Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Milk and Marathons in the Midwest

Two Dairy Farmers, Four Kids, 600 Cows and 26.2 Miles

Written by Megan Sheets

When Andrew and Jennifer Holle aren’t busy running the day-to-day operations of their 650-head dairy farm in Mandan, North Dakota, they can be found running their four kids to various activities, or literally running miles—and lots of them—as they prepare to run with the Fuel Up to Play 60 team in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 8th.
Being a dairy farmer is hard work, and so is being the parents of four very busy kids. So, it seems downright impossible to add in the grueling schedule that comes with training for a marathon. Naturally, we wanted to learn more.
We’ve asked the Holles to share with us just how they manage it all and why they’ve made a commitment to health and wellness in their lives. The good news is – the Holles have graciously agreed to let us follow along as they train for the marathon, so we’ll be sharing their tips, tricks and motivations with you through our blog and other social media channels over the next several weeks using #HolleMarathonHustle, and we hope you follow along on their amazing journey!
With just a few weeks to go, we wanted to kick things off by sharing a little more about Andrew and Jennifer Holle, and what has motivated them to run the Chicago Marathon this fall.

Staying healthy and active is just who we are.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that Andrew and Jennifer are runners. Managing the always-on schedule that comes with running a successful dairy farm and a busy family takes discipline, patience, perseverance, hard-work and let’s face it—good time management skills. These characteristics are also needed when it comes to running a marathon. For the Holles, it’s clear these traits are ingrained deeply into who they are as individuals, and that staying committed to health and wellness is a top priority for the entire family.
Andrew and Jennifer have always been active—both were heavily involved in sports growing up and in college, and eating right and staying healthy was something that was instilled in them at an early age. Jennifer credits her parents for her love of running and physical activity. Thanks to their encouragement, as well as the encouragement of the many coaches both her and Andrew have had over the years, they both learned about health, nutrition and how to take care of their bodies. Now, they share that knowledge and love of running with their entire family, whom often run together on a regular basis as a way to spend quality time.

A Lifestyle Choice, Not a Chore

While the Holles may have many chores to do on the farm, they definitely don’t see running, or any exercise for that matter, as one of them. Jennifer and Andrew have made it a point to make physical activity fun and enjoyable so that the kids will want to do it, and so it doesn’t become just another dreaded item on the family’s already full to-do list. Instead, they want their kids to see activities such as running as an enjoyable way to spend time together as a family. So, while Andrew needs to be a more planful with his run, doing them most mornings at 5 a.m., before the 6 a.m. milking, Jennifer takes a more laid-back approach that doesn’t include regularly scheduled runs or exercise sessions – making her goals more achievable.
“While I do plan out my mileage for the day, I don’t plan a specific time that I’m going to run because our life is crazy, and I know that as soon as I schedule a run, something else will come up and I will be disappointed,” says Jennifer. “Instead, I fit running in during the ‘cracks’ in my time. Sometimes that is at 7 a.m., or sometimes that is during my kid’s practices, or before I go to bed at night. Andrew and I also try and get in a longer run in the afternoon or evening and the kids will ride bikes with us as we go. It all really just depends on the farm’s and our family’s schedule for that specific day.”
Another way that Jennifer is able to fit in runs during the day is to include her kids whenever possible. “Our mailbox is a mile and a half away, so the kids and I will race to the mailbox to get the mail. We also try to do one- or two-mile ‘fun runs’ around the farm, the soccer fields, in town, around the baseball diamonds—whenever we have extra time in between activities. I also make sure to tailor these runs for the appropriate age—longer runs for the older kids and more of a fun, shorter run for the younger.”
This playful approach to staying physically active has not only worked for Jennifer, but it has also allowed the entire family to spend quality time together and is teaching the kids important lessons along the way.
“If you just make it a normal part of your time together, it’s much easier and feels less like something you have to do and more like something you want to do,” says Jennifer. “Our kids have even done marathons as a way to be a part of the runs that Andrew and I do. For them, it’s just part of how we have fun as a family and spend time together, and that’s what is really important.”

Andrew and Jennifer running with her dad on Thanksgiving

Creating Healthy Traditions

The view that physical activity and family time go hand-in-hand can also be seen in the holiday traditions the extended Holle family has established. Their commitment to living a healthy lifestyle has allowed the family to create great memories along the way.
“We have a tradition every holiday that I really look forward to every year,” says Jennifer. “My parents come to the farm and before dinner, we do a “hollow-leg” run to the neighbors’ farm and back, which is about two miles each way. The road is very secluded—no one hardly ever drives down it—so it’s a very peaceful and calming setting, and it allows us to have some really good talks as we run. It’s the perfect trail and the perfect way to kick off the holiday, and the best part is that we’ve made some really good family memories while doing it.”

