The Pains of Marathon Swimming

“It is going to hurt. It is going to burn. It is going to be hard. If it isn’t hard, you aren’t trying hard enough.” — Mike Thornton, my friend Steve Walker’s 8th grade math teacher and LMYA swim coach.

Four hours into my Catalina Channel swim, my right shoulder started feeling a little sore. The pain increased over the next 4 hours until it became a serious problem. I knew that the best thing to do when a body part is hurting during a marathon swim is to switch to another stroke. I snuggled up close to Neil’s Hobie so I could sight off of it and switched to backstroke during the 8th hour. Backstroke was my preferred stroke in high school. After three hours of backstroke, my crew chief Peter jumped in and convinced me to switch back to crawl “for awhile.” I’d end up swimming crawl for the rest of my swim (6.5 more hours). My shoulders were so flared up by the end of my swim that I needed help to take my swimsuit off. I needed help changing clothes for the next couple of days as I couldn’t rotate my right shoulder to lift my arm. My best friend Susie had Diclofenac that I took for the next few days. My shoulder felt like it was on fire so I iced it as much as possible.

Backstroking across the Catalina Channel

My sinuses also got severely inflammed around my 13th hour and I was begging for more ibuprofen. My crew said that they’d already maxed out the 8 that they could give me within a 24 hour period. I really didn’t care what happened to my liver tomorrow as I was in so much pain today. (Note: I later learned from Gracie van der Byl that she has antihistamines in her swim pack for moments like this).

I still do not know how I was able to swim with that much pain for so many hours.

Neil van der Byl watching over me on kayak while crew Howard Burns and Cathy Harrington swap out buddy swimming with me (legal in 2015).

I was having dinner with my friend Romy and her husband one evening several days later. Romy is a fellow swimmer and a physical therapist. She had me lie down and was able to fit her entire hand under my shoulder blade. She said “I’m not supposed to be able to do this.” She taped up my shoulder and gave me some physical therapy exercises to do to help stretch my right shoulder back into position. I did the exercises for several days and as most people do when they don’t have a medical professional watching them like a hawk, I stopped doing them when my shoulder started feeling okay.

My friend Romy taped my shoulder to help support the impingement.

I finally saw my sports physician, Dr. Van Pelt, at the Center for Sports Medicine at St. Francis Hospital about my shoulder last Wednesday (better late than never?). I could still feel that it was pitched forward and tight over a year after my Catalina swim. There are certain upper body exercises that I do that cause discomfort and wanted his input. Dr. Van Pelt said that I have “shoulder impingement syndrome” and luckily there is no rotator cuff tear. His best guess given the situation is that the coracoacromial ligament thickened which narrowed the subacromial space in my shoulder, which impinges the supraspinatus tendon right there. Of course the first thing I asked him was how long would it take to snap my shoulder back into place and he said 3 to 6 months (ugh). He gave me a couple of exercises to do to help stretch it back out again and told me what to avoid (bench presses, butterfly stroke which I can’t do anyway, and anything else that involves pressing away/down with your arms out). He told me to do his recommended exercises as often as I can. One involves leaning into a corner and he said I can stop doing them when I can touch that corner with my nose. I have my work cut out for me!

I plan on putting traditional Pilates back into my exercise routine regularly since one of its focuses is strengthening posture and opening up the chest and shoulders. Pilates also works on strengthening the core muscles which will help with both my swimming and cycling.

Recently I started reading my friend Steve’s book Where the Crazy People Swim. Why do a sport that is so demanding of the body with the additional factors of sharks, boats, currents, hypothermia, hyperthermia, salinity, wind, jellyfish, etc.? Can’t we do something safer like rugby? Artists suffer for their art and marathon swimmers suffer for the love of being in the water. If any of us die during it, at least we died doing what made us happy (as painful as it may look or be). It’s a calling though which is also why one may gravitate towards one path and not others. I have no interest in doing the English Channel. There are others that call me though that I want to try which are of the same caliber or harder (longer and/or colder) than EC. I don’t know how my shoulders or the rest of my body will hold up and I won’t know unless I try. I learn something from each swim though and take it into the training and attempt of the next swim. I’d rather be doing physical therapy exercises as a result of a marathon swim than 100% healthy for not even trying. It’s just not staying true to my spirit.

I understand now what exactly I did to my shoulder on 15 August 2015 and how long of a recovery is really involved. I’m not going to stop marathon swimming and need to take care of my body more. I could have done more damage to my shoulder if I had decided to just jump into doing another marathon swim this year. I’m lucky that I didn’t damage my rotator cuff. I know that I need to focus on the health and strength of my shoulders during my training. I can use the next several months to finally fully recovery from my Catalina swim, just in time to start training for the next one.πŸ™‚

Neil van der Byl watching over me and my buddy swimmer Cathy Harrington.

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I was lying on my side with my feet in the TRX strap cradles when Kevin, the instructor, told us to get into a side plank. I just laid there as I felt my lower half paralyzed for the first time in 4 years. I couldn’t remember how to lift my hips into the air. I struggled slowly like a seal to get into a side plank position. I realized that I still had a long way to go as my hip muscles are still weak 4 years later.

Five have passed since my life was changed forever. Four years since I was in a wheelchair for hopefully the last time for the rest of my life. A lot has changed since then and there have been some real highs and some real lows. There is one real important outcome though.

Every day I get a little bit stronger.

I’d been battling with getting my health back on track by my standards all year. I struggled with losing the pre-Catalina and post-Catalina weight last Fall/Winter. Nothing was really working too well for me and it was downright depressing. In December I met someone who radically changed my outlook on my health.

Her name is Ryen.

Ryen and me riding in Riverside, California

Ryen is a fellow cyclist who I knew of through mutual friends but hadn’t met her in person. I met her late last year on a bike ride. She was really cool and we chatted a lot. She exercises WAY more than me. I could never figure out why she posted on Facebook about multiple surgeries as she seemed perfectly healthy to me. I also noticed that she used a handcycle sometimes and wasn’t sure what that was about. I mentioned Ryen to our mutual friend Erika one day over lunch and Erika went off about how awesome Ryen was. I asked about the surgery posts and handcycle and Erika gave a simple explanation.

Ryen has Cerebal Palsy.

Holy f***. I had no idea. You couldn’t tell by looking at her or how she behaved. She is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met and she works every day to get closer to her goal of qualifying for the paralympics in triathalon. She’s also vegan.

Ryen told me that she was lucky that her parents never conditioned her to be defined by CP. They treated her as a normal girl. She does not carry an ounce of negativity of what many may see as a weakness or resent. I think she looked at it as more of an additional challenge to overcome. She does some combination of swimming, cycling, handcycle, and strength training every day with a smile on her face the entire time.

Her dedication to her goal has caused me to being smarter about how I use my time working out. I started switching up my routine to not be exercising as frequently and balancing cardio and strength training. I started working out with weights at the gym again and incorporating TRX classes after work into my schedule along with swimming, cycling, and spinning when I can. I spent most of my lunch breaks at the gym 1.5 blocks from my work just to get some stationary bike cardio in to keep my legs moving.

Ryen’s veganism hasn’t influenced me to become vegan just like her triathalon goals haven’t convinced me to ever start running (exceptions for being chased and hearing “Last Boarding Call” for my flight). I read the Whole 30 book recently and while I never did the 30 days “reboot”, I did start thinking about what I eat differently again. I have been eating a lot less dairy. I switched my usual breakfast from plain Greek yogurt to being rolled oats, unsweetened coconut milk, cinnamon, and whatever fruit I have around. I find it more satisfying and with the fruit changes, there is some variety. I don’t really keep cheese at home and if given a choice, I go with a vegan cheese option. I also figured out that I can’t eat sweets after mid-afternoon because I’ll wake up bloated the next morning. I’ve started paying attention to how certain foods make me feel and how well I digest them. I can make changes to my diet based on the feedback my body gives me. All I needed to do was start listening to it.

