Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Why I did not run today.

I tried to get up and run but the car battery was dead. That doesn’t make any sense because of course one does not need a working car battery to run, but one does if one is going to meet her girlfriends at the lake at 5:30 am and one had been reminded over and over again that running by herself in the dark is dangerous and it will be her fault when she gets mugged or raped or killed, and even if people don’t think it’s her fault they will look at the time of the mugging/rape/killing and say to themselves, well that’s terrible, but she shouldn’t have been outside by herself at 5:30 am. She should have run with friends.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lew Blond Memorial 5k

I wasn’t planning on running a 5k on Saturday. After Big Sur, my plan has been to relax, do some speed work and keep my base before Chicago Marathon training starts. But J asked me to run it with her, and it’s a CARA circuit race, so even though it was out in some suburb that I can never remember the name of (I looked it up. It was Northbrook), I signed up on Thursday.

The Lew Blond Memorial 5k is held to honor Lew Blond, a Maple School teacher who passed away from ALS in 2000, and is in its 17th year, but I’ve never seen it on the CARA circuit before. Normally before a race I haven’t done, I would check the website to see previous results in my age group to see what my chances of placing might be. Smaller races = better chances. But it didn’t really occur to me to do that, and it’s been so long since I’ve run a 5k, I knew I wasn’t in PR shape.

J picked me up on Saturday morning,  and we watched Harry and Meghan take their vows before we drove to Northbrook. We parked across the street from the grade school where the race was held and went into the school to pick up our packets. Because the race is in honor of a former teacher, there were signs all over the school that students made thanking and encouraging the runners.

After stashing our packets in the car, we jogged back across the street, around the school to the start line as a warm-up. It was chilly on Saturday morning so I wore my long sleeve Big Sur shirt over a Big Sur tank (Big Sur all the way!). But by the time we got to the start line, both J and I were warmer than we thought we’d be and there wasn’t time to get back to the car. So we did what any other runner would do, we took them off, stashed them on the ground by a curb out of the way, told them we’d be back (in case they thought we were abandoning them) and hoped no one decided that they could use an extra couple of long-sleeve running shirts.

There were lots of kids from the school running the race, and they made them line up behind the rest of the runners. After joking to J that it didn’t really make sense to have all the kids behind me because they were just going to pass me, we were off after a quick air horn blast.

J is still on the road to recovery, and I ran with her last week where we averaged 9:30s so I planned to stay with her. After getting around a few of the kids who didn’t listen about the getting to the back thing, I started concentrating on my breathing and my turnover, trying not to take too big of strides. I stayed with J for most of the first mile before easing off a bit. Mile 1 - 8:45

I doubted I could keep up that pace for long, so I let J go and slowed down to a more comfortable 9:30 pace. I’m trying to deal with the discomfort that comes with racing and not just give up, so I kept repeating “I will do this, I can do this” over and over. As the course wound through the subdivision, I focused on trying to take the tangents - which occupied a lot of my time since suburban streets can’t ever be built on a grid. Mile 2 - 9:28

The last mile I told myself what I always tell myself: there is only 1 mile left and it’s not even going to take you 10 minutes (even though it was a little over 10 minutes what with the extra .1, but I didn’t need to know that). At this point, I felt like every person was passing me, and every time I slowed down even a little bit I reminded myself how annoyed I was going to be if I missed placing by a few seconds. The finish line was on the other side of the school from where we started, and we had to pass the start line to get there. I knew it wasn’t the finish line, but the three high school boys who went tearing past me thinking they were sprinting each other didn’t seem to until after they passed it. It was a good diversion for that last little bit of the race, and laughing about it got me to the actual finish. Mile 3 - 9:28

Finish time: 29:00

So I know what you’re thinking … did she place or not? Well, no - but I finished 5th in my age group, which is a whole lot better than I thought I would do. 29:00 isn’t anywhere near my 5k PR, but then again, even if I had run my PR, I would have only placed 4th. The third-place finisher was still 2 minutes faster than my PR. The fourth-place runner finished 40 seconds in front of me - so had I not slowed down maybe I would have beat her. As it is, I’m glad I have a good baseline to judge how well my speed training is going. Now I just have to find a 5k to run later on in the summer.

After the race, we headed inside to the gym, found the CARA tent and tried out their amazing leg puffy recovery things (aka air compression boots). Eventually, we remembered we left our shirts by the curb, so J ran out to get them and another runner asked me about Big Sur when she saw me putting it on. I told her how much fun it was and that she should definitely do it someday. And with that, we headed back into the city where the streets (for the most part) meet at right angles and go in straight lines.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Big Sur Marathon

Going away for a marathon with 13 other women takes a lot of planning. There were flights to make, cars to rent, houses to find and excursions to book.

The first full day we toured around San Francisco. Some visited Alcatraz, and some went off by themselves. A few of us had breakfast at Dottie's, then drove over to Haight Ashbury for a little shopping and walking around before meeting everyone over at Fisherman's Wharf for lunch. Afterward, we split up again, several of us taking in the Golden Gate Bridge before ending our day heading south down the Pacific Coast Highway to Pacific Grove where we stayed for the next three nights.

Dotties for breakfast.
The bridge after lunch.
Haight Ashbury

Jellies at the aquarium.
Day two saw most of us going to Monterey Bay Aquarium and walking around Cannery Row. Then we all went to the race expo to pick up our packets. Packet pick up was easy, and the expo was fairly typical. Not huge like Chicago, but they had some nice t-shirts, and I also got myself a mug and a Boston to Big Sur magnet. Yes, I realize the magnet is supposed to be for people who ran both Boston and Big Sur, but I figured since Mr. H. ran Boston and I ran Big Sur, together we rated a magnet. I also got a poster with all of the runners' names on it. I wasn't going to get it, especially because unlike Chicago (or Boston) the poster wasn't free. But it had my name on it. And it's just like Mr. H's from Boston with his name on it and that's pretty cool.
That night we had a wonderful pasta dinner and afterward, we were treated to a reading of the creepy tale about the house some of the ladies were staying in (something about a missing fisherman). After dinner, we all went back to our respective houses where we all tried to go to sleep at 8 pm since our morning was going to start somewhere around 2:45 am.

Since Big Sur is a point-to-point, it basically means they take you 26-miles away and then you have to run back. And because they take you on the route you run back, and they use the buses for the other races, the marathoners get to get up extra for the hour-long ride to the start.

Once we got to the start line it was the usual waiting around until it's time to get into the corrals. With just a few thousand runners instead of 30 thousand runners, the corrals amounted to the announcer saying: go to the back if you're running between 4:45 and 6:00 hour marathons; go to the middle if you're running between 3 something and 4:50 and go to the front if you're running faster than 3 something. I'm in the 4:45 and 6:00 camp, so we walked up the hill behind the start line and then waited around for the start. Of course, like most other marathons, that meant waiting longer than we really wanted to. Which meant we all needed to pee by the time the race started. Luckily we didn't need to even wait until the first hydration stop since there were porta-potties within about a quarter-mile from the start. But stopping so soon, and for so many of us meant that by the time we were all done we were basically the last people in the race. We had fun being last - but we didn't stay last for too long.

Our plan was to run the first 10 miles until we got to the beginning of the ascent to Hurricane Point. We had a pretty steady pace, around 11-minute miles. My goal going into this marathon was to complete it and to have fun with a bunch of friends. And I knew that without having a whole lot of hill training, which I didn't, there wasn't any way I was going to run all the hills. Once we got to mile 10, we started run/walking. We'd walk up the hills, run down and to the beginning of the next hill. For the two miles leading up to Hurricane Point, we ran about 14-minute miles. Going slower and the fact that it was super pretty helped distract from the crazy hills.

Past the highest point and coming up on Bixby Bridge.
But then the downhills came. We tried to be good and not go too fast down the hills. But we couldn't go too slow because we knew we needed to get to mile 21 before 11:50 am so we would make the course cut off. Luckily we made it there with time to spare and were able to keep up our hill-walking plan as we'd been keeping up a 12 - 13 minute pace. However, the hills past 21 started to get steeper, and the last couple of hills, around miles 22, 23 and 25, meant a lot more walking. Plus, going downhill started to be more painful than going up.

Even though it was a closed course, as we veered away from the coast, many of the residents would come out and cheer. I thought I would miss having loads support the way Chicago does. But since I stayed with friends the entire way, it was a lot easier not having cheering crowds every step of the way. Plus, there is some pretty interesting course support - like a man playing a grand piano once you cross Bixby Bridge at mile 13. Yes, that's a guy with a grand piano at the top of what to Chicago eyes is a mountain - 275 feet above sea level.

Once we crested the last hill around 25.5 it was all downhill - which meant we ran the last mile-ish to the finish. Which sounds great and all - you totally want to run to the finish line - but you get used to run/walking, and then suddenly you're not run walking anymore and all you want to do is take a walk break. I started wishing for a hill to walk up. Apparently, we were all waiting for someone else to suggest a walking break but none of us wanted to be the one to do it. Of course we also all wanted to finish, and so running (albeit slowly) got us there quicker.
Finally finished!

When we did finish, my sister was waiting for us and cheering us on. I can say that even though I had a great time, I don't think I ever wanted to finish a marathon more. I didn't run as hard or fast as I have other races, but it was by far the most challenging course I've run. But it was also one of the most fun races I've done because I stayed with friends the entire time and the scenery was so beautiful. But, as much fun as it was, next time I visit the West coast I won't be running a marathon.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Tangled up in blue

Knitting a sweater is an undertaking, even for the most proficient knitter. That is unless you knit a tiny sweater like I did once for one of my son’s teddy bears. Then it’s not that big of a deal. But assuming you are knitting a sweater for an adult type person, it’s a big job. And that’s why some of the women in my knitting group decided to do a sweater knit-along this year. We promise to keep each other motivated and give each other the emotional support you need throughout the sweater knitting process.

You wouldn't think it would be an emotional process. It's just a sweater. But did you know that there is a sweater curse? (If Wikipedia didn't convince you, how about the New Yorker?) You run a real risk of ruining a relationship if you knit a sweater for a boy (or girl) friend prior to some official commitment ceremony. Of course, this is just a myth. But one that seems to have been proven true through anecdotal evidence, which is the best kind of evidence because it's interesting and not filled with a bunch of numbers and statistics and deviations from the mean. Luckily Johnpaul and I are married, and so my knitting a sweater for him will not spell the eventual ruin of our relationship (fingers crossed). In fact, I once knit him a sweater, this very sweater pattern, in fact, many years ago; and it taking several years to finish and it not fitting him in the end and becoming my sweater (which I still have not sown the buttons on to yet - it's a cardigan) has not spelled the end of our relationship. Either our relationship is strong enough to withstand the sweater curse or it's just a myth. Either way, I owe him a sweater, that fits.

I am at the very beginning of this process. So far I have finished the gauge swatch. This is the pre-knitting thing that some knitters do (I often skip this step) to ensure that what you’re knitting will come out the size you want it to. It’s not something you can really skip when you’re knitting a sweater (toys yes, sweaters no). I’m knitting it in a different weight of yarn than what the pattern calls for which means I have to change needle sizes. Which means I have to figure out sizing and do math and I really don’t even know why I’m knitting him a sweater other than I have already bought a bunch of yarn for a sweater for him and that whole thing about owing him a sweater. You see why you might need emotional support during this process.

I have trepidation about knitting the sweater not only because of the difficulty knitting a sweater entails but also because I want it to look nice. I want him to want to wear it. Not because I knit it for him, but because he likes it. But I just don’t think I’m that great of a knitter. I don’t know what it is. Is it that I don’t take my time? Is it that I don’t knit enough so don’t get enough practice? Is it that I’m too hard on myself? It’s like everything else in my life - I’m just so-so at stuff. I’m one of those knows a little bit about a lot of things people. I don’t specialize in anything. And it’s not like I want to specialize in knitting, but I want to be good at it. Maybe I just need to try again and not worry about it so much. Just be patient, with the knitting and with myself.

I’m probably never going to be excellent or the number 1 or the expert in any one thing. But I can be the best I can be. Ok this is starting to sound like an ad for the Amy (sidenote: Be All You Can Be was the slogan for the Army for 21 years.)

For now I am ready to take the next step, casting on the 140+ stitches I need to start the back piece of this sweater. But not actually yet. I forgot that this sweater, the George pattern in the Jane Ellison Queensland Collection (I'm not getting any commission or anything, I just like to give designers their due), has an accent color that I will need sooner rather than later and I didn't buy any. So now I have to wait until I get that to start. Which is fine - I'll knit a hat instead.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Tiny Toy Knits for Christmas (aka using my Stash)

The last few weeks I have been knitting toys and tiny items for Christmas. My sister so graciously loaned me several of her toy knitting books and I picked one and started knitting from the beginning. First with Happy Cat/Sad Cat, and then the Egg/Penguin. then the Egg/Alligator. (side note: do you know how to tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? One says see you later and one says after while.)

I actually started knitting some vegetables first. I started with an eggplant, and then made what I call an "organic" carrot because it certainly doesn't look like the perfect carrot in the book and then a tomato. Originally I was thinking of giving them to one of the little kids because who doesn't like play food? But now that I've started collecting them in my knit basket on my counter I kinda feel like I want to keep them, because, who doesn't like knit vegetables?

I ask you, does this
bunny look cross?
Years ago, when I first started knitting, I knit all the little kids - which at the time consisted of my sister's three children and one child on my husband's side - little bears for the boys and a little rabbit for the girl. They were cute. My niece called hers Cross Cross Bunny because apparently his mouth looks like he's not happy. I like to think of him more as contemplative. So this year I am making toys for the new batch of of little kids.

I like knitting up toys because they are quick and forgiving. And oh so cute. Happy cat/sad cat got awws from pretty much everyone and I kinda feel like I need to knit one for every person I know - or at least every person who could use a happy cat/sad cat which is pretty much everyone. You could carry it around and you could show people the happy side or the sad side depending on how you were feeling. The world would be so much more civilized that way I think.

The other bonus about knitting toys is that they help you use up your stash yarn. Almost all of my yarn is stash yarn. I have rarely bought things for specific projects. A lot of the yarn I have bought has been for toys, so I guess that makes it project yarn rather than stash. But is there really a difference between project yarn and stash yarn? That yarn I bought at Purl Soho for Mr. H's sweater that I haven't yet knit, or started, or thought about since I bought the yarn several months ago, sure that's yarn for a project, but since it's been sitting in the bins for so long, it's become stash yarn because at some point it all becomes stash. There's a life lesson, or philosophical thought in there somewhere, but I was never very good a philosophy, so don't ask me to figure it out.

I tell myself all the time that I'm not going to buy any more yarn until I've cut down my stash significantly. And the last time I added to my stash, I didn't actually buy anything. One of my sister's friends was giving away yarn that her mother had stashed over her many years of knitting and so I brought home several skeins and half skeins of yarn that a woman who I didn't even know had stashed for so long that she had multiple bins of yarn left over when she died. It was sweet of my sister's friend to offer her mother's stash to her friends, and sisters of friends. It was like going on a bit of an architectural dig to see what kinds of yarns she had and envision what kinds of things she would have made with them. She actually had a project on needles among her stash. Something many knitters can relate to.

She had some wonderfully soft yarns and lots of eyelash yarns. She had skeins enough to make a sweater, and bits and bobs of skeins left over from other projects. I mostly took what I assume is Cascade 220 to go with all my other Cascade 220 (my yarn of choice for knitting toys) and we all promised to make wonderful things that her mother was never able to get around to. The see you later alligator is made of some of her yarn.

As I finished each little toy, I put it on a shelf (or in the basket if it happens to be a vegetable), lined up and ready for Christmas. Sometimes I wonder what happens with the knit items that I send out into the world. Do they hang around forever because someone feels like they can't get rid of them when the hat becomes too small or cross cross bunny's mouth has frayed that now he looks cross and sad? I feel like it should, but it doesn't really matter to me. Because while I loved it while I was knitting it, once it's gone it means less yarn in my stash! And less yarn in my stash means I get to buy more yarn. It's a win win when you think about it.

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