Farm women aren't afraid to get dirty
Supporting each other is the theme of these mud runs, something farm women have been doing for decades.
by Andrea Stoltzfus
The author and her family own and operate a 570-cow Holstein and Jersey dairy near Berlin, Pa.
Every dairy farm wife's washing machine can attest to the amount of grease, mud, and other items that we encounter daily. So why would we voluntarily run for miles in the mud, crawl through muddy pits, or climb muddy walls?
Because we can. Because there are many other women in our lives who cannot. And because even a day away from the daily stresses of farm and family can be restorative.
In early May, I took part in a "mud run," an event that is growing in popularity - part obstacle course, part race course, and mostly made up of muddy terrain. Designed to test a participant's strength, agility, skill, and confidence, these events can range from 1-mile, "just for fun" races to the far more challenging, hard-core distance runs.
While some mud runs are made for serious athletes and competitors, there are a few that are milder and designed to challenge the participants, help them overcome their mental obstacles as well as physical fears, and empower them with a sense of achievement. They are often used to celebrate health victories, promote issue awareness, or memorialize lives.
I was part of a team of six women from Pennsylvania and Maryland who ran in a Dirty Girl Mud Run in Frederick, Md., along with hundreds of other women. Of our six, four were dairy farmers. Only one of us had participated in this kind of event before . . . and she convinced us all that it would be fun.
No boys allowed
The Dirty Girl Mud Run series takes place throughout the year, across the country, and is for women only. Men are welcome to come and cheer participants on from the sidelines, but the race is designed to inspire women to accomplish goals they never thought possible. The Dirty Girl partners with Bright Pink, the nation's only nonprofit focused on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women, while providing support for high-risk individuals.
It was a bright, sunny day in May. There were plenty of chores to do on the farm, kids to care for, and things to do. Why take a day away from the farm to compete in an event where you intend to get dirty?
Kaitlyn Burrier, who is part of a multi-generational farm near Frederick, Md., said she took the day off to do something for herself for a change. She and her husband, DJ, his father, and his grandfather operate Pleasant View Farm and Trucking, milking 60 head of Holsteins and crossbreds. She works off the farm at a local physician's office, and she and her husband have a herd of beef animals they manage with his brother. Two kids, Makayla, 10, and Kobie, 6, in addition to their livestock projects, leaves little time for herself.
"This was a great stress reliever and a chance to connect with friends I have made through our cooperative's conferences," she said. "I was worried I wouldn't be able to make it through, but it was accommodating for both skilled and unskilled participants. The rock wall was the most challenging - our shoes were super slippery from all the mud!"
A self-paced event
A rock wall, two rope crossings, several climbing walls into muddy slides, water hazards, and other creative obstacles are placed along the 5K trail. In between, the footing ranges from dry fields to muddy slip-slides. The course is not timed, so racers can take their time or challenge themselves by running between obstacles.
Mary Swann-Crum, from Walkersville, Md., said she took the time off-farm to relieve her stress and do something fun with friends. Also a member of the Maryland-Virginia Milk Cooperative, Mary and her husband operate a 90-cow dairy farm along with his parents. They have two children, Tristen, 11, and Liliana, 6.
"It was a great way to get out and do something fun with some of my closest friends," she said. "Since we are farmers, getting dirty was nothing new to us, but we don't usually purposely crawl in it!"
Mary said the event wasn't about the running itself, but more about the teamwork and the camaraderie with everyone, not just our own little team of six.
"I am not a runner (except when cows and heifers get out), so I was proud to say I ran the distance between obstacles," she said. "Not everyone on our team knew each other at the start, but by the end of the race we had all become friends. We supported each other when a team member was unsure, no one was left behind, and we made sure no one came out clean."
Tanya Hay, from Berlin, Pa., farms with her husband Jeremy's family, milking their Jersey herd and raising heifers. During the winter, her father-in-law fractured his foot after a fall through a hay hole and she took on even more farm responsibilities.
"Even though we are very shorthanded due to my father-in-law's accident, I was still able to step away from the livestock chores and milking to participate," she said. "I put my kids, family, and animals ahead of myself daily. For one day of the year, I can step outside the box and recapture a little bit of my youth and get dirty with my girlfriends for a great cause."
For Tanya, she ran in support of a "soon to be" aunt who has been battling breast cancer after a routine exam last fall. "I wanted to show her that I appreciate her battle and I am behind her every step of the way," she said.
Mary said she ran not only because it was a good way to have needed "girl time," but for everyone in a battle.
"I ran for all women who have lost their battles, who are currently battling, and those who will have to fight the battle in the future," she said. "It could be any one of us at any time. While I was running, I was thinking about a co-worker of mine who lost her fight with breast cancer in February. At the end of the race, I wrote her name on the Memory Wall."
No tutu left behind
Women running the course may not know each other at the start, but by the end they are laughing, shouting encouragement, and helping each other through the muck and mire. "I have a motto - no tutu left behind," Tanya said, referring to the costumes many women wear during the event.
"If a friend or fellow runner is struggling, reach out your hand," said Tanya. One of my most rewarding moments was at the top of an obstacle where a fellow runner had a fear of heights and believed she couldn't go across the rope web. I said, Take my hand - when I step, you step, and I'll help you through this.' We made it across and she thanked me, even though she didn't know me and would never see me again."
All three women said they were "absolutely" planning on running to get dirty again next year. "My thought at the end of these races is that was awesome - can't wait to do it again!'" Tanya said.
When farm days are long, prices are low, time is short, and spirits ebb, even a day away can help us believe that things will get better. A mud run may not be a day at the spa, but the sense of accomplishment at the finish line is a definite mood lifter.
And the mud?
It's not anything you (or the washing machine) can't handle.