I was never a “I NEED MEAT!” person and have switched back to smaller amounts of animal protein in general. I’ve been eating more seafood and chicken if I do eat meat. I can’t remember the last time I ate bacon. I haven’t gotten any cravings for any kind of meat actually in months. I do still eat it though.

I don’t have any snacks, even healthy ones, at work as it was too tempting before to eat when I really wasn’t hungry because of the “it’s healthy though!” excuse.

Did I give up cookies? No. I eat truly healthy ones though that are 4 ingredients only: rolled oats, bananas, sunflower butter, dark chocolate chips (although the ones I made this morning have raisins instead of chocolate). I find that eating a few of these half-dollar sized cookies leave me feeling satisfied for a cookie craving. I made some of my oatmeal-raisin-dark chocolate chip cookies for the first time in months a few weeks ago for a kayaking clinic that I was running and they tasted weird to me. I hadn’t made them in so long that I wasn’t even sure if I had the flour or two kinds of sugar or any of the other ingredients at home. I definitely prefer the 4-ingredient vegan ones though!

The combination has had an outstanding and surprising effect that I lost 10 pounds in the last few months without counting calories or jumping on a scale on a regular basis. I didn’t give up alcohol either. I made a lifestyle change that had a greater effect than exercising for hours on end or severely restricting my diet. I have gone back to wearing my belt that I gave up wearing last year as I didn’t like how I’d gone up a notch. Now I’m back to my “regular” notch and feel a lot better about myself. I recognize myself more now in the mirror. I’m slowly becoming the person that I recognize.

Last weekend I had an even bigger surprise last weekend when I went on two bike rides. The first up was with my friends Linda and Jaime (and a bunch of Linda’s other friends). Linda knew that this was my only weekend before Levi’s Gran Fondo that I was available to ride so we went up to the Oakland Hills for some climbing. I hadn’t been there in months and had little trouble on any of them. Afterwards Linda asked me if that was enough climbing for me. My legs weren’t sore at all. We had done just under 1000 feet / 10 miles which is actually a pretty decent amount of climbing.

Death Ride Course Map.

The week before she had told me that there are a lot of people who ask about doing the Death Ride and that I was the only one that she’d really recommend doing it next year. I thought she was kidding at the time as I didn’t think I could handle that much climbing. After this past weekend though, I think I may be up for the challenge. 129 miles and 15,000′ of climbing over 5 Passes. 08 July 2017. Holy crap.

The next day I was out riding in the North Bay with my friend Len in the North Bay. He proposed Alpine Dam which has been on my bucket list for several months. I had heard from others that it was a beast of a climb and when we got to the dam, I asked him where was this big climb that I’d been hearing about and he said that we just did it. Oh. Oops. We continued on to the top of the ridge and Patollah Road (aka the road that leads to the top of Mount Tam) and started making our way back down. I saw on Strava later that we’d done some 31 miles and 3200′ of climbing. My legs still weren’t sore and like the Oakland Hills ride, I could have easily kept going.

I also hit a new PR for my fastest ascent of Camino Alto.

New PR for Camino Alto at the end of a lot of climbing.

So even though I couldn’t make it on the bike every day and go on long rides, I was now riding faster and having an easy time on the climbs than when I was doing 1 – 2 long rides a week with my beloved Turkey Tuesday rides. Wow.

I’d lost 10 pounds and become a stronger and faster rider by making little changes. Most importantly is that I’m feeling better about myself. I feel healthier and getting confidence in my physical abilities back. Sold.

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Today is Sandi’s Birthday

Today is Sandi’s birthday. She would have been 42 today. I woke up at 12:07 AM and my first thought after the usual “What time is it?” was the fact that it was her birthday today. We’d been friends since out college days in the late 1990s after meeting in the online fan community for the Wallflowers, one of our favorite bands at the time.

I can’t think of her anymore without thinking of Thanksgiving 2016 when I found out the news from her sister that Sandi had died, leaving behind two small children who she had wanted her entire life. I knew that she’d been having a very difficult time as the man she was deeply in love with had broken up with her a few weeks earlier. I hadn’t talked to her since the previous Wednesday and had emailed her that Friday, but she hadn’t responded. I remember sitting at the airport in San Francisco on my way to Peru and wanting to check in with how she was doing, but stopped myself since it was late in North Carolina, where she lived. I never would have guessed that Sandi would be dead less than 48 hours later.

