My knitting life has had surges and lows where I’ve destashed completely and jammed everything in a drawer. That was mostly due to life—babies, toddlers, then multiple babies and running. It was mostly due to running.
I have a hard time not getting completely consumed in activities. When I am training for a race, I’m all in.
And apparently, when I’m not training for a race (or it’s winter), I find other things to obsess over. Like my first cabled sweater.
I decided to go lower budget than Shelter, and Woolstok is the workhorse it’s advertised to be: consistent, sturdy, an all-around fantastic worsted wool yarn.
And I love it. It seemed perfect for Vika.
Vika was one of those projects I started around the holidays and kind of poked at off and on. It seemed an almost insurmountable task, which at times made me reluctant to pick it up. Why bother? It’s going to take forever.
At some point I decided not to focus on the end result but try to enjoy the act itself. As corny as it sounds, I wanted each stitch to stand on its own. Be a meditation. I wanted to enjoy knitting every single stitch of this sweater until I the very last stitch was bound off.
And I did. Really. And some stitches I enjoyed more than once because I lost track of the cables and had to rip back. *snerk*
In the end, after some seaming I’ll admit I just made up as I went along, I had my first seamed sweater.
And I am mostly pleased.
But it’s too big, and it is heavier than a sweater I want to wear on a regular basis for activities not limited to just sitting on the couch watching Netflix.
Lessons learned: ease is great, but I tend to go overboard. I also need to remember that I am 5’1″ tall and not as tall as the models often shown wearing these garments. Too much ease is overpowering on my short frame. So is length.
And it’s possible that if I’d knit this in a lighter yarn like Shelter, that the ease wouldn’t bother me as much.
So there will be a Vika 2.0, knit in the proper yarn, in the proper size. Until then, I’ll search for a worthy recipient; it pains me to see it languishing unworn on the shelf. unworn.
Mistakes were made. Modifications to the waist shaping were made (because my waist has very little shape and it isn’t an hourglass). Sleeves were shortened. Color choices were second guessed and then mildly regretted. Expletives were uttered. What seemed like a million yarn ends were woven in. But in the end, Hadley.
I’ll admit I joined the #bangoutahadley knitalong, not because I was in love with the pattern but because of the challenge. Knit an entire sweater in the shortest month of the year. Add in new techniques. It had been ages since I’d attempted to knit with more than one color (at least ten years), and if memory serves me right, I was awful at it. I’d also just learned to knit continental style (more on that later) and this seemed like the perfect practice swatch. Plus, how fun is it to knit something with strangers across the Interwebs? Sign me up!
Not only did I use new techniques, but I used new yarn. Not having a yarn budget for the called-for yarn (Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, which is my absolute favorite yarn ever), I took a chance on a budget buy (Valley Yarns Amherst 100% merino). I wanted a blank canvas for the color work to shine through (or expose all of my flaws). Either way, it worked.
Other new things tried during this project? A simple stretchy bind-off for the neck (found here). It doesn’t match the tubular cast-on I used for the sleeves and hem but in all honesty I just really wanted to finish this damn thing without breaking into another skein of yarn (I ended up with two to spare).
I have a lot to learn about colorwork. I was able to navigate two colors pretty easily, and there were only a few rows that required me to carry a third (which I felt was a PITA). But my sleeves ended up pretty tight. I hoped they would loosen a little after blocking. It’s possible they did a hair, but still, note to self: stay loose-er.
Never judge a book by its cover, and never judge a sweater before you block it.
I did promise to reserve all judgment until I’d blocked it; the pre-blocking try-on was dismal. Oh, so dismal.
But after blocking, I’m happier. I post the pre-block photo to attempt to show the waist shaping; I omitted the middle decreases and just worked enough along the side to give me a difference of two inches (instead of the called-for ten inches. Yes. Ten inches.).
Overall? It was a good knit. There are more details on the knitalong and Hadley over at Mason Dixon Knitting, if you’re interested.
Epilogue: I love you, Craftsy.
Craftsy saved the day. (This is not a paid enorsement.) I had not heard of Craftsy until I ended up at their site one day picking up (on incredible deal) what would end up being the yarn for my Snoqualmie (95% finished!). I have always believed I could find any lesson I needed for free on the YouTubes, so the idea of paying real money for lessons seemed unnecessary.
I don’t believe that anymore. Though you can still learn a lot from the webs, it just doesn’t compare to the instruction at Craftsy. The attention to detail, the close-up camera shots, the ability to rewatch a section over and over. Not only that, but I’ve just loved the instructors. I feel like they’re sitting with me in my living room. For someone like me who lives in the sticks and doesn’t have the luxury of their LYS holding regular workshops, I’m a fan. In fact, I would still be working on the body of this had Lorilee Beltman not taught me to knit contenental style via her class on Craftsy. After I got the hang of it, I was able to fly through the sea of stockinette. Even the 2×2 ribbing went much faster when I finally gave up yarn throwing.
And while it’s a little embarrassing to admit, I’d never properly spliced yarn together or been taught how to weave in ends; I always winged it. Ann Hanson’s class on finishing handknits taught me how, and now I don’t fear that part of the project.
In short, the classes have made me a more capable, confident knitter. I just can’t say enough. Definitely check them out.
I couldn’t find my Garmin watch this morning so I am watchless. I went running anyway—completely unplugged—which is something I would not have done this summer. Turns out that if the Internet doesn’t know about it while it’s happening (or has no Strava record of it after the fact), it still happened.
It also seems that the sun keeps rising and setting, even if I don’t check in on Facebook every day. Even better, my mood has improved. I’ve gone for over a week without yelling at my kids. Overall, my frustration level is lower. I’m willing to concede I might miss a few breaking news stories or pictures of puppies or my friends’ kids, but I’m okay with that.
I’m managing. I’m finding the Joy Of Missing Out.
On my mind:
Time: I’m thinking about it a lot these days—how much I have and what I want to do with that time. Going to a funeral can do that to you.
Poverty. I can’t stop thinking about this podcast series on poverty myths I listened to last week, how the story of poverty in America is so wrapped in lies and how much we interject personal bias. Also, how so many of us, myself included, don’t really know poverty. We know people who struggle financially, and we may even have been there at many points in our lives, but we always had a home to go to at the end of the day. Something to eat in the fridge. Heat. Electricity. Running water. We don’t know real poverty. We’ve never even seen it first hand. But the saddest part? It doesn’t have to be this way. And I’m not doing anything to change that. That needs to change. (Listen to the Busted: America’s Poverty Myths by On the Media)
Privacy, specifically digital privacy and recognizing the argument of “I have nothing to hide, so I don’t care if everyone has access to my data” is stupid. Yup, another podcast series: The Privacy Paradox by Note to Self.
Open mind. Open heart. Be patient. Love fully. Slow down. Eat well. Shed the bulk. Do more with less. Listen more. Reconnect. Be present. Get outside. Move often. Knit more. Be kind. Forgive. Give thanks. Try harder.
When it’s easier to just embrace the messy hair, because it makes your post-lunch run hair seem…normal.
When your toddler licks or gnaws the frosting off all the mini wheats cereal, then hands you the bowl. And you eat it, without skipping a beat.
When it’s Friday and you recognize that your kids will probably stay in their pajamas all weekend, provided they don’t have a fantastic food spill or heinous bodily fluid explosion. And you’re totally okay with that.
When your car has made That Sound for the last few months, but you haven’t taken it to The Guy for him to fix it, because you know it’s not life-threatening and it’s easier to just turn up NPR than to schedule a few days without a second vehicle.
When you see another presidential transition news update in your inbox and it makes you want to scream, which leads you to do the thing that always calms you down: you bake things. And if you don’t eat the entire pie in one sitting (or standing over the pie plate with a rubber spatula with the refrigerator door open), you call it a win.
When you realize that even if The Bar is lower than it used to be (or maybe even dragging in the mud), as long as there is said bar, you’re doing okay. We are all still doing okay.
When I go out in public, I do as I have from childhood—I try to blend in. Not draw attention to myself. Be invisible.
Maybe they won’t realize I’m not white.
I often joke that I don’t like people, but the truth is, I do not seek out interaction with strangers because I’ve been conditioned to expect a racist response. I have lived this for as long as I have memory. I have endured the second glances, the outright stares, the taunts, the slurs, the intimidation. And unless you’ve been through it, you cannot possibly understand how it trains you to be afraid of people.
I am an Asian American woman, who when she goes out in her white Upper Peninsula town, breathes a sigh of relief that her kids look more like their Irish/English father than their Korean mother. That maybe they’ll be spared the subtle (and not so subtle) racism she’s experienced as an Asian American growing up in America.
This election was about many things, I get it. And you may be reading this and think, I am not a racist. That is not why I voted for Trump. But must realize that for many of your fellow Americans—who love this country just as much as you do, who worry about the economy and jobs and clean water and community safety, as you do—that there is an extra layer of fear after this election. Not that we didn’t know racism was still alive and thriving in America (because we live it daily), but that this Trump win can’t help but feel like an endorsement.
An elderly white woman struck up a conversation with my son and me at Walmart the other day while we were waiting in the checkout line. It was one of the most pleasant interactions I’ve had with a stranger in a long time. Perhaps she saw us and was trying to reach out in a way she normally would not have done. It didn’t strike me until she left the store that I was grateful for that simple act. That even though my son won’t remember it, maybe it will help shape his experience. And for me, that light exists in places you least expect to find it. And that you have to come out of the shadows to see it.
Confession: we forced her to do it. And maybe it was cruel, telling her TODAY IS THE DAY instead of letting her come to it naturally. But if it’s the biggest fail I have as a parent right now, I’m willing to take it.
She was physically able to do it. She has terrific balance. She’s athletic and strong. It was completely mental.
A 2.25 mile ride to the grocery store achievement unlocked: Go big or go home.
I’m still figuring this parent thing out, and maybe I will never truly get it. In fact, I’m sure I won’t. But some days you have to gently prod. Okay, maybe a little extra force and refuse to put the trainers back on. We pushed her from the nest, and she rode all the way to the end of the street.
During the months of June through August, I had a series of ultrasounds that detected the presence of an ovarian mass. It was scanned and measured to be “about the size of a walnut,” so I gave him the name Herr Walnut, which only seemed right since we’d already spent about four years together.
Yes, it took four years for a doctor, the right doctor, to listen to me, to stop dismissing my complaints of intermittent pain and go beyond palpitating my lower abdomen and saying, eh. Doesn’t feel like there’s anything there.
“OK, let’s run some tests,” she said. We did. And here we were, scheduling surgery to remove the mystery mass.
On Tuesday morning, two days after the Twin Cities Marathon, I went in for surgery. I also lost the ovary, but that was always part of the plan. It turned out that the tumor was inside of the right ovary. Snip it. Bag it. Remove it. The tumor was tested and declared benign. The process ended up being a simple one that wrapped up three months of worrying that I had cancer. Every single damn day.
Scheduling surgery, even if it’s only outpatient, two days after you make your body run 26.2 miles is probably not ideal. Lesson learned. Recovery has been slow, though never before having anyone cut into my gut to pull out organs, I didn’t have a benchmark. I do have a new appreciation for mothers who deliver via caesarean. And hernia surgery patients.
The discomfort that Herr Walnut has caused for the last four years (yes, that long) has been minimal compared to the mind fuck that waiting for medical test results for three months will do to a person. And even though it feels like I just gave birth all over again—partly because I look newly postpartum from all the bloating and it’s reflected on the bathroom scale as well—I feel lighter; a weight has been removed. I am relieved to end this chapter with no added content on what it’s like to have a hysterectomy at age 41, or working while undergoing chemotherapy. That this was merely a large dermoid cyst, resulting in me being short one ovary that was the size of a mandarin orange is a fortunate situation that is is not lost on me one bit.
