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Two Knitting Runners: David Babcock Interviews Friend and Fellow Knitting Runner, Susie Hewer

db_squareFeatured in the New York Times and around the world, David Babcock is the Guinness World Record holder for knitting the longest scarf (12 feet!) while running a marathon, which he did in Kansas City last October. Coupled with a great deal of skill and endurance, David credits his choice in using Lion Brand’s Hometown USA as a factor in his amazing accomplishment! Lion Brand is sponsoring David in the New York City Marathon on November 2nd, 2014 and lucky for us, he's agreed to write for us leading up to race day!

:: Sponsor David and support Alzheimer’s research — make a donation today! ::

susie_hewer_10082014When someone discovers a person who knits or crochets while running, they're understandably surprised by the incongruous pairing, even more surprised when they learn that it's a phenomenon not limited to one person AND even has a bit of a history!

David Babcock interviews the pioneer of yarn-on-the-run, the original knitting runner, Susie Hewer. Susie held David's record previously and currently she is the Guinness World Record holder for the longest crochet chain made while running a marathon, achieved at the 2014 London Marathon in London, UK, on April 13, 2014.

David: On your blog you share the story of wanting to do something special for the 2005 London Marathon while running for the charity Alzheimer's Research UK when a friend said that you should 'act your age and stay at home with your knitting!'. Did you take this as a challenge? What was your process in figuring out how you would use your knitting with the marathon? Had you heard of anyone else that had tried anything like it?

Susie: I most certainly did take it as a challenge! I didn't act upon it immediately but I turned the thought over and over in my mind, thinking perhaps I'd run in fancy dress as a ball of yarn or a giant knitting needle or even running it dressed entirely in knitted garments, until the idea of actually taking my knitting with me on the run popped into my head. Of course I dismissed that idea straight away as that would be plain silly now wouldn't it! But the idea festered away in the back of my mind until I decided that I would in fact take my knitting with me with the intention of running for a bit and then stopping to chat to the crowd whilst knitting.

This concept caught the attention of the media and I was featured in a few articles in the Press which was spotted by the people from Guinness World Records who contacted me to suggest that I could turn it into a record attempt. After much tooing and frooing of ideas we came up with the concept of me knitting a scarf whilst running. This of course meant that I would actually have to knit whilst running. Oh my!

David: Was there a period of trial and error in your preparations?

Susie: Yes there was David, especially in the way that I carried the yarn. There were several anxious moments when I dropped the yarn and the ball rolled along the road and I kept dropping my needles as well. I asked loads of people for advice but as no-one had tried it before they couldn't really offer any useful suggestions and so I just developed my own method. What I did realize very early on was that I wasn't going to practice knitting on my training runs and that when I'd sorted out the logistics of carrying the yarn, choosing the right needles and what to do with the knitted fabric then I would just do it on the day and hope for the best!

That probably sounds foolhardy but the thing is that the London marathon was just 1 of 7 marathons/ultra marathons I was running that year and so my first priority had to be to get my running training right. A few days before the London marathon in 2007 I put on all my running gear together with my special apron (with a big pocket at the front to hold my working yarn) and Mike, my husband, attached the yarn and I ran along the lane to see how it felt. Yikes! All that yarn bobbing around in the small of my back felt really funny but it seemed to work OK and so I felt ready to give it a go on marathon day.

David: What did you discover on your first knitting race? Were there surprises with what worked and what didn't work?

Susie: My first knitting marathon was such fun because I had no idea what to expect. There had been loads of publicity beforehand and so runners and spectators alike were watching out for the nutty middle-aged woman with her knitting and I got lots of encouragement en-route.

There was one moment at about 3 miles into the marathon when all the runners from the various start areas converge and I suddenly became aware that I was in the middle of over 30,000 other runners so inevitably there was a bit of jostling and I clung onto my knitting for fear of dropping it!

I was very glad that I'd taken a spare set of needles with me; I started off using wooden ones but it turned into a very hot day and sweaty hands do not combine well with wooden needles and yarn so I switched to using the metal ones instead. The other thing was that there were showers along the route to help cool down the runners, some people outside pubs had hosepipes and it was really hard avoiding the spray and getting the yarn wet. The next time I did it, in 2008, was even worse because it rained for about 8 miles of the race and all my yarn got soaked and became even heavier to carry.

