Thursday, June 29, 2017

I can’t run metric miles

#ThrowbackThursday: After recently returning from vacation in Norway, where conversions of currency and metric distances were a daily exercise, I was reminded of the following column I wrote in December 1996. It was  published in “Keeping Contact,” then the newsletter for members of the Delco Road Runners Club.
On a recent Saturday, I was sitting down to breakfast with my running buddies after finishing an easy four-and-a-half-mile jog. The topic of discussion was the Philadelphia marathon and its companion race, an 8K. The question was asked: “Hey Amy, why don’t you run the 8K tomorrow?”

“No way,” I said. “That’s too far for me. I can’t run 8 kilometers.” Or could I? I was stumped. What’s 8 times .62? Who’s got a calculator? After doing some mental figuring—I can run a 5K, which is 3.1 miles; a 10K is 6.2 miles, so an 8K, it’s somewhere in between—I finally decided to bag the race. I could do the miles, but not the math.

Later, I did my homework and found an 8K equals 4.96 miles; a distance I can handle. But the thought of running in metric was another story. One that didn’t really interest me. Would I have to run on the other side of the road? Would I start running with an accent?

It was beginning to get complicated. I run to relax, not to practice metric conversions. I’m more of a words person; I just tolerate numbers.

In the lexicon of our language, miles rule! The beach resort of Avalon, New Jersey, advertises itself as “Cooler by a mile.” If you know a little bit about a lot of things, you’re said to be “A mile wide and an inch deep.” If you want to really get to know someone, you’ve got to “Walk a mile in their shoes.” If you do much more than is expected, you “Go the extra mile.”

It just wouldn’t be the same in kilometers. There’s no frame of reference. Is winning by a kilometer better than winning by a mile? Do condemned prisoners gain or lose time by walking the last kilometer? Nobody knows. At least not without thinking it through.

The very question causes people to scratch their heads and wonder why metric measures never caught on in the United States anyway.

In running circles, the only rationale I can think of for using kilometers in races is so entrants can set more personal records. They can have both a 5-mile PR and an 8K PR. Never mind that they’re virtually the same distance. There are sticklers who will argue that the .04-mile difference really matters!

For the rational runners among us—and that may be an oxymoron—why don’t we join together and start a movement to “deep-six” kilometers and go back to miles.

Who are we trying to impress anyway? A marathon will always be 26 miles and 385 yards. What’s THAT in kilometers? Quick. Who’s got a calculator?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Knit one, purl one, breathe…repeat

My grandmother was a champion knitter. Two of her handmade sweaters still sit in my closet, 38 years after her passing. One is a pullover she made for my late father when he was a teenager. The other, with a repeating diamond pattern of sequins, she made for me.

Wherever she went, she brought in-the-works projects. Sweater sleeves. Yarn balls. All sizes of knitting needles.

I would watch her click-clacking away, passing the hours, the days. She would wrap skeins of yarn around my outstretched hands, so she could untwist and wind them into more usable balls. She even let me knit a few stitches of her projects, under her close supervision. Back then, it was a passing interest for me. I don’t remember ever knitting anything myself.

Now I often find myself thinking of knitting. Maybe it’s because I am dog-tired of spending so much time in front of screens (computer, iPhone, Kindle, TV). Maybe it’s because I find knitting almost as calming as meditation.

On my last visit to my mother’s apartment, I tapped her stash of knitting needles and yarn. At first, she kept pressing me about what I wanted to knit. This would determine the size of knitting needle and the particular yarn. She didn’t quite get that I wasn’t looking to knit anything specific—I just wanted to knit. To practice the activity, not achieve an outcome.

I then tapped the great educator that is the internet, searching for knitting lessons. I quickly discovered there are two styles of knitting: English-style and Continental-style, which is what my grandmother taught me. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind came memories of how she cast on stitches, held the yarn, fixed a dropped stitch, and worked her knit and purl stitches.

The last thing I tapped were those memories, as I picked up a set of knitting needles and began. The process was soothing and peaceful. I could feel when I was doing something right and see when I made mistakes—which were many. It didn’t matter because the only point was to knit.

I would get to a certain point, then rip out all the stitches and start over. The ripping out was just as relaxing as the knitting, because all it took was one pull to make everything unravel.

It feels very Zen to knit, even—or especially—without knitting some thing. To knit is to be present, to stay in the moment, to let go of distraction. It’s a kind of woolly meditation, one with its own texture, sound, and rhythm.

Just knit one, purl one, breathe…repeat.