Little running, much much wool

No running this week due to being floored by a chesty coughy cold thing that on Monday saw me go home early from work and fall into a deep, deep sleep. In the absence of any kind of athletic effort, I’m going to sneak in one of my woolly posts (well it has been Wool Week this week).

One of my birthday presents from Ginge was a day course learning how to dye yarn at Purl City Yarns in Manchester (a gorgeous place that could bankrupt me within ten minutes of crossing the threshold) and on Saturday, the time came for me to venture off to the big city. My bag packed with essentials (cash, phone, Shuffle, travelling sock knitting – it’s travelled miles, I’ve knitted mere centimetres), I caught the train and landed with enough time to have a quick (and restrained) explore of Fred Aldous and a brew at the Manchester Craft and Design Centre. At eleven I presented myself at Purl City with a nervous enquiry of “Dying?” and the eight of us trooped off upstairs to start the day.

The raw materials

The course was taught by Debbie Tomkies of DT Craft and Design and covered the basics of dying yarn with Procion dyes. Debbie is incredibly knowledgable and brought a gorgeous array of samples and patterns for our inspiration. The morning was spent getting to grips with the effects of changing the concentration of dye and mixing the ratios of different colours in order to make a sample card.

Some people managed to keep their cards spotless. Not me.

Over lunch, we compared knitting habits (in both senses of the words; there was certainly a degree of enabling going on when we got back to the shop – “it’s only one ball, it won’t hurt….”), learnt about fascinating techniques and skills that were unknown to some of us (knitting socks on two circular needles, knitting from sock blanks, magic loop, spinning) and developed a slight sense of inferiority about our (my) knitting (the project lists went something like, socks, socks, lace, cloth nappy covers, baby clothes, um random things for people). It was lovely to meet other knitters, share the enthusiasm and learn stuff.

In the afternoon it was time to get our hands on our own projects and have a play with different techniques; mixing colours, dipping, painting or randomly squirting. The first two attempts were on 50g skeins of 4ply pure wool and then onto a final project with a yarn of our choosing (I went for a 4 ply alpaca/acrylic blend – I’m drawn to lighter weight yarns despite not really knowing what to do with them).

My first attempt took the random approach of twirling my yarn and then squirting dye across it willynilly. I found myself using the same autumnal/earthy colours that I always use on these courses and eventually produced something that looked as if I could flog it to the Army to use as camouflage.

Drying off - mine is on the left

I was a little more brave on my second skein, sponging wide bright  and paler pink stripes and interspersing these with thinner stripes of purple.

For the final project, I decided to do a gradiated colour change from pink to orange. I blended the colours to start with (90% scarlet/10% orange; 50% scarlet/50% orange; 10% scarlet/90% orange), but with hindsight it might have been more striking to use 100% of the colours at each end.

In to soak

After the yarn is dyed, it goes in the microwave to fix the colour, then is cooled, rinsed and dried.

The group's hard work - there were some absolutely gorgeous results

One of the lovely things about taking a course like this is that even if you’re disappointed with your end results, other people can always see something special about the work that  you’ve done and it makes you look at it with fresh eyes. At the end of the day, I invested in one or two items from the shop and returned home with three bags of slightly damp yarn, which were then hung up over the bath. They now look like this – I’m really pleased with them (if nothing else, it proves that wool always looks nicer in a skein) but have no idea what to knit them up into.

The end results!

What do do with it all? Apart from just stroke it.

Incidentally, I’m not worried about the lack of serious projects in my knitting box – in part because of words of wisdom from my mum who said “remain true to what you know and love”, which I reckon is good advice for more than just wool.


Blackpool Illuminations 10k – a rare race report

Whenever I meet up with other runners and we talk about racing, I just shuffle my feet and look apologetic. I don’t really race. I’ve done one race (the Liverpool Women’s 10k last year) in three years of regular running. I love the idea of racing, but then I overthink things and somehow, eventually, I don’t bother to enter.

