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A good blog should have one theme: parenting, travel, homeschooling, running, or living abroad.

But life isn’t that tidy. Rather, themes tend to run together like watercolors on the wrong type of paper.

I can’t write about one aspect of life without revealing the strange bits, because the quirks (even frustrating ones) are what make my life unique and funny and memorable.

I would like to introduce you to a character you know well from my posts: my arch nemesis… 

 

…the manure truck.

Now this particular truck is not all that bad, because it has hoses that funnel the liquid straight to the ground.

Other trucks I’ve seen do not have the intricate hoses. Instead, the manure spews out, as if someone had yoinked a giant cork out of the back.

I’ve also seen manure trucks that mist the fields with their ripe liquid pungency. But those trucks are less efficient, and with the right wind, a lot more dangerous for runners.

Even with your windows rolled up and your air freshener twirling from your full-blast AC vent, merely driving behind one of these trucks will bring tears to your eyes.

If you grew up in farm country, you will tell me this is a classic case of a city girl who is not accustomed to the frische Landluft. 

For the record, this manure comes from pig waste.

And pig manure, as we all know, makes cow patties smell like fresh clean laundry by comparison.

When you are out running and you see one of these trucks in the field, turn around and go the other way. 

It’s not that you will necessarily be sprayed with manure, it is the fact that the stench makes you feel like you should have donned your toxic chemical cleanup suit rather than your running tights.

On the bright side, if you are running parallel to a field where they are manuring, you are guaranteed your best time ever. Manure trucks, for all their flaws, are great motivation for achieving a personal best.

It is the manure trucks that make my training runs interesting. I have to alter, adapt, or change paths because of them, and thus, my runs are never routine.

I sometimes think this would be paradise, if not for the manure trucks.

But in all honesty, it wouldn’t be my beautiful, green, funny Franconia without them.

It was a peaceful morning: the birds were chirping, the tractors were still snug in their sheds, and here and there, purple, white, and yellow fragments of color sprang from the mud.  

As I jogged the first half mile slope, I spied the village hunter, who I can always tell from far off because of his huge black mustache. He has a dog, spotted like an Appaloosa, with curly fur on her ears, and so sweetly tempered it makes you sad to think she’s involved in an activity that requires bloodshed.

The dog is not allowed to stop and socialize when they are training. She has to run behind him, and usually the hunter is in his tiny little car, kicking up dust along the country roads.

Today the hunter was on a bicycle, and when we passed, I slowed and reached out to pet the dog, for which, she was promptly scolded. She gave me a look of longing, as if she’d rather be running alongside me. 

I would steal her if I could get away with it.

The hunter is not a bad man. He is friendly and will chat with you (in English even) if he’s not preoccupied with killing something.

I realize the hunter has an important place in this village, where there are no predators to keep the animal populations in check.

Still, I can’t help but root for the animals.

Maybe it’s because when I run, I feel connected somehow to nature. When the sun is shining, and the valley is still, save for the birdsong, I feel part of something bigger than myself—I feel part of a grand design.

I love this countryside.

I’ve memorized the hills, the trails, the fields, the orchards. I know that any day now, I will reach the top of the big hill to see the white and pink blossoms in the orchard below.

Pink trees are things of wonder and worthy of a pause, even if it affects your overall time.

Because running isn’t only about getting faster or stronger or becoming less stressed; it’s about thanking God for where you are at that moment.

It’s about discovering your place in the grand scheme of things.

As I curved around the orchard and up the next hill, I made out the vague shape of deer, nearly indistinguishable from the dirt of the field.

Finishing a triathlon with a broken clavicle would be quite a feat for any athlete, but what makes Harriet Anderson’s story more impressive is that she was 74 years-old at the time.

Marathon training isn’t purely about shaping your body or shaping your mind, it is about connecting body to mind.

It is easy to stick with any exercise program as long as your willpower stays intact. But willpower always runs out eventually. This is why so many diet and exercise plans fail: they become loathsome means to the skinny jeans. 

But when exercise transcends the body and becomes a mental and spiritual journey, you are unlikely to forsake it.

This, I believe, is why real athletes don’t quit.

Stick with me here.

I don’t believe running is a religion, but it is more than a physical practice.

I have been doing something different in my training this year: it is called, listening to my body.

It does not mean I give up when things seem hard. Quite the contrary, when the run gets difficult, I need to expend more brainpower on what my body is doing (or not doing).