It’s too early to tell if I’ll feel any better or different after removal of this Thing That Wasn’t Supposed to Be There. Nor can I say that I will never need to go down this road again. But I will admit that when I see a walnut or an orange, I can’t help but think how grateful and lucky I am, which is how you should feel after something like this.
And how I am 100% in support of celebratory Late Birthday/It’s Not Cancer Carrot Cake.
My love for the Twin Cities Marathon is no secret; this year was my ninth time lining up in downtown Minneapolis. But October 9 was not my day. All signs led to it being a struggle. It was clear early on that I’d not only give up my A goal, but my B goal as well, and eventually, I knew I just had to finish the damn thing.
Finish this. That was my mantra.
Early in August, I strained my left hip flexor during a track workout. Wait, let me rephrase: it was the track workout of my life. It was one of the best interval workouts I’ve ever thrown down, leaving me practically giddy when I got home and saw the splits on my Garmin. This was a workout to help me define marathon race pace (along with half and 10K), and the result was this: I’d been markedly improving since I started training by heart rate back in May.
But that strain. Yes. I did. Bad. I felt it as I started my final 2K interval around the track. I switched direction, hoping it would help. It didn’t. I pushed through anyway. It was more important for me to finish the workout, to see it perfectly executed on Strava. So dumb.
It took me three weeks to fully recover. I went to the sports doctor, had an x-ray, considered an MRI, and just flat out stopped running. Eventually, I got in to see a PT, but by this point, the pain was gone and I was diagnosed with a bad strain. I was easing back into running, but each step was filled with hesitation; I expected it to come back if I made the slightest misstep. It never did, but I was sore after every run. It was like my body was giving me the finger and had forgotten that I’d put in 18 weeks of consistent training.
I never eased back properly into the tail end of my training plan. During my hiatus, I missed two 20 milers (I’d put in an 18, 20, and 22 before the injury). I took a trip to Boulder, CO over my birthday weekend and couldn’t run at altitude; I could only handle walking. I don’t regret it one bit—my body needed the break—but it was another week of training lost. And then it was taper time. I’d been tapering for a month and a half, so yeah.
I’d put in enough work to get me through this race without walking. I really believe that. I’ve done more on much less.
But there were factors.
Let me introduce you to Herr Walnut, an ovarian mass I’ve been living with and having scanned and tested.
From what I can tell, we’ve been together now for almost four years, maybe longer. Last winter I started feeling off. Just not myself. After pursuing it with my doctor (after past doctors had dismissed it as nothing), we finally saw it on camera. I don’t know how much of an effect HW has had on how I’ve felt, but he’d been barking a little during the last few weeks. And let’s be honest: he’s on my mind a lot. It probably took a toll.
I wanted to run Twin Cities if I was able, and the doctor gave me the OK to run the race and have surgery afterward.
Race weekend: my seasonal allergies reared their assholey head; I had no problems all summer and fall to this point. I popped a 24-hour Claritin the night before the race, hoping that the good would outweigh any bad that might happen from taking an antihistamine the night before I planned on running 26.2 miles. In hindsight, I should have just stuffed a tissue in my nose and sucked it up. Literally.
But honestly? I felt good. I had an actual race plan, a joint effort between my incredible coach MK Fleming and me: I would run primarily by heart rate guidelines, just like I’d trained all summer long. I’d mind some pace caps if I felt surprisingly springy. The plan was conservative yet still left room for me to not only run strong but to set a PR by as much as ten minutes. I was pumped. I was owning this plan and this race.
My rest was fine. My fuel was fine. My heart rate was slightly high at the start but I stuck to my plan to keep the first two miles really slow, just like my normal warm up. My heart rate hovered high over my target by 2 bpm. I let it go. My average was in the ballpark. The first hour went by without incident, but I was already four minutes behind on my pace bracelet, a gem I made on Thursday before we left town.
I wasn’t happy to be that far off my marks, but I didn’t panic. I knew I could make it up later. After all, I was going to negative split the hell out of this race. That was my overarching goal.
