fast, but I was nervous about my ability to stay strong in the second half. There wasn’t a lot of cushion. I continued to run with my friend, and about mile fifteen it suddenly got really crowded. We realized the four hour group was upon us, and we were fighting for every inch of elbow space. Feeling claustrophobic, I started blazing a path forward. She followed, and we were back ahead of the group for a few more miles.

Somewhere around mile twenty we got separated. We’d talked earlier about each running our own race, and I knew no matter what she was on track for a big PR.

Now it was just me.

I’d had in my iPod since mile seventeen without paying too much attention to it, but now I was really hurting. Even my ankles and the vertebrae in my lower back were sore.

I tried to muster positive thoughts, but I knew I was slowing down. For a few minutes I thought this was doomed to be another repeat of “almost.” The crowds were getting larger and the cheers louder, but that didn’t make my legs move faster. Then, Amarillo Sky started playing through the one earbud I had in.

My playlist was an eclectic mix of pop, rock, Latin, praise & worship, and classic rock, with only a little country thrown in. This song surprised me but was exactly what I needed. If you don’t know it, the songs talks about a guy working his farm land and sending up another prayer for his dreams of prosperity for his family.

It wasn’t a peppy running song, but I’d added it a few days ago because it reminded me of friends and college days. During the marathon I felt like I was soaking in the words for the first time. I thought about all the people who work hard everyday with little reward (in all sorts of jobs) and how strong they are. I was again reminded of my opportunity to run and how I owed it to my family, my friends, and myself to make the most of it. I thought about my mom and her failing eyesight. Even though I didn’t have a sign on my back this time, I was still running in honor of her at heart. I even thought about the many generations of my family who have farmed the land and how they’ve always put their trust in God.

The race was no longer just about running. I had a renewed purpose; I had a choice. I could pick my knees up a little higher, try to run a little faster, and see what happened.

I wish I could say after this I was so inspired that the final four miles were a breeze, but … absolutely not. They continued to be a battle. I was feeling stronger mentally, but physically, of course, my body was getting more and more fatigued.

The closer I got to the end, the more I hurt and my brain demanded to stop. I knew I would keep going and finish, but I was tense as I thought about how every second counted if I was going to beat the clock.

I didn’t slow down for water the final two miles because I needed to keep momentum. If I stopped for even a second I feared I wouldn’t start again.

The last mile or so features more turns than the rest of the race combined. I tried to keep close to the tangents and hoped the next curve, then the next would bring the finish into sight. Finally I could see the line, and I heard JR call out my name from the crowd. I thought I had it, but it would be close. The last .2 I visibly sped up (according to my husband), and I mostly felt relief as I crossed the finish. Then I looked down to stop my watch, which had me at 3:59:53. I made it!!

I wished I could have waited at the finish to see when my running buddy of so many miles came in, but the skillful volunteers were herding us quickly through. I filed on to get the particulars – space blanket, water, medal, shirt, red carnation, food – but I couldn’t really relax until I saw the official results. It was still true; 3:59.

My smart husband and his friend came to the edge of the gates by the gear bag pickup, cold beers in hand. :-) They spotted me as soon as I had my stuff. I didn’t even have to dig out my phone to call. Don’t worry; I drank my chocolate milk too.

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We eventually secured a patio table for lunch at a restaurant near the finish, then later got coffee to top things off. It had turned into a beautiful, though cool afternoon. We were just starting the walk to the car away from the crowds when we passed a lone individual sitting on the curb. He held a sign proclaiming he was homeless and hungry, but the thing that really hit me was the wistful look in his pale blue eyes.

I knew I didn’t have any cash, but I thought about the three bananas in my gear bag. I’d packed enough to share at the start but eaten none.

I quickly backtracked, and as I approached the man I asked if he liked bananas. I apologized that they looked bruised from being in my bag, but I said he was welcome to them if he wanted.

He answered that “Yes,” he did like bananas, and he thanked me as I handed off the yellow bunch. I didn’t know what else to say, so I just turned around and walked to catch up with JR and John. That was it.

I know not everyone seeking help on the street is really hoping for food, and I know three bananas don’t exactly equal a meal. Still, I see there was a reason I packed that extra fruit, and I pray for the man with the pale blue eyes.

Duluth is a beautiful, friendly city, and I am so grateful for the second chance it gave me to reach my goal.

Looking now at my last two marathons, I realize I could not have hit 3:59 without both of them.

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Last year I ran 4:05 on much less training. I worked harder this year with only a few setbacks, and I admit I thought under four hours was almost a sure thing. Lake Wobegon was a wonderful race, fun and inspiring, but it taught me not to take marathons for granted. As I look back at my splits, I see in black and white how things only slipped away in the last three miles. For some reason I wasn’t ready for how much it would hurt.

At Grandma’s this weekend I was more prepared when my legs felt pinched and tired at twenty. I knew it meant I was working hard like I was supposed to, and then it was time to run with my heart.

I’m grateful that God gave me enough heart for the duration.

As with most things in life, I now understand the journey and the people involved made the experience far richer and more valuable than the plain completion of the goal itself.

Posted in Race Reports, Running | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments