It had to come to this. The fitness boom, long characteristic of urban and suburban living, is finally coming to the farm.
Some 260 runners, nearly all of them farmers, participated in the first Farmers Fitness Run, sponsored by Successful Farming magazine last weekend at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
''We were awfully surprised by the number of entrants,'' says Dave Bradley, public relations director for Successful Farming. ''I think this event says it's OK for farmers to get in short pants and go running.''
Farmers came from 14 states and Canada to run in either the five-mile run or the two-mile fun run/walk. As expected, the five-mile event was won by Dick Beardsley, a world-class marathoner and dairy farmer from Rush City, Minn., in a time of 26 minutes, 40 seconds. Another race is planned for next year.
The magazine decided to sponsor the event after it surveyed 1,200 farmers and found that only 10 percent of them exercised for 30 minutes at least three times a week - compared with a national average of 46 percent. Even the demands of their work has changed with the arrival of better and more powerful machinery, Mr. Bradley says. ''Farmers used to be thought of as physically fit. ... (Now) they are a little more sedentary than some people would like.''
Farming ''is still hard physical work,'' says Tracy Stetzel, who with her husband, Larry, operates a hog farm in Casey, Iowa. ''But I think people should have something additional.'' On Saturday, Mr. Stetzel finished second in the five-mile run.