Friday, April 27, 2012

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I realized recently why I might be so taken with spinning—instant gratification. I can usually bust out a 4 oz skein of yarn in just a few days, even less when I decide to chuck my workout plan to sit at the wheel.  But that happy productive spinning went to hell recently when I decided to spin 8 ounces of 2-ply laceweight.  At the time, I thought the decision was nothing short of brilliant.  I had 8 ounces of fiber I bought without a plan, and it dawned on me that if I spun laceweight, I could probably get 900-1000 yards of yarn, enough for a lightweight sweater. Perfect!  The handspun yarn would have purpose (I love when things have purpose), and a laceweight sweater actually has potential to be worn (sadly, not one of my winter sweaters made it out of the closet during the freakishly warm winter this year).  I may have done a little happy dance when I devised this plan and pulled out the fiber.

 The fiber is Sanguine Gryphon Bugga (a 70/20/10 merino, cashmere, nylon blend) that I bought back in December as the shop was winding down operations, and this was my first fiber I purchased as a reward to myself for keeping up with my marathon training schedule (translation:  impulse purchase I justified as a marathon training reward).  My love affair with SG Bugga yarn is pretty well documented on this blog.  How could I possibly be expected to resist Bugga fiber?  Clearly if I love the yarn so much, the fiber was going to be just heavenly, right?  Um, well, not quite—at least not right out of the bag.  It was very dense, almost felt clumpy, and not easy to draft.  Nothing at all like the fluffy fiber that I’ve gotten rather accustomed to, but I've never used this blend before so my expectations were probably out of whack.  No way was I going to be able to consistently spin super-thin singles for laceweight yarn with the fiber in its current state.  The first step was to fluff out the fiber.  I would pull off a hunk of the fiber, separate it into 3 or 4 strips lengthwise, fluff out the strip widthwise loosening up the fibers, and finally I did a bit of predrafting to make sure it would draft smoothly.  It took a bit of work, but I basically turned thick dense fiber into clouds.  Seriously, once fluffed (I feel like there should be a more technical term), the fiber felt like clouds.  Or at least what clouds feel like in my imagination.

Pink and peach clouds, but still, clouds.

I had a grand time spinning at first.  Spinning so thinly was a new challenge, and I was enthralled.  That lasted for maybe 1-2 ounces of fiber.  Then it started to dawn on me that this was taking a really long time.  I could sit at the wheel for hours and barely seemed to be making any progress.  It took more than 3 weeks of pretty consistent spinning to get through the first 4 ounces.   

I took a week or so off when this was done but come April 1st, I started in on the next 4 ounces.  I’ve had less spinning time this month, and so here I am at the end of April, about 2 months after I started on this fiber, still slogging through spinning the singles.  I don’t care if I’m spinning clouds, I want it over.  My impatience has kicked in, and I'm ready to move on to other spins.  Last night I finally started to see a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel when I grabbed the last chunk of fiber.  Granted, that last chunk still may take several hours, but at least an end is in sight.

And, yes, I am choosing to ignore the fact that once the singles are finished, I won't be done until I ply 1000 yards of yarn. Next Sunday at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, I’m taking a spinning class with Maggie Casey on plying.  Think there’s any chance there's a trick that allows a spinner to ply 1000 yards in 30 minutes? 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I am so behind.  So very very behind on this blog.  While normally I would not feel the need to recap something I did 3 weeks ago, this one is too big to skip.

 After 26 miles, the sweetest sight in the world:


On March 18, after 4 hours, 19 minutes, and 53 seconds, I dragged my aching body across the finish line and officially finished my first marathon. Around mile 21, I reached the ridiculously obvious conclusion that running a marathon ain't easy.  Yup, I truly learn everything the hard way.  Shamrock took every ounce of mental and physical strength I could muster.  Here's how it went down.

First of all everyone says not to set a time goal for your first marathon, which is excellent advice that I completely ignored.  I tried to not set a time goal.  I really really tried.  But seriously, I set knitting goals for myself so I think it's safe to say I'm a goal-oriented person.  No goal?  No way.  And while I told people I was aiming to come in between 4 hours and 4:15, what I really meant was: I'm going to try to go sub-4 for my first marathon.  The crazy bells in my head should have gone off when I devised this little plan, but based on my most recent half-marathon time, the omniscient McMillian calculator told me I should be able to run a 4 hour marathon, so I prefer to think of the sub-4 goal as optimistic rather than delusional.

Race Day
At 6am, Mike headed out to the half marathon, which started 90 minutes before the full, and I now had 2  hours before I would head out to my race.  I very methodically ate and stretched and got dressed.  I pinned my bib on 3 different ways and jogged around the hotel room to see which way was the least annoying.  Yeah, clearly 2 hours is way too much time.  When 8am finally rolled around I packed up my waist belt, put on my new kick-ass arm warmers, and headed downstairs to the start line.  Less than 15 minutes later the crowd was off and I was starting my watch.

The first 10 miles went pretty much according to plan.  I kept a steady pace between 9-9:15 min/mile.  There's not much to say about this part of the race--I ran, I looked around at people, I thanked volunteers, I cursed cow bells occasionally.   For the first couple of miles I ran near a woman whose shirt read:  3 marathons, 3 days.  Some runner behind me asked her about it, and sure enough she had run a marathon on Friday (I didn't hear which one), the National Marathon in DC the day before, and Shamrock was her third in as many days.  I seriously didn't know whether to bow down in amazement or cuff her upside the head for being just that crazy, but of course I did neither and kept running.