By listening to my body, I have learned several things:

The treadmill is not a suitable substitute for running outside.

The miles may click away on it, but the cardiovascular and muscular benefits seem negligible when I actually hit the pavement again. It’s almost like I haven’t been running at all. I know I can tweak the incline or speed, but still, there’s no comparison to the real thing.

I run much faster, even up hill, when I focus on how my quads and hamstrings feel.  If my heart rate slows, I think about trying to kick myself in the bum.

Many aches & pains can be overcome by using brain power. 

When I begin to feel pain, I relax and focus on a different part of the body. When I feel ‘good’ pain, I consider it validation that what I am doing is helping to target problem areas.

Thinking about running improves my skill.

Last year I logged the mileage in training but mostly tried to pass the time by thinking about everything EXCEPT running.  I listened to music, I told myself stories, I thought about what I would EAT when I was finished.

When I look at the photos from last year, I can clearly see that by the end of my races, I barely had my feet off the ground, whereas, when I look at pictures of my kids running, they are nearly airborne. It is a picture I try to emulate.

Goo is bad!

Last year I touted the chemical slime as a wonder drug, but I’ve changed my mind.

2 weeks ago I had my 8 mile run, fueled by apples & water. I had to stop & adjust my slippery knee braces a couple times, but overall, the run was great. I felt strong.

Last week I did the same 8 mile run. I started off feeling strong for the first 4 hilly miles, and then I had some goo.

It gave me a happy burst of energy, and I thought “This stuff is great!” until my fingers began to swell like sausages.

A little while later, my knee began giving me excruciating pain—reminiscent of the end of last year’s marathon.

Then something really weird happened, my knee braces got tighter and tighter, until I had to stop and loosen them.

As I stood on the hilltop, watching the steam rise from my sweaty neoprene braces in the cool air, it suddenly dawned on me that the goo (and the massive sodium content) was not only making my hands swell, but my feet and legs too—it’s NO WONDER my kneecaps were sliding out of place!

Standing there, I could feel my body inflating like a greedy child in the Willy Wonka factory. Yes, I have slight knee problems, but the biggest problem was the goo in my system. Incredible! After 2 years of running, I finally started listening.

I don’t know if I will be a tri-athlete when I’m 70. But I do know that I want to continue this journey of good health for the rest of my days.  

If Harriet Anderson can begin running marathons in her 50s and 20 years later compete in prestigious triathlons, maybe 20 years from now I’ll be running ultra-marathons?

I’ll only be in my 50s.

I’ll have to see what my body says about it, provided I’m still listening.

Once a week, a little piece of my heart walks out the door and bikes over to the animal rescue farm, where she encounters giant beasts, rabid dogs, feral felines, and hungry crocodiles.

Okay, so maybe that last bit is purely in my imagination, but just the same, it’s been harder than I’d expected to give my girl such independence.

It’s not so much that she works around animals that could send her to the hospital with one strategically placed kick; but it’s the fact that my daughter has risen to the challenge with a horrifying amount of grace and maturity. 

Scary stuff, when your first princess grows up.

Parenting is all about a slow letting go: the giving of child-sized chunks of independence, which over time equip the child to become a responsible young adult.

It is what parents work towards; it is our goal; and sometimes it is almost too overwhelmingly beautiful to watch.

Some of you may have caught glimpses of these future adults the day they stepped onto the big yellow bus for the first time, without even looking back over their primary-colored rucksacks.

Others, while applying makeup to your daughter’s cute little face for a dance recital, have experienced the sort of flash-forward worthy of a “Lost” episode, when you catch a fleeting glimpse of the woman your girl will become.

Some of you may wonder how on earth it is possible that your son has suddenly, almost overnight, aged out of Gap Junior.  

Others have experienced that alien feeling when a child first asks for deodorant or cologne—or when you get the first pungent reminder of the necessity for such things.

When did this happen?

To see a child suddenly and joyfully find her own niche in life is satisfying but weird at times.

At 12 years old my daughter knows more about animals than I do. I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake—I like to look at animals and occasionally pet them, but I don’t get bubbly over using a machete to chop up beets for the pigs; I do not know the clinical terminology for a cat who has lost urinary control; and I certainly do not want to examine an old cow udder before tossing it to the Akita.

My daughter has always wanted to become a veterinarian—that’s her thing. Every vet we’ve met has cautioned her, “It’s a lot of work, and a lot of schooling.”