A Can-Do Attitude

Like most things in life, there is no simple recipe for success as a dairy farmer, just as there is no simple recipe for success when it comes to training for and completing a marathon. But after speaking with the Holles, it’s clear that with a can-do attitude – and most importantly, a commitment to family – you really can accomplish just about anything. These traits are strong and prevalent in Andrew and Jennifer Holle, and now, are strong in their children as well.
We look forward to following Andrew and Jennifer on their journey to the Chicago Marathon and hope you are as well! Be sure to visit Midwest Dairy’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages and follow #HolleMarathonHustle to hear more about the Holles’ journey to the marathon and for more tips and motivation for creating your own healthy and active lifestyle.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

*Update* With Spring Comes a New Beginning

For almost the last year now our dairy has been under major, and I mean major, construction and reconstruction.  But like all renovation jobs it always takes longer, costs more, and more demanding than ever anticipated.  Some of you may have thought we have fallen off the face of the earth, dairy and all, but I am writing this now because I think we might see the light at the far-end of the tunnel...maybe...but lets start this story at the beginning.

For the last few years our walls, ceiling, and windows in the parlor have started to degrade and rust and like all rust, once it starts it just multiplies.  So we knew last spring it was time to majorly over-haul the parlor.  What started as JUST replacing the walls, went into spray foaming and enclosing the ceiling, replacing all the doors and windows into the parlor and the main rooms off the parlor, and so much more:

New windows and spray foam
Ceiling project in parlor where the spray foam, purlins, and new water-proof panels have been put in
Purlins going in when the cows are still being milked

Ceiling panels going in over the purlins and spray foam

Picture of the "almost finished" ceiling in the parlor

A cow waiting to start milking, watching the process in the parlor.  The construction didn't stop just because it was milking-time so it was extremely difficult to do both in a rotary-style parlor that turns like a big merry-go-round.
 Well then we decided since we are already doing the parlor, we might as well do the bulk-tank room too:

Ripping all the walls and ceilings down in the bank tank room.  Spray-foaming, putting new walls and all brand-new electrical, stainless-steel milk pipes and equipment to completely overhaul the bulk tank room.

Bulk Tank Room coming along with all brand-new walls, ceiling, and equipment

Walls are almost finished!  Now to put up all the electrical, pipes, and all the equipment back in.

The Bulk Tank Room is so nice now!
 But, hey, lets not stop with just a simple renovation project, lets throw some more "fun" into the mix.  On November 30th, at 3 a.m. in the morning (which happens to be my husband's birthday) we got a phone call from our employee that one section of the milking-barn roof had fallen in.  Now to explain, back in 2013 this happened, and we thought this was just a one-time event.  But back in November, we had a blizzard with wet snow but nothing that was considered to be "catastrophic or abnormal for North Dakota" but obviously there was enough snow on the roof that the weight-load was just too much and a full section came down.  ***Disclaimer: no animals or employees were killed during the roof falling.  A few had some cuts and injuries from the metal tin, but we were very fortunate.
Section that fell in our barn

Trying to shovel the snow off the roof of the other sections

The Barn got VERY COLD with no roof and the employees and the cows were less than happy!
 But hey, lets add some more "excitement".  On Christmas Morning at midnight, we received another phone call that ANOTHER section of the milking-barn roof had fallen.  So we spent our Christmas morning hauling debris out of the pen, moving cows around, trying to milk in the disaster, and praying that no more sections would fall.
The stalls and barn were completely frozen
You can see one section was "under construction" when the other section fell

Here we go with more construction...in the middle of January, in ND!  We had to stop a lot and just go warm up because we couldn't feel our face or our fingers anymore.