I regret that when I saw her in 2011, she had offered to let me stay the night with her, her then-husband, and the kids. If I had known that was the last time I’d ever see her, I’d have stayed. She was also in SoCal about a year ago and asked me about possibly meeting up with her there. It was a last minute trip for her and I look at flight prices, but at $400+ for a day, I thought it was too expensive at the time and we agreed that we’d meet up the next time she was on the West Coast.

That day will never happen.

I’d gladly pay that $400 now just to see her for an hour.

Sandi with her children, Andy and Annie, in August 2015.

I’ve thought of her every day since Jenni told me that Sandi was dead. Angry for what she did to her own children who needed her more than anything in the world and able to forgive as I know she was not in the right frame of mind during the last moments of her life. She wasn’t the Sandi that I’d gotten to know and love for the last 17 or so years. I’ve had some pretty low moments in the last 7 months and Sandi has helped me through that as I know it’s not worth it to go through the path she ultimately chose.

It’s not completely unfamiliar either. My grandmother was a severe schizophrenic and took her own life on 23 February 1993. I’ve thought of that day too every day for the last 23+ years. It’s been worse when I’ve heard my mother lie to people on how my grandma died. She sees it at shameful whereas I’ll fully admit it because it’s a scar that I don’t want to hide from the world. Like the 6 inch scars that run across my hip joints, the emotional scars show what I’ve survived. Life hasn’t always been easy for me and I’d be a lot weaker if it had been.

My grandma and me in November 1977.

I grew up thinking that my grandma was just my grandma. I loved her. I was always excited to see her and spend time with her and treasured the couple of weeks a year that I’d get with her since she lived back in Peru, where my mom is from. I couldn’t understand why she killed herself. I didn’t know that she was severe schizophrenic until after she died and my cousins told me some weird stuff she’d say or do. I happened to be reading a book about mental illnesses and saw her symptoms under the “severe schizophrenic” description. It turned out too that my relatives knew about my grandma, but it was kept from the grandchildren. I’m thankful for that in a way because I saw her nothing more than just my grandma. I only regret that it may have softened the blow when my uncle called my mom to tell him that their mother was gone.

During my time at Panda Restaurant Group’s headquarters in SoCal, I grew a lot as a person. I learned the importance of personal relationships. I learned the importance of telling people how you feel about them because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Combined with my surgeries, I learned to live today like it’s your last day. Live today like it’s their last day. I’m glad that I told Sandi that I loved her when she was alive. I just wish I’d spent more time with her when I had the chance. Don’t waste time and chances to be with people you love.

At Sandi’s funeral, her father told me “Thank you for being her friend.” I replied “That was easy.”

Happy birthday sweet girl. I miss you.

Sandi in August 2015. Sent to me by her mother Karen after the funeral.
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Let Them Feel Your Heartbeat

“When it’s closing time and the night is young, do you need a friend to help you on?
You can lean on me and I’ll carry our bones home
As the stars explode in the sky above and the pieces fall back down to earth
If you lean on me then I’ll let you feel my heartbeat beat, let you feel my heartbeat”
— “Let Them Feel Your Heartbeat” by A Silent Film

A friend who is a life coach has started me on a new way of thinking. We originally were talking about external relationships as we’ve both made the past mistakes of falling for guys who were emotionally unavailable and/or narcissistic. She saw what I was going through lately and knew exactly what I was going through, down to the same exact bull**** moves that I hadn’t even told her about. It was like something out of Groundhog Day except what she experienced yesterday is what I experienced today. And going through our dating pasts, she’s put me on the path to be able to break the cycle and finally get what I want: a lifelong meaningful relationship with a true 50/50 partner. Don’t expect results if you don’t do the work though. As she said, I just need a bit of polishing.

