I used to run almost every day, and I kept track of the time I spent running.
Always at least 30 minutes, sometimes closer to 70 minutes, I could do the math to figure a rough mileage for the distance that I had covered. I truly enjoyed feeling like my body was in great condition, that I could say yes to any fun challenge or adventure that presented itself and still have the energy (or at least discipline) to go for a run the next day.
I think that my time spent running on the cross-country team prepared me for a life of farming. I wasn’t the best runner on the team, but I learned to enjoy challenging my body and how to keep going when my body only wanted to stop.
I have run precisely zero days since I started farming. That’s not to say that farming ended my running career. Over the years, I had become more interested in playing tennis or taking a nice long bike ride than in running. But farming has definitely changed the way I work my body: I no longer work out, I just work.
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Running is on my mind this spring because we are transitioning back into our more physical, outside and demanding part of the year. We take our work a bit easier in the winter to recover from the exertions of the farming season, but that means getting back into the swing of things takes some effort.
Our daily work covers all of our strength training needs. We certainly do our lifting with hay bales, feed bags and full water buckets. A lot of our lifting becomes a full-body workout, as mucking a winter-time bay of the barn means pushing, lifting, squatting, carrying and throwing. Stamina training is easy, because it just means doing all of those things for a long time (all day, for instance), or for a long distance.
Dealing with all kinds of weather also is something that I got accustomed to as a runner. When you run every day, or farm every day, you can’t just pick the good weather days.
As a runner in high school, we loved the rainy days because we could pretend to be miserable whenever a car passed, but really we were having fun and splashing in puddles like little kids. As a farmer, I don’t prefer the rainy days — especially this month as it seems like that’s all we’re getting — but I have the boots and jackets I need to be ready to work and care for our animals, regardless of the weather. And occasionally I still splash in puddles.
The biggest advantage from my time as a runner comes in the form of self-discipline. On my team, stopping was never an option. We put the pressure on ourselves to push through any level of pain or boredom in order to finish our run. This skill comes in handy when we’re doing a really repetitive task that feels like it’s dragging on forever; we don’t consider stopping an option, we just have to finish the task. The rewards, of course, are clear: healthy animals, happy customers, and a farm that continues to grow and develop.
So here we are at the beginning of a new season. We’re a bit out of shape, but we’re excited about the possibilities that the year will bring.
With farming, we’re not looking forward to winning conference, but rather enjoying each day not as a practice but as the main event itself. And while you couldn’t convince me to run for 30 minutes these days, my experiences as a runner help me see the pieces of our day as a part of the whole, long-distance race that is a life of farming.
Nate Brownlee, along with his wife Liz, operates Nightfall Farm in Crothersville. Send comments to email@example.com.