Hopfauf Custom Builders came to the rescue to put the main beam up and reconstruct the roof so the cows could be warm again in our harsh ND winters
 On top of the construction, reconstruction, roof sections falling, horrible weather that was very tough on the cows and calves, labor shortages, equipment failures, broken facility, illnesses, injuries, our family has 4 kids in hockey (yes we are crazy).  But with winter comes spring and with spring comes the promise of a new beginning.  The weather is finally warming up, the animals are more comfortable, the employees are trained, equipment is getting fixed, new parts are arriving daily, and our construction crew is busy trying to do the finishing touches on a project that has been long-overdue.  So as I look around our farm right now, this is what I see:

Parlor with new ceiling installed

Parlor with new walls, doors, and viewing window

New windows, door and walls in the parlor getting finished

New Bulk Tank Room with new walls, ceiling, and equipment

Exterior Windows on the Parlor

New windows and doors on the parlor and office
Cows Enjoying the Sun

But mostly what I see when I look around is happy, smiling faces once again.  As the main projects for the farm start to wind-down, hockey season is also over. We get to do the little things again such as eat supper again together as a family and with that we get to rediscover our family again.  See for the last few month we have spent so much time fixing problems, addressing issues, putting out fires, chasing schedules, and just being "busy" that I felt that we have almost lost part of ourselves and our family has been placed on hold.  In a world where being busy seems to keep us so occupied that we forget to slow-down and breathe that the feeling of suffocating can overtake your life.  Part of me felt like I didn't know who my kids or my husband were anymore.  We spent time together but we didn't spend quality-time together and there is a big difference between the two.  It was time for us to hit the reset button and get back to what is really important in life which when there is a crisis, stress, trauma, that the main focus can get pretty blurry.  I thank all of our family and friends that have been there for not only us, but our farm for the last year.  Without all of your support and love, the strength to power-through may have been lost all together.  From getting kids to their hockey games, to helping at the farm we appreciate it more than I can express.

 Recently my youngest sons had their birthday parties together and it seems like the parties haven't stopped yet!  Seriously how many times do you need cake?  But I think we all deserve a little bit more cake than usual and a little bit more celebrating.  The last few weeks we have played lots of family games, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, discovering new restaurants, starting new hobbies, cooking together, reading books together, telling jokes, and enjoying being a family again.  In a few short years my oldest child will be leaving for college and I don't want to look back at the time we spent with him just being "busy".  I want to be able to tell you his favorite color, his dreams, his fears, his favorite vacations, his aspirations, his likes and dislikes because we took the quality-time to not only ask but to really listen.  But on top of that, I want to be a good role model for him and all my children.  I want to instill in them a strong moral compass, a compassion for life, a drive for success, a unrelenting love for their family and friends, a desire to continue to be better, and an unyielding passion to continue to live life to the fullest every day.  If I do that then I have succeeded not only as a mom, but as a person.




Monday, February 1, 2016

An Experience That Most Will Never Have...

For the last few years my sons have all wrestled during the cold, winter months .  Last year my oldest had one heck of a State Tournament with an extremely hard bracket, loaded with a few kids that he had never won against all season.  So he stepped out on that mat, with his former-wrestler Coach/Dad off to the side and he wrestled all the way to the 2nd place match against a kid that usually pinned him in the first round.  My son did everything he could to escape the kid's holds, throws, and offenses and wrestled him all the way to a final decision score of 4-5.  He ended up with a 3rd place trophy but what he gained that day was so much more than a hunk of wood and plastic gold could ever give. 

So this last August my oldest son fell off a mini-bike and broke him arm.  There goes soccer season!  We got him healed up eventually but his doctor recommended that he not wrestle in the winter...but hockey was ok (um, seriously?)  My son was so excited!  For the last few years he wanted to quit wrestling and play hockey but we listened to his wrestling coach who told him to stick with it for a few years, then make the decision.  Well he heard hockey and his mind was made up!  So we signed all 4 kids up to 'Intro to Hockey' designed to let 3-6 year-olds try the sport for 2 weeks for free (my oldest 2 kids actually did it when they were 6 and 4 but never enrolled in the actual season after it).  So off we go: get all the hockey equipment, sign all the paperwork, pay all registration fees, and the first day of Intro to Hockey this massive 12 and 10 year olds were intermixed with their 6 and 4 year old brothers and their classmates.  One of the Board Members even came up to me and told me that my 12 year old was starting really late and he was going to have a real struggle on his hands and she was very concerned if he could handle it.  Well obviously you don't know my son.  My oldest has always been the under-dog and is under estimated by almost every coach he has had; but just you wait.  I chalk it up to his quiet demeanor, manners, and gentle-nature but his work ethic and determination is something I haven't seen in most children.