David: For many people simply knitting in public can be nerve-wracking. Were you concerned about how people would react on the race? What are some of your favorite reactions?

susie_hewer_10082014bSusie: I agree that knitting in public can be nerve-wracking as everyone seems to have an opinion on which is the correct way to do things don't they and I did think that people would look at me and think I was doing it all wrong. However, on the day I forgot all my nerves and just had a bit of fun because that's what it was all about.

I have many lovely memories of comments from spectators and runners alike. One of my favourites from a spectator was the little boy who spotted me and shouted "look mummy, that ladies doing knitting!" From fellow runners I have had nothing but heart-warming comments because they appreciate how difficult it is just running a marathon, let alone doing knitting at the same time. I always get comments such as "knit me a jumper/scarf/hat will you please", "mind you don't drop a stitch", and "OMG that's awesome!" and I often count the number each to see which I get the most of!

David: How do you respond to people that say, 'I could never do that'?

Susie: I firmly believe that I can do anything until proved otherwise. I have a mantra which says that 'If you believe you can do something then you will. If you think you can't then you probably won't'. However, I would never encourage anyone to knit whilst running unless they are already an accomplished runner as it is potentially dangerous and I would hate to think that someone might hurt themselves. For me, running and knitting are separate activities as I knit for relaxation, I've been knitting for over 52 years, and run to stay fit.


David: What sorts of opportunities for fundraising has your knitting on the run made possible?

Susie: The running and knitting idea has done exactly what I wanted it to do - it has given me a platform to talk about the importance of research into dementia and the lack of funding in this area. It's opened up a whole new audience to the work of Alzheimer's Research UK, the charity I support, and allowed me to reach people whose lives have also been touched by this devastating disease. My mum's story has touched the hearts of many people all over the world.

Since I started raising money for Alzheimer's Research UK nearly 10 years ago I have run 36 marathons and the fact that I've run so many attracts a lot of attention even without the knitting and crochet thrown into the mix. There are so many charities needing our support that in order to stand out from the crowd you need to be creative and I think that's why my knitting and crocheting antics have attracted so much attention. Crochet in particular has been important because I use it as a way of explaining how dementia takes over the brain, for example my crocheted Christmas tree decorations.

David: Do you have words of encouragement for other knitters on how to connect their craft with fundraising?

Susie: There are so many ways you can use knitting to help with fund-raising. In the past I've knit hats/scarves/mittens and many other items for raffles or in return for sponsorship. There are lots of organizations that welcome knitted gifts either to sell or to donate to those in need. For example, blankets are always welcome in nursing homes and teeny-weeny hats are great for premature babies.

David: You have done knitting for 4 marathons and crochet for 2 more. Can you give us a timeline on which years were which activity? Are there other yarn-arts that you would consider doing or other simultaneous activities other than running?

Susie: I ran and knit the London marathon in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2013 and crocheted in 2010 and 2014. In 2009 I knit whilst riding on the back of a tandem (people think that the person on the back, known as the 'stoker', doesn't do any work but believe me they do!). I have many other crafting hobbies so you never know what will pop up in the future.

Learn more about the amazing Susie Hewer through her blog, Extreme Knitting Redhead.

Photo: Susie at the 2014 London Marathon. Susie likes Lion Brand Hometown USA for its great variety of bright colors. We are honored to be a part of her success!

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babcock_knitrun_sept10Sponsored by Lion Brand, David is running the 2014 New York City Marathon on November 2nd to raise money for the NYC Athletes To End Alzheimer’s teamPLEASE DONATE TODAY!

Last week David asked for your Alzheimer's stories in exchange for the chance to win one of his training scarves and boy did you deliver! Over 100 stories to date and more coming in every day - THANK YOU! We're accepting stories until October 29th, so there's still time to share yours.

Since its creation in 2009, the Alzheimer’s Association’s NYC Marathon teams have raised well over $2 million. The Chapter offers free support and education to the more than half a million New York City residents who either have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia or are caring for someone who does.

:: Sponsor David and support Alzheimer’s research — make a donation today! ::

Photo: David with a recently-made scarf, finger-knit with Hometown USA while running 10 miles in 80 minutes on September 10th!

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