When my training plan said to do a 10k a few weeks before the half, I thought that this was the perfect time to face my fears. I consulted the race calendars and found the Blackpool Illuminations 10k on September 3rd and the Salford 10k on September 4th. I ummed and ahhhed about which to do; the Salford 10k people were very enthusiastic on Twitter, but Blackpool seemed more appropriate training for Folkestone (by being by the seaside rather than having a bloody great hill like what’s at the end of Folkestone…). My decision was made by receiving an invitation to a surprise social, ahem, “hydration session” for a friend’s 50th on the Saturday night – experience has taught me that this will rule out anything energetic until at least Sunday afternoon.

Looking down on the somewhat damp start

I have plenty of pre and post run habits and rituals, but race day is a mystery to me. We arrived in plenty of time, collected my number from race HQ and took advantage of the nice toilet facilities provided by the Hilton. It appears that a large part of my pre-race routine involves an argument between my brain and my bladder; my bladder says “you need a wee”, my brain says “you’ve just had one” and my bladder counters with “yes, but maybe you need another one. What if you get desperate halfway round…”. Other, more experienced runners did their stretches, bounces, warm up jogs and that funny side to side running thing that probably has a name. I paced back and forth along the front with Ginge staring at all of the other, more experienced runners.

Over, more experienced runners doing their thing

Time passed very quickly and soon we were lining up at the start. I shuffled towards the back of the pack and tried not to be intimidated by the men in tiny shorts, ladies in full make up and general gazelle-like manner of my co-runners. The gun sounded to a collective (and worryingly surprised sounding)  “oooooh” and off we went. My plan (if you can call it that) was to pace myself with Miles, but in a casual way so that I could feel comfy, enjoy the experience and not do myself any damage. That and not finish last.

Where's Wally?

The route took us out along the front towards Bispham through the illuminations (surprisingly, given the name of the race), past the hotel where we stay for our annual rugby do (very pleased to spot that we have Daleks and TARDISes outside it this year) and in between some of the tableaux (my favourite was a horror one which appeared to show Dracula holding Frankenstein’s monster in a headlock). As I was between miles two and three, the race leaders could be seen on the return half of the loop along the prom – even though it was clear that they were going twice as fast as me, I marvelled at how effortless they looked. Cheery marshalls and blasting wind welcomed us as we looped down onto the sea front. Water at mile three reminded me I need to work on my drinking technique (currently it goes gulp, swallow, gulp, choke, dribble).

I had spent the first half slowly but surely overtaking people with varying degrees of satisfaction (after a couple of miles, my race plan hadturned into “I don’t care what happens as long as I finish ahead of the man wearing the Hi-Tec Silver Shadows”). By the second half, my powers of overtaking had waned and I settled into a routine with a fluorescent-clad chap next to me. He walked, I bumbled past him, when I was a few feet past him he would run until he was a few feet past me and then walk again. Over and over again. Just after mile 5 he demonstrated impressive self-awareness, remarking “I must be really annoying…”. Yes, yes you are. He then proceeded to walk up the slope back onto the prom before speeding off, managing to complete the race without walking and finishing 13 seconds in front of me. Not that I’m bitter.

The Leaning Tower of Blackpool

The section before looping back onto the prom gave runners a late bit of support for the final stretch and it was lovely to see Ginge lurking on the front before he scooted back up to meet me at the finish. I grinned and sped up as I approached him, before wheezing and slowing down as soon as I was out of sight…. The finish line in sight, I managed to find a bit extra in my legs and managed one final bit of overtaking. I thought that I was smiling as I finished, but the official photos appear to show a grimly determined speedwalker.

Considering that my training has been erratic at best and I’ve not really been doing any kind of speedwork for weeks, I was extremely chuffed with my time of 1:00:47 – a PB compared to my first race (where my chip time was 1:06:07) a year and a bit ago. As my giddiness wore off, the “what ifs” began and a hint of dissatisfaction started to creep into my mind – I suspect that this is one of the reasons that I don’t race. I know that it’s good to push yourself and try to improve  your time, but I need to learn to batter this down for at least half an hour after the race so that I can enjoy my success. I also need to practise not looking so daft on photos.