Around mile 9 or 10, I got my first inkling that maybe this whole running a marathon thing wasn't going to be a walk in the park.  The course turned onto the hard concrete boardwalk and into headwinds.  My knee began aching, and I started to feel a little tired.  Tired?  Already?!  Not a good sign.  Yet did I adjust my pace?  Nah...I had that goal time in mind and all.

I knew Mike and some friends would be looking out for me around mile 12, where we turned back onto the road and started up toward the half-marathon course, so that's where I set my focus.  When I passed them, I got a huge boost from the super loud cheers of my friends and perked up a bit. I felt like a million bucks again!  Soon enough I crossed the 13.1 timing mat right on track for that 4 hour finish.

Then my race started to go downhill. 

We were now running into some headwinds, but I stayed focused and was determined to push hard through the next 3 miles since I knew the course turned around mile 16 and the conditions should be better.  I gritted my teeth and kept going.  Even though my pace dropped to about 9:30 in this stretch, I was passing people like crazy--in retrospect that really should have been a clue that maybe I was working too hard, but I knew that I'd be fine once I got out of that wind.  I was so wrong.  So very wrong.

We finally turned out of the wind but my quads were throbbing by this point.  During training I had various ailments--calves, achilles, hip flexors, and knees all acted up at some point, but quads?  Never.  I ran 18 and 20 mile training runs over hilly terrain and never had any lasting quad pain.  Here I thought I was going to be in great shape with all my hilly runs, but nope, it was on the pancake flat Shamrock course that my quads decided they had had enough of this whole marathon thing. Somewhere during mile 17, I took my first walking break, and by mile 18, I abandoned my race strategy, gave myself permission to forget about that ambitious 4 hour goal, and set my mind to just finishing the damn marathon.  I can't begin to explain the last 8 miles.  I was tired and they were hard.  I know, I know, that's pretty much the least profound thing you can say about a marathon but that's all I've got.

I trudged on smiling at cheering crowds and photographers hoping to disguise my overwhelming desire to collapse. My pace continued to plummet as walking breaks became more frequent, and I tried to not let my heart sink when the 4:15 pace group passed me.  Just. Keep. Moving. Forward.  And then finally--FINALLY--I turned back onto the boardwalk and saw the beautiful "FINISH".  Of course about 2 seconds after I saw it, I realized it was still about a quarter mile away, which at that point seemed like a very long way.  I've never finished a race without picking up my pace and sprinting to the finish.  After 26 miles, there was no sprinting, barely an increase in speed at all, but I put aside my aching legs and blistered feet and finished with a huge smile waving to Mike and my friends, who let out another awesomely loud cheer.


 I would really like to say that's what I thought when I crossed the finish, but truthfully, it was more like, "Thank freakin' God this is over".  As I was staggering forward I MOM?!  My parents had driven up from Atlanta to see me cross the finish line.  It was both a huge surprise and not surprising at all, but either way, it was awesome.  I gave my Mom a quick hug and then continued through the finish chute, collecting my medal, a sweatshirt and hat (Shamrock did not skimp on the swag), and a huge shamrock-shaped cookie with green sugar that was the most delicious thing ever (gluten-free, sugar-free diet? Whatever, I had just finished 26.2 miles, so I was eating that sugar cookie!)

When I reached the end and found Mike and my friends, I asked where I could find my Dad, thinking my parents had surely told Mike they were coming.  That got me some strange looks and my friends exchanged concerned glances that clearly said "get her to medical, she's hallucinating".  I eventually did convince Mike that my parents really were there and I had actually spoken to my mother.  Before I went on the parental hunt, it was suggested that I wade into the freezing cold ocean as sort of a post-race ice bath.  Now several of the people I was there with are uber-experienced triathletes so I was going to follow their advice.  I slipped out of my running shoes and peeled off my socks, got my first look at my poor blistered feet (I will spare you the details), and headed out into the frigid water.

My verdict on the post-race dip in the cold ocean?  Good in theory and except for the numb toes, the water did feel nice.  But having to brace yourself against crashing waves when you've just run 26 miles?  Ouch.  With my "recovery" bath over, I wanted to finally find my parents.  I was too tired to think through looking for them (and my blistered feet weren't so easy to walk on), so Mike tracked them down and I was finally allowed to sit on the beach.

Love you guys!

All those patches on my Dad's jacket?  Most are from his many many marathon finishes. I've got a long way to go to catch him.

So there you go--Heather's first marathon in a nutshell.  My only regret is that I couldn't let myself go into the race without a time goal or at least a more forgiving goal.  Having such an ambitious goal meant I probably pushed a little too hard in the first half of the race and then crossed the finish feeling like I didn't do a good job.  Now that I've had some time to think about it, I'm super proud of myself and my 4:19, but I wish I had crossed the finish line with that feeling instead of realizing it days later.  Even with the slight disappointment, my marathon was amazing and I can't wait to do it all over again. My Dad told me that at the end of every marathon he ran, he always said "never again".  All I could think during those last 8 miles was that I knew I had a better race in me.  Apparently, I'm not a one and done kind of girl.  My feet are still healing, but I'm already bouncing around ideas about a second marathon in the fall.

But until then, yarn, fiber, and all things knitting. Promise. Well except for that whole half-Ironman thing in June...