The two youngest during Intro (the littlest not excited)

The oldest kids at 'Intro to Hockey'
Ever since October, my husband and I have watched our kids just like they are babies all over again, trying to learn the basics of hockey: how to stand on ice, how to skate, how to turn, stick-handling, and how to STOP (my oldest really had to work to get that skill down).  But the last few weekends they have had tournaments/games and they have completely transformed right in front of our eyes...they look like hockey players! 

LOTS of practice. practice. practice!!!

Now growing up in North Dakota, there is a certain spot in most people's heart for the sport of hockey.  If you know anything about UND there is pride for our SIOUX hockey team that takes on a life of it's own.  If you have never been to a UND SIOUX Hockey game, you better, and you will know why once you are there, trust me.

My Family with their families at the UND Sioux Hockey Game this last Christmas

So this last Christmas after watching the UND Hockey game, we ran back home because my daughter had a hockey tournament and we were playing a rival team- BISMARCK!  The game was very intense; the kids played hard, the parents were cheering, and the game could go either way.  My husband was actually recording our daughter in the 2nd period to show her after the game that she usually isn't in the correct position.  Well the puck got loose, she shot and scored her first-ever hockey goal (so obviously she was in the right position). Now I am NOT a very quiet mom during a game and my husband makes fun of me all the time for it.  But I think the coach in me comes out and that day, boy, was I loud celebrating her first goal!  Our oldest son actually scored his first goal against a Montana team a few weeks before that (which I missed because I was with my daughter at her game).  What a feeling to actually score a goal for your team and all the hard-work, sweat, and daily practices just trying to learn the basics finally pays off!

Well the game ended in a tie and the coaches decided to go directly into shoot-outs.  Our team's 5 best skaters shot against their 5 best skaters and it was still tied!  Onto SUDDEN DEATH!  The 6th skaters, 7th skaters, 8th skaters all took their turns at shooting and the score was still tied!  I looked at the bench and the coach was talking to my daughter and I knew that she was next.  The butterflies in my stomach started and I turned around and told my husband "She is the next shooter".  He looked over my head at the bench and saw what I meant.  He got his phone out ready to videotape, and I silently started praying for her.  Now let me explain why...I have been there.  I have been in sudden-death shootouts.  I have had my whole team and coaches counting on me for the win.  I understand the pressure, the feelings, the emotions, and even the panic as the gravity of the moment settles into you just before you take your shot.  This is where character is built.

We watched her come out of the box, skate to the referee, and await his whistle.  I told her to "take your time" and "get your shot" which I'm sure she didn't hear from up in the bleachers and over the glass, but I willed her to hear me subconsciously.

The whistle blew; she skated forward, and took the puck with her stick.  Down the ice she went, gracefully pushing the puck from left to right, stride-for-stride, heading to the opponent's goalie.  There was a hush over the crowd, I was holding my breath as she got closer, clasping my hands tightly together.  She pushed the puck to her right, aimed, and shot to the rightside of the net.  The goalie slid to get underneath the puck with his glove and then I heard it "TING"---the puck bounced past the goalie, hit the inside post and in!!!  AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!  The fans exploded, I exploded, my husband started yelling louder than I have ever heard, and the moment of pure pride, accomplishment, and celebration came pouring out of all of us to her!  What an amazing, incredible, indescribable event! 
This was HER moment in time and she rose to the challenge and did something that most people never get to experience in their lives...she, my daughter, made the GAME-WINNING GOAL in a sudden-death shootout!  Now to all you parents of athletes, I hope YOUR child each has THEIR moment!  There is nothing more amazing in this world then to see your child come through for their team.  HUGE congratulations to her team, each player, and especially the Goalie who had save after save to keep them in the game!  What a night!
That is what life truly is all about. To be able to come full-circle is a very humbling and grateful blessing.  I too made the game-winning goal where I ran to my teammates to tackle each other and scream in celebration.  Now it is my turn to sit up in the bleachers and watch those same scenarios that transformed my life and formed me into who I am today; is also molding, shaping, and influencing my children exactly the same way.  I am almost relieved that it is my turn to be the one in the bleachers.  This is their time, their moment.  Life is a cycle and someday my daughter will sit in the bleachers and watch her children make that game-winning goal and have that same feeling and emotions swell inside and consume her.  That is why we are here.  That is why God allows us to live on this planet and have the life we have.  It's not about money, or material things, or how much stuff you accumulate.  It's about WHO is in your life and the experiences you have together.  Those memories you get to take to heaven; everything else stays behind.