So this is going to take a little bit of work in order to get myself ready to be in that kind of relationship. I’ve started doing some reading on relationships that has expanded my mind in how to think about them. Looking around at how we go about trying to find a partner, most people have it all wrong. I’ve had it wrong all this time. Online dating sites try to match people based on profiles and statistics and in person most people try to find someone based on personality fits. The rates of break-ups and divorce are extremely high though. Why is finding the right one so hard? Well, you can’t find the right one if you’re looking in the wrong direction. One of my favorite quotes is “Our soulmates seldom appeal to our personality — our ego. That’s why they are called soulmates rather than egomates.” by Carolyn G. Miller. The most successful relationships I’ve seen are the ones where couples love each other not because of their partner’s talent, creativity, athleticism, success, artistry, determination, goals, etc. but because of their partner’s heart. The heart is the base of everything that we do. Loving someone’s heart is loving why they do what they do, not what they actually do. Two people can volunteer to help make dinner. One does it because s/he wants recognition and people to like him/her while the other does it because s/he wants to help out others and contribute thanks or no thanks. Both look the same on the outside (helping to make dinner) yet the reasons behind why they are doing it are completely different. The former is for selfish reasons while the latter is coming from love for others.

As Carrie Bradshaw once said “I pick the wrong men.” There is some truth to that. We focus on the wrong aspects of looking for a partner. We have all these ideals of what our partner should look like. I had to write a list of partner’s qualities years ago that I thought would make me happy. I’ve realized since then that all of that was complete and utter crap. I’ve dated men who fit some of those and realized that those qualities weren’t really that important and learned there were other deeper qualities that I needed more that weren’t as tangible. Personalities are what you see on the surface of someone when you meet them. What makes them tick though? That’s the heart and requires knowing someone much more intimately. While some still commend an ex-boyfriend for taking care of me after my surgeries, what many don’t know is that it wasn’t genuine love. He held that against me in every way imaginable and tried to make me feel guilty for not meeting HIS needs during my recovery process. He was abusive saying that if I really loved him then I’d have figured out a way to meet his needs also while I laid in bed with a broken pelvis. This horrified several of my closest male friends who said that if their partner was recovering from surgery, their own needs were last on the list of things to attend to no matter how long the recovery process was. So even though in the surface we looked like a good match, our hearts and souls were completely different. When we broke up, I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders and knew that I wasn’t 100% of the problem in our relationship like he claimed. I was 100% responsible for staying in that relationship longer than I should have though.

One fellow cyclist I dated (after of course saying “never again”) and I appeared on paper like we were a good match and had similar interests. The heart behind our activities were extremely different. With cycling, he was happy with 90 minutes of cycling per day as it was just exercise to him. Me? Completely different. It was very social for me as I did it with friends and we downright enjoyed cycling for hours on end and sincerely loved being on the bike. Like the time that my friend Liz and I said “f*** it” and turned a 50-ish mile ride into a 95 mile ride when we got close to Livermore (after starting in Oakland). We’re looking at doing a double century in March. The guy I had dated asked once why would anyone ever want to do a double century. It wasn’t a personality mismatch, it was a heart mismatch and what drove us to do a on-the-surface activity like “cycling” was completely different.

When people talk about my Catalina swim or my swimming general, very few ask why I do it. Why do I swim? Why do I swim open water? Why did I swim Anacapa Island to Oxnard? Why did I swim from Catalina Island to San Pedro? All swimmers swim for different reasons. Many assume it’s for exercise and/or we’re nuts. It’s not exercise to me. I never think afterwards “damn that was a great workout!” For me it’s about the journey and the experience and what I’m going to learn about myself by going through it. When people told me after my Catalina swim that they don’t think they could swim 17+ hours, I always respond with “I didn’t either!” Why do I swim in the bay? Because I feel connected to the Bay and the city I love when I swim in it. It’s another connection to “home” for me. I don’t feel a connection to a pool therefore have little to no drive to swim in one. My heart isn’t into it. That’s not who I am.