But then mile 8 came, and my stomach started to feel off, a familiar feeling that has seriously derailed previous races. I told myself it would pass, took a slug of water, and it did. It passed. But then my legs decided to leave the party. They were just done. At Mile 10. The eleventh mile was one of the longest I’ve run. I choked down a pasty orange Hammer gel, hoping it would perk them up. It didn’t. By the time I saw my friends at Mile 14, I knew it was not a matter of wanting it enough, of mental fitness. My legs weren’t coming back, at least to run. I knew it was going to be one of those days I’d just have to do whatever it took to get to the finish line. The time goals were gone. There would be no negative split. This was not going to be my race.
This is my 13th marathon, and with the exception of my first marathon (which will always be special), the most memorable ones have been the ones that hurt the most. Yes, in most cases, those were not the ones with the fastest finishing times. I PRed at Twin Cities last year, but when I sat down to write this post, I had to go back and read my recap; I’d forgotten about most of the race. What do I remember? The final push from mile 25, my fastest mile of the race, to PR. And I remember it because it hurt.
After another five miles, the cheer squad reappeared. We ate a donut hole. We kept moving. I finished off a pickle juice shot (shockingly, not as bad as I thought it would be). And then more cheering at 25, and saw Coach. And did a pretty good job of not losing it, probably due to hydration.
We finished. 5:56. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t even close. Ugly doesn’t even feel like justice. But they aren’t always pretty, and they are never easy.
I know I’ll remember this race, but not because it ended up being a painful test of how much I could endure when my body wanted to give up. I’ll remember it for the friends I got to see and enjoy, who fed my family dinner on Saturday night.
Meeting my coach, MK Fleming, and having her school me at math.
Being reunited with these two and having the chance to introduce them to my family, the reasons I’m a mother runner.
I sat at dinner on Saturday night and looked around at a table full of moms, friends, runners, coaches, and mentors. It was a moment I wanted to keep with me forever. It is one of the reasons why I love this sport and why I do this.
It’s been said that the marathon is The Victory Lap—if you can get through the training, you’ve already won. It wasn’t my ideal race, and I’m okay with that. I’m just happy I get to make that lap around the stadium.
I can feel the wispy hairs on my face and I wipe them away, again. This is the drill every few steps as I run through another web. My face is at the exact height where every spider in this forest has chosen to span the trail. I try to ignore the silky threads that are tickling my face and any hitchhikers I’ve picked up along the way – little eight-legged critters who might be clinging to my black sweaty shorts or hiding in the folds of my hydration vest. Like the spiders, I’m relentless. Each footfall, each balancing arm swing, each mantra uttered under my breath: just keep moving.
And I do, until it feels like I can’t move anymore. And I’m pissed that I’m stopping. That my pace has been about two minutes slower per mile than what I thought when I generously estimated my pace for this run. That I tripped and fell on the climb up from Muggun Creek. That I did so. much. walking in the second half. That I hardly feel like a runner today, and definitely not a trail runner. Not even close.
I dig out the emergency GU I shoved in my vest, the GU that was supposed to carry me through the final miles of this planned 25K route and I hop on the two-track that I know will take me back to the road, two miles shy of what I’d planned on covering at Swedetown. It feels like quitting.
This run was lonely. I left my earbuds in the pocket of my shorts, too worried I’d be flying (ha!) along the trail and not hear a bear ambling my way or a porcupine crossing the path (don’t get me started on porcupines). I thought I’d really miss my podcasts, but the toughest part was being stuck with nothing and no one else but myself for the better part of four hours. I did not expect this, considering that most of the time I’m begging for time alone—a few minutes to read, or knit, or for god’s sake, just go to the toilet with no one else in the bathroom saying Mama, Mama, Mama over and over and over.
It turns out I have a low threshold for myself. And the “me” time I crave wasn’t really that at all; it was time spent being distracted by other things. Other stuff. Anything other than just being alone with Amy Blake.
I wonder if I have ever been truly okay with being alone. Really alone. That deep down, trail running is tough not solely for the terrain and the challenges it presents, but that it comes down to two things: the trail and me. Nothing else.