Needless to say, she won the 'Golden Skate' Award for the game and she got to choose any restaurant to go celebrate.  So as she ate her chicken and sipped her Shirley Temple at Texas Roadhouse, I looked over at my family, and then her, and realized: she experienced something that most people never in their life get to.  To say I'm proud of her, doesn't even come close to describing it.  Hopefully God-willing, I will get to see her children make that game-winning shot someday.  I will be sitting up in the bleachers, with a knowing-smile on my face, celebrating not only her children, but HER too! Because now, she too, as come full circle.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

From Marathoner, to Official Pacer, to Ultra-Marathoner in 13 hours!

A few months ago, my brother decided that he was going to become an "ultra-marathoner" (someone who runs farther than a marathon-26.2 miles) and he was going to sign-up with one of his friends for the Inaugural Daytona-100 in November.  I told him that I thought that was very noble, but severely crazy.  Then the question came...

"Do you want to be my pacer?"  ...Um...what...repeat that again and explain what a pacer actually is....

  He explained that a "pacer" is someone who is allowed to start running at the 50-mile mark and basically runs with to keep you on "pace" so you 1. stay on target to finish in your goal time 2. motivate you while you run and 3. won't let you quit.  He told me that I would probably ending up running around 30 miles (which isn't that much over a marathon, which I have already done) AND I got a vacation to Florida in November!  Well that didn't sound so horrible or difficult, so I agreed without giving it much thought, printed off my marathon-training log, and started training.

This is where Divine Intervention started to really kick in and I declare this whole run a "popcorn moment" (where God is sitting up in his recliner, eating his popcorn, watching how this whole thing plays out with a mischievous, all-knowing smile on his face).  So I went online to purchase airplane tickets and the tickets were $79 one-way so I quickly asked my husband "Should we make this into a family vacation?"  Well sure, why not?  So we booked the whole family to go to Florida!
(Now watch how this all plays out)

So the time came, the kids did all their homework, we packed our suitcases, and OFF TO FLORIDA!  We went down a few days early so we went to Disney's Magic Kingdom, Daytona 500 Race-track, Joe's Crab Shack, the beach, shopping, the pier, and all the fun tourists things that you are suppose to do while in Florida.


Then the day came for the big race.  My brother started off about 90 miles north of Daytona in Jacksonville, FL.  He and his friend started running at 6am on Saturday and his friend's wife and friend were the crew car (the crew has all your supplies that you will need in the race and meets you at every check-point along the way).

My brother and his friend running in the heat around mile 19

 So I rested up that day, laid by the pool with the kids, walked on the beach, and got a big nap in because I was going to START running at about 7pm that night.

Getting my running gear all set and ready right before my brother came around the corner at mile 50

So at 5:30pm, we loaded up our rental car (which is a story in itself-it was suppose to be a cheap, small mini-van but my husband got talked into an upgrade of a brand-new 2015 suburban) loaded the kids up with stuff to do, and met up with the crew car about 35 miles north of our resort that we were staying at.  Right at this point we learned they were only at mile 47, and I was HOPING they would be at least at mile 60...enter nervousness...so we met at exactly mile 50.  I got my running gear all ready, did some stretching, last-minute checks, and then came the runners!  My brother looked good, but his friend was already nursing a strained IT Band so you could tell he was feeling uncomfortable.  So I jumped in at mile 50 and we started running together.  We planned to meet the crew car and also my family at the next stop and then my husband was going to take the kids back to the resort and swim while the crew car stayed with the runners all night...well, that didn't happen.

At the next aid station we met up with the crew, got our water/gel squeezes, and then took off running again but my brother and I started to lose his friend after a few hundred yards. He just couldn't jog anymore with his IT Band and my brother was really stressing because now his friend was behind us, and he felt like he left him behind.  We continued on for a few miles until the next check point where we met the crew, and there beside the crew car was my brother's friend who was suppose to be running behind us!  He had decided he wasn't going to push his IT Band and decided to not finish the race.  Then the crew started putting all of my brother's stuff in our rental suburban.  At first I didn't understand what was going on, and then quickly realized that my husband and kids were now becoming the crew car which meant 4 kids stuck in a car all night, and no swimming at the resort  So my husband quickly ran to the grocery store to stock-up on supplies and snacks.  Then through-out the night he met us every 2-3 miles, refilled our water/electrolyte bottles, got us snacks, gels, Tylenol, new clothes, and entertained 4 small children in a cramped suburban.  But I have to say, the kids were phenomenal.  They played their electronics until they got tired and then all sprawled out over the whole car and slept because of all the activities we had already done in Florida, they were pretty tuckered out. 
This is the 'Crew Car' complete with all the kids