So while I am working on reprogramming my brain on how to look and feel about relationships that I have with people I’m choosing to start with the most important one: myself. I’ve flailed a lot in things I promised to myself in terms of my own health and household. I’ve said that I’m going to lose X pounds (or fat), eat better/healthier, exercise more, get my finances back on track, remodel my place, etc. over the years. I don’t feel like much has changed though. Like the typical midnight snack scenario, I get weak moments and say “ah screw it” and let myself go. Bad idea and why I’m not getting anywhere. So I’ve decided to recommit to myself for everything I promised myself that I’d do for me in the past. My friend Brandon has recommitted to his own nutritional health which inspired me to do the same of preplanning my meals and deciding to stick to them. I’ve decided this past weekend after a week in the lovely Midwest with the “omg..people eat like this??” Midwestern diet to go to a total whole foods diet for the next 2 months. So far I’ve survived 7 days on it and haven’t been regretting it, aside from when I eat celery. It’ll help me get through the holidays also with avoiding all the cookies and cakes and pies that’ll start parading and congregating around town. In the process, I’ll be rebooting my physical body.

Rebooting my mental and emotional bodies will take some work also. I had a very long talk with my friend Erika a couple of weeks ago while we were out riding. I was having a hard time as I was slower than usual since I haven’t been riding on a regular basis and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me as my heart wasn’t into it. I had an easier time dragging myself up Mounts Tam and Diablo last winter when I was first learning how to ride because I didn’t have any expectations. It was just one pedal stroke at a time and who cares how long it took me to get up that mountain as long as I made it up there. Now after almost a year of riding I had expectations on how I was going to perform on the bike. Expectations were attacking my soul. I had to step back and reboot how I approached this in my head. I’ve started hitting the gym and spinning classes more with the mentality that I’m going to get myself back in cycling shape no matter what. My quads, glutes, hamstrings, and lungs will burn and hate me in the process yet thank me later. I need to accept the fact that I’m a slower cyclist now and the important thing is that I’m still a cyclist. I am not going to get any faster again by not being on the bike. The girls will wait for me and it’ll be one ride at a time to get myself back up to speed (pun intended). Drop the expectations as that’s setting oneself up for disappointment.

Here’s to rebuilding a bigger and better heart and soul. No way back from here (cue Dave Grohl).

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It’s Gran Fondo Time Baby!!

There are some very important differences between me as a swimmer and cyclist. Swimming isn’t a very social sport while you’re actually swimming as you have to stop to talk. One thing I really love about cycling is that you can talk the entire time if you’re riding with someone and well, they’re within earshot of you. I’m not as serious while cycling unless I’m dragging my sorry butt up some climb and trying to keep my heart from exploding and my lungs inside my rib cage. Otherwise the girls and I tend to talk about all sorts of crap..some serious and some not so serious. It’s like we’re just hanging out while our legs are moving.

The Healdsburg Century ride went past several wineries that I’ve been to so I was giving Diana the grand tour of which ones I like and don’t like. Doesn’t really matter since Diana doesn’t drink (may use her as a designated driver sometime!). I do “moo” at cows when riding past them or going across the cow grates in the middle of the road. I also will half-jokingly say something about stopping at any creamery or bakery while going past. We ride bikes long distances so we can eat, right? There’s just something oddly different about when I’m on a bike as I’m a lot looser and relaxed..maybe it’s because we’re playing in traffic? Organized rides all have alcohol served at the end of it? These aren’t events that you have to actually train for?

And really, when else can you do something like zip past a friend and smack him/her on the ass and totally get away with it? If they’re offended then well, they’ll have to speed up to catch you.πŸ˜‰

As I was in pretty sad cycling shape going into the Levi’s Gran Fondo, I decided that I could probably drag myself through the Gran Fort Ross (85 miles, 6850′ climbing) as I had survived the Princess Challenge the Sunday before. Arianna and Liz weren’t interested in pushing themselves and were also signed up for the Gran category. I decided to treat it like just another Saturday ride with Liz and Arianna that just happens to be supported and we’re less likely to have to resort to Google Maps to figure out where we are.