But seeing my daughter revel in the manual labor required on a farm; to see the romance of horses replaced with respect and dedication; to watch my daughter behave wisely in a place where so much danger is apparent to me; I know she is fully capable of the hard work required to make her dreams come true.

I am so incredibly proud.

But with every step she takes away from me, another little piece of my heart goes with her.

I am in awe of this beautiful journey she is undertaking.

But it can be hard to watch.

Though living in rural Germany often feels like guest starring in an episode of Green Acres, I also feel it is a privilege to live, laugh, and run in this quirky little village.

Now that spring is reappearing on various days, I am rediscovering the joy of running through the German countryside.

I have also remembered a few good reasons to start my run before the church bells ring at 6:00 am.

Lightweight shoes. The farm roads here generate the type of mud that makes you feel as if you’ve dipped your running shoes in cement. And the mud does NOT fling off as you run: it agglomerates to the point where you look as if you have balls of rock on your feet instead of shoes. 

However, if you run while the ground is still sparkling with frost, you can take the loveliest trails without turning your shoes into a modern art masterpiece.

No Dogs!  I often see the village dogs cheerfully romping with their owners, but if I run past, the dogs are forced to sit and watch, snarling at me. Maybe they hate me because they are put in time-out when I run by.

Whatever the reason for the growls, I like to avoid the morning dog-walk, which begins at 7:30 am, every day, rain or shine. I also avoid the 14:00 dog walk and the 18:00 dog walk. (Walking your dog thrice a day must be German law).

No Bugs! The wet dark ditches of the German countryside are a breeding ground for hordes of flying pests, which only arise to feed when the ground thaws.

No Tractors! Even though the entire village awakes to the church bells chiming at 6:00 am, the farmers don’t actually hop into their tractors until 10:00. They are probably busy doing glamorous things like milking cows, feeding critters, and cleaning stalls all morning. But when the tractors roll, they like to play practical jokes on runners, like coating them in dust, or barreling alongside while spraying swine manure.

An early run avoids husbandry humor.

Quiet time. With the absence of tractors, vicious dogs, and gaping neighbors, the countryside is a delight in the morning. Birds, rabbits, and deer are often my companions on early morning runs.

Surrounded by the sounds of nature, this is my time for prayer and reflection.

Air You Can Breathe. When the sun begins to warm the fields, you can see a visible mist lifting off them. This mist, to give it a proper name, is manure stank

It is ALWAYS best to run while the fields are frozen, because once the sun begins to warm things up, you will use your neck gator for smell control rather than warmth.  

A big, bucket dump. Running gives you a sense of calmness and energy to face your day. So what if the internet isn’t working? Or all four of the kids have homework questions at the same time and you STILL have not mopped the floors and laundry is overflowing in the basement and the chimney sweep shows up unexpectedly to clean the furnace and you HOPE he can get into the attic because of all the boxes of junk you tossed up there yesterday?!!!

Exercising first thing empties your stress bucket, so you have plenty of room for anything that gets poured in during the day.

Running early isn’t always possible, but when the earth is frozen and the sun shines on this black hole of technology in which I live, this strange little land, with its rolling hills, stands of budding trees, and winding, solitary trails is a runner’s paradise for the early bird.

Stats:

Weather: It has been gray, rainy, foggy on some days, sunny and warm-ish on others. Temps in the 40s. Perfect.

Wildlife: A few deer and a few rabbits, but not the usual abundance. I’m hoping they survived the village hunter over the winter!

Something new: 

Knee Braces: While I hate these new neoprene knee-binders because they feel awkward  and uncomfortable, I love them because they keep my knees from hurting. I feel like I am REALLY running now. I don’t know what I was doing last year.

Supplements: I am leery of dietary supplements, because I don’t think they actually work. However, I have been taking L-Lysine, and it HAS been alleviating the pain in my knees.  

Goo: I recently realized that last year when training, I consumed a goo packet every 3 miles. But if I burn 100 calories in ten minutes, why would I consume 100 calories every 30 (or less…okay, I admit it). When I ran the marathon, I remember feeling a great boost from the apple slices at the water stations. Therefore, I am putting away the goo, and I will be experimenting with bringing apple slices with me.

Can nature actually trump technology? We will see! I may need some goo for electrolyte balance on long runs, but I’m going to try and go natural if I can. This will require a little more research.

Marathon training: I have not signed up for a marathon, but I am starting a training program. This is my first week ‘officially.’ We’ll see how long I can stick with it without having registered for something.