It is almost a surreal experience when you are running at night.  It was pitch-black when I started running so you get your headlamp, your reflector vests, and blinky lights all on and then it is just you, your brother, and the trail/road.  One thing I have to say is some of my best memories with my family in the last decade is when we were running together.  Whether it is in a race, or just a early morning "hollow-leg" run before a holiday meal, or the kids training for their first race.  It is a time where it is just you and your companion, visiting about life, sharing a time together where all the noise of the world dissolves away.  It's a place where you can find solitude, clarity, and a higher purpose.  So that night it was me, my brother, the moon, the crashing of the waves on the surf, and the methodic sound of our footsteps in the middle of nowhere striving and pushing for a goal that neither of us had accomplished before. 

At mile 75 (my 25), my legs started to really cramp up.  Up until that point I had only drank water and then gel squeezes so I started drinking Tailwind to replenish my electrolytes and within 2 minutes I felt a thousand times better and I think that was because God knew what was coming...the dreaded wall was just around the corner....

At mile 78-79, my brother really started breathing hard.  He started almost sighing every 30-45 seconds (mind you it is about 2am).  I thought it was just low energy and we were going to meet my husband at mile 80 which was a big check-point in the course.  The race officials were going to be there with an aid tent stocked-full with almost anything you could need.  So I thought that if we just make it to the next checkpoint then he would be fine.  Well, he wasn't.

My brother had told me up until this point that if I get him to mile 80, then he should be able to make it the rest of the way by himself.  Well when we rounded the corner into that aid station my brother had a defeated look on his face, his energy was shot...and then he sat down.  I let him sit to catch his breath and then he said "I am thinking about quitting".  Now if you don't know my brother he doesn't quit, I don't quit, my family doesn't quit, we are all very competitive.  But after running 80 miles in 120 degree heat index all day, blisters are formed and breaking open, your body is exhausted, your energy depleted, it's 2am and you still have 20 miles to go... your motivation is gone.  I told him that he had already run 80 miles and there was no way I was going to let him quit.  Up until this point we had run without our IPOD's so I told him to put his earbuds in, turn on the music, and lets start moving.  He really didn't argue.  So he got up, put his music on, and off we went with the plan that we just had to meet the crew car 2 miles down the road.  I also put my music on but only in the ear away from my brother so I could monitor his breathing and listen to how he was doing.  From there he did get some life back in him.  He started singing every once-in-a-while to his music and he seemed to settle back into a more relaxed cadence.

When you are running an ultra-marathon you have to take the race in small chunks.  From mile 80 on, we both spent most of our time looking for that blessed suburban that meant a small rest and replenishment.  I periodically asked him how he was doing and if he was injured (my biggest fear is that he was going to strain or pull something like his friend did) but he kept saying that he was tired, sore, but no injuries so I knew I could keep pushing him onward.  At 3 am I was exhausted and needed a break so my husband who had his running stuff on, jumped in to run with my brother for 2 miles while I drove the crew car 2 miles down the road, parked, and rested.  I ate a piece of bread to try to ease off the nausea pains from gel squeezes and electrolytes and tried to recover.  Because in that suburban, at 3 am, I realized that if my brother was going to finish then I was going to have to run the rest of the race with him.  There was absolutely no way that I was going to let him run alone in the dark, wondering whether he would make it to the next check-point or not.  So I turned and looked at my sleeping babies in the car, did another prayer for protection and strength to not only my brother, but for myself and my family that we could get him through this the next 4-5 hours.

At mile 84 we finally made it to Daytona Beach where our resort was that we were staying.  We were about a mile away from it when we met my husband again at another check-point and my brother sat down and slowly took his shoes off.  His socks were wringing wet and he had blisters on both of his feet that were getting extremely painful.  My husband and I just let him sit, we didn't say much, and let him rest.  Up until that point in the race my brother and I had been the one passing other racers.  We ran strong, kept to our plan, and left a lot of other runners behind us.  But while sitting on the grass berm of Daytona, 1 racer finally passed us.  I told my brother to use some band-aids or duct tape to cover his blisters, but neither of them would stick to his wet skin.  Then I remembered a complete saving grace that was sitting in my purse!  I had a large piece of 'new skin' that the doctor had given me for my son a few months back after he broke his arm to prevent any chafing from his cast.  I grabbed it out of my purse, we bandaged him up as best we could,  got him fresh socks, pulled him to his feet, and very slowly started walking down the road.  At this time in the race, my brothers timer would go off where we would walk for 1.5 minutes, then run for 1 minute so you were constantly listening to the beeps as to when to run or walk.  I was really nervous what my brother was going to do when the beep went off signaling us to start running again. But I think he basically was on auto-pilot; when the beep went off, he started jogging.

