You are family. Like it or not.

It's marathon weekend in Missoula, and even though it's been a few years since I've run that race, it's an event that feels like a family holiday. In the first five years, as the race grew up, I ran three fulls and two halves, and it's still my favorite road race anywhere (sorry, Portland).  My sister and her family have been to visit for that weekend for the last 8 years or more.  Amazingly, they continue to come out from Oregon each year, even though we now run this farm up the Bitterroot, and even though the second Sunday in July is pretty much when the weeds start to get out of hand in a most desperate way. But even though they'll be running 13.1 miles on Sunday, they happily pitch in to bring order and releif to whatever beds we point them towards.  Every year we wish we were more on top of it, wish we could host them better, apologize for the rough accomodations, our frazzled state, and the wall of weeds we simply have to tackle.  Every year, they tell us not to worry, they put up with our chaos and our late Friday night, take us to dinner at the brewery, and remind us that we are loved. 

Marathons have been on my mind all summer, and especially since the wheel came off the tractor, back on Memorial Day weekend. It was my old runing coach Anders' voice that I heard when I looked back at the parked Kubota on a Saturday evenign in late May, and realized that the wheel was coming off the tractor. We've made analogies from farming to marathons before, and this year more than ever, it feels apt. 

In the training class for my first marathon, Anders dismissed the notion of "the wall" at a certain mile.  For every runner and every race, he emphasized, the hardest moment would be different. The phrase he used instead was "when the wheels come off the bus.." If you go out too fast at first caught up in starting-gun excitement, if you fail to fuel properly, or if you don't adjust your pace when suddenly the temperature is 20 degrees hotter than most of your training runs, you can end up at mile 12 or mile 23, with the wheel starting to come off the bus. When the wheels come off the bus, it's hard to recover. 

That was how the farm felt, in late May and early June; we'd started off strong, but perhaps we tried to do too much, with the  infrastructure, labor, and systems we had.  There's plenty of analysis and thinking and planning to do to avoid this in the coming years.  But like in a marathon, we also have to figure out the best way to get through the season.  In the running class, we talked about how to prevent the wheels coming off the bus, but also how to deal with it if it did happen.  And that was when I started to understand I wasn't training to run just one marathon; I was learning to run, for the longer term.  If you're in it for the long haul, you don't want to just blast through and stumble to the finish line, swearing never to run a marathon again.  We talked about how to avoid hurting yourself in the long term, how to salvage the race with perhaps not the time goal you'd set out with, but maybe trying to enjoy the course, the community, the event. And, most importantly, to plan for the next one.  

We had to adjust our race goals for this season.  It's not that one bad tractor wheel thew us off; that was more of a symptom, really. Tryign to do too much, not on top of everything, we missed some basic maintenance.  The tractor out of commission for a week slowed us down, made many tasks harder, but it wasn't the thing that threw off the season; it was a slow-down that forced us, in a very good way, to look at our whole system and strategy, and recognize we were not on a very good path.  If we continued to push, we'd maybe manage to limp through the season, but we'd likely be too burnt out, exhusted, and depleted, to be able to manage other season of farming. We'd be the kind of runner who suffers through one marathon, and never ever does it again.  That's not what we want to be as a farm; we want this to be an annual marathon, enjoyable even though it's challenging, and something that we are in a habit of for life.  To get there, we realized, we needed to have some help, and we needed to face the fact that we weren't going to hit our income goals, and that creates some problems. At some point in a race, you simply can't go fast enough to make up for some slow middle miles; when 15 beds of greens fail, and a few more crops are paltry compared to the plan, we know it'll be hard to reach the income goals set in February.  

But it's ok.  We reset to realized that we could recover, we could continue to do it again, if we ended the year just breaking even (paying for the many improvements to the farm, like new fencing, new hoop houses and propagation house), and with a secure and comfortable place for us to live.  It was, in some ways, like changing our race-time goal to a half-hour longer, but seeing that we'd be much happier in the long run.  This is not our year to set a personal record, but it is a year for lots of learning, and a good bit of growing up as a farm.    

When I joined the Run Wild Missoula training class to prepare for my first marathon, I assumed I'd train for and run one in my life, check that off a list, and move on.  Instead, I found a whole family of runners, and a regular lifesaver of a passtime.  I haven't run much at all the last few years, but regular running again is one of the benchmarks of success that Noah and I have set for our farm.  If you start to see us at the meetups of the Bitterroot Running Club, or loping along forest service roads with our happy husky, you'll know we're starting to run a truly succesful farm (and life).  

Over the years, and especially over these last few weeks, we have felt love from our farm-family too. We can see all the ways we have fallen short of our goals (there should have been an earlier batch of carrots, there should have been another round of peas,  and half the time this summer, we've not quite had a recipe insert ready for member pickup up day).  We've apologized, wished we could host you better, and yet just like the family-family, the farm-family has come back again and again, put up with our shortcomings, and reminded us that we are loved.  We've heard from you, sometimes with teary eyes all around, that we matter to you, to your families and your dinner tables, and to the community here. We've been completely amazed at how you have pitched in, raising more funds, and more quickly, than we'd really ever expected. If you have not been following our kickstarter campaign to fund our yurt, the good news is, we passed our goal on the 4th of July, and are within $1,000 of the top-up goal that gets us an insulated panel floor that (most importantly) saves us probably 10 days of fall building time--time that can go back into the farm, bettering things for this fall and next year, too. We are just amazed, and so grateful.  

Next year's marathon will come again in July, and we'll be doing our best to keep the wheels on the tractor, and the wheels on the bus.  A home will be a huge part of that, and we thank you all.