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Racing for water

By Tonya Hodgkins, Product Supply, Crop Science, Bayer U.S.

Forty degrees, windy and raining was not the forecast I wanted to hear when I was preparing to run the Boston Marathon earlier this spring. I live in West Texas, where the annual rainfall is 17 inches, and it’s rare for me to get the opportunity to train in the rain.

It’s interesting how different situations can cause us to look at water differently. While I was horrified at the possibility of running into a blinding rain during the marathon, I also knew I would need water for hydration during the race. And my water challenges actually seem pretty insignificant when you consider access to clean, safe drinking water is not a given in many countries.

By consulting some online runners’ forums, I was able to get good advice for surviving a marathon in the rain. Wearing a cap with a brim helped to keep water out of my eyes during the race. Thankfully I also had a really good raincoat that had zippered vents at the armpits. As for blister prevention, I wore wool compression socks and used a topical blister prevention cream.

Thus, it’s fitting that during the past two Boston Marathons, I found myself “racing for water.” In 2017 and 2018, I chose to run the marathon on behalf of an organization known as Global H2O. Global H2O (founded by one of my former work colleagues and her son) builds and rehabs wells and latrines in Central Africa to provide clean water and sanitation facilities in rural areas.

Focused on helping children, families and a growing migrant population, particularly in Uganda, Global H2O believes that access to water can do amazing things to improve the health of communities, reduce child mortality rates and empower communities to move to the next stage of development.

Knowing I’m helping people gain access to clean, safe water is very special to me. Having worked in agriculture for my entire career, I am proud to have a role in making sure our growing world has enough food to eat. Equally important is how we carry out this mission. Resources such as land and water are finite, and we must be good stewards of them.

Before this year’s Boston Marathon, I wrote some messages on my hands to sustain and inspire me during 26 miles of running.

Farming definitely takes a lot of water. At Bayer, we think a lot about the sustainability of modern agriculture. For example, we research ways to grow crops with less water, such as developing more drought-tolerant plants.

In West Texas, we’ve had some pretty severe droughts in our ecent past. Even in 2017–2018, we went six months with only about a half inch of rain. As our aquifer levels drop and our population continues growing, the need to conserve water certainly has become greater.

To respond to that challenge, in my area, I’ve seen irrigation technology make tremendous gains in a very short period of time. We’ve gone from over-the-top, pivot irrigation to what is called LEPA (Low Efficient Pressure Application) irrigation, or even more recently, some farmers have moved to Irrigation Tape. Instead of water being applied to the plant and soil from above, under high pressure, these innovative irrigation systems are able to place water closer to the soil surface and plant roots, with less chance for evaporation and waste in our dry climate.

Technology has improved because it’s had to, and because people know we only have so much water. We really need to conserve all we can so we can continue farming and supporting growing populations.

Despite the difficult conditions, I finished the 2018 Boston Marathon with a better time than I had in 2017 and one that prequalified me for the 2019 Boston Marathon.

Water is important in so many ways. During one of my recent training runs, I forgot to bring my water bottle, which left me running from park to park in search of water. I found myself again “racing for water,” or I should say, “racing from water fountain to water fountain” all around town.

As for my other “race for water,” I am happy to report I raised $4,000 for Global H2O in my two years running the Boston Marathon. That was enough to build a latrine in Uganda in 2017. And in 2018, the money is funding a several-step project (that has just started!) to rehabilitate a well that was built in northern Uganda in the 1960s. As I train for another marathon, I find myself thinking about this success with every sip of water that sustains me on my runs.

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Stories and thoughts from Bayer employees in the U.S.

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