We ran past our resort to the next check-point and once again my husband ran with my brother so I could change my socks, put Band-Aids on my feet, and regroup until we had to do another stretch of running on the beach where our crew car couldn't go.  The kids were starting to wake up at this time and groggily asking where we were and what time it was.  Too soon my brother and husband ran up to the car and I motivated myself to get out and resume running with my brother.  This was considered the "home stretch" because once on the beach we could finally see the Ponce De Lion Lighthouse that signaled the tail-end of the race (but man, did it seem like it was a long way off still!) For the next few miles we ran together in silence, and watched the sun come up around 6:30 am.  My brother had officially ran for over 24 hours straight.

This is a selfie I took as the sun was rising and we were on the beach running about mile 92.

The kids all woke-up at sunrise and wanted to get out of the suburban so they ran with us on the beach for about a 1/2 mile
 At mile 93 we went past the last aid station, and were in Ponce De Lion community that was a really pretty area with nice trails and even nicer houses.  People were up doing their morning routines: walks with their dogs or on bikes, looking refreshed and ready to greet the new day.   We, on the other hand were panting, soaking wet in sweat, bleeding, and just trying to remain upright to the finish.  At mile 98 we finally made it to the iconic landmark that shows the homestretch...and neither one of us barely took the effort to even look up at it.

 At mile 98.5, we turned off of suburbia and back to the beach.

My brother and I off in the distance powering through while my youngest kids run to catch up to us

 We were both straining to see the finish-line.  Some people that were out walking or riding bike were yelling "almost there", "you can see it", "great job", "keep going" and when I could finally glimpse it, that is where I started to tear up.  The weight of what I had just done finally sunk in.  I had just ran all night with my brother, running farther than I ever thought I could ever go (47 miles), with my loving husband doing whatever was asked of him all night, my babies cooped up in the crew car, being the rock for my brother so he would finish that a few tears ran down my face.  At mile 99.5 I could finally make out my kids, my husband cheering us on, the crowd cheering, and finally that finish line that we spent all night running to cross.  I dropped back a few steps (I had been about a stride ahead or beside my brother the whole time trying to cut the wind for him) and let him lead.  This was his race, this is his moment, and this was his finish-line to cross.

Coming into the finish-line with my brother in the lead

The kids ran up to us and we at 8:22 am in the morning watched my brother complete 100 miles and cross the finish line.

He did it!  He accomplished his goal of running 100 miles and becoming an ultra-marathoner!  The pride I felt towards him was overwhelming.  He had dug deep inside himself and found some way to keep putting one step infront of the other even when every part of his physical body (and even mental) told him to stop.  That right there is a person of value, of character, and that's what champions are made of.

 But in turn....I also did it. I accomplished MY goal of not letting him quit and getting him across that finish line!  From running 47 miles, to my whole family crewing, to the whole 13-hour experience I found out more about myself in that moment in time that I can ever put into words.  So I think the perfect way to say it is that now I too, am an ultra-marathoner.

So the next day, my brother stayed in the resort while I limped around SeaWorld with my family, which I'm so glad I did because it was an amazing day, topped off with All-You-Can-Eat Seafood Buffet (I must have had 5 lobsters and 40 crab legs...no joke).  The day after that, which was our last day in Florida, we convinced my brother to go to Universal Studios and Island of Adventure.  We bought the extra FastPass to go to the front of the lines, and I threatened to get him a wheelchair.  But once we got to the Harry Potter World and got some ButterBeer in him, this was the result:
Needless to say, I don't think he had a great time at Universal Studios...but he was there anyway!

But it is an experience I am beyond excited that I was able to be a part of.  So thank you to my brother who believed in me enough that he asked me to be his "pacer".  Definitely, definitely will go in the books as one of my top 5 life experiences, and now I can cross it off my bucket list.

(I wonder how much God was entertained watching this.  How did that popcorn taste???)