Liz, me, Arianna, and Erika before the Coleman Valley Road death march.

Some people take Levi’s Gran Fondo to be a serious race as it’s a timed ride and if you’re interested in doing the badass Panzer route (117 miles, 10,503′ climbing), you need to do the full Gran (102 miles, 8,943′ climbing) in 7.5 hours or less the year before. I will never be able to do the Gran in 7.5 hours and not even going to try it. I do these rides just to do them (similar to swimming) and am not competitive. There are rides that I really do sign up for just because the kit looks really cool. We kind of ride from snack stop to snack stop too along with breaks inbetween to catch our breaths and wait for each other. Arianna and Liz looked like squirrels stocking up for winter with how many eats they had stuffed into their pockets. And my nickname for Diana is “SNACKS” in all caps since she gets so excited when she sees them. Where was I again?

My group all started together but Terrie wanted a good time for the full Gran (101 miles) and Erika is even faster. Diana is still faster than me right now although her days are numbered on that front once I get my legs and lungs back in cycling shape (and she knows it). Liz, Arianna, Samar, and I rode together until we had to split off as Samar and her cold germs were doing the Medio. I still wanted to make a go for the Gran Fort Ross so we said we’d see her at the finish.

Fort Ross really isn’t *that* bad. It could be worse. It’s just a long continuous climb with little relief. At least we hit it at 10:30 AM and with the trees it was pretty shady and reasonably comfortable. It was a dream compared to the hell of Coleman Valley Road coming up from the coast that resembled a death march as Panzer and Gran (and some really taking-sweet-time Medio) riders made their way up the last (or only for Medio) major climb of the day. I stopped just before the steepest part to stuff my heart back into my chest and then came to the horrible realization that I couldn’t get back on my bike. It was too steep for me to get started again. I had no shame though on this ride and walked my bike up those last 20 or 30 feet and got back on once I was back to being more perpendicular than parallel to the road. That climb would be easier when I’m in shape and/or not 60+ miles into a ride already. Next year.

Calculated Target Heart Rates say that my max should be 182 bpm. My heart should have exploded 5 times on Sunday. My max was 196 bpm!

The SAG guys were AWESOME on coverage as they were everywhere like Big Brother. We got off route once and a SAG motorcyclist reeled us back in within a mile. There were EMTs and Fire Department teams waiting at major potential crash points and every so often so they could respond quickly to crashes. Bike crashes have a greater affect on me than car crashes for some reason. I went past 3 crashes during the ride and missed the fatal crash (Cyclist killed in Levi’s GranFondo) that was on the full Gran route. I always figure that if I make it to the finish in one piece then it’s all good. I’ve already had two crashes, one that could have easily been fatal if a car was coming from the other way as I slid across the incoming lane. I’m still conservative when I descend. I use my Garmin 810 actually to help me see what the road looks like up ahead so I know how tight a curve really is and can make adjustments for it (aka help ease my nerves).

Gran Fort Ross route

Next year I want to do the full Gran route. I also am thinking about the Death Ride along with a bunch of other century rides to do with my friends. Yeah some of them involve really cool kits.πŸ˜› I’ll still be doing long rides with them on the weekends anyway as after all, that helps burn off the baked goodies and wine that we drink when we’re not on our bikes. We’d have to do some training for the Death Ride but it wouldn’t be anything that we’d ever take seriously like what you see with guys out on the track. We’re really just there to have fun, ride, hang out, and load up on the snacks.

And still funny to think that I’ve only been riding for 10.5 months. Next month is finally my one year anniversary of being on the bike!

The finest cycling ladies

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The Lost Art of Personal Connection

With modern technology like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. it seems like there’s the lost art of asking how someone actually is. The Internet persona has overtaken reality when it comes to keeping up to date with our loved ones. Friends just hop onto someone’s Facebook posts to see what they’re up to instead of asking them how they’re doing. Why don’t people bother to ask “how are you?” anymore? Has that really become a lost art form of social manners? Technology has removed a lot of personal direct communication between people. The USPS complained when email started becoming popular because people were writing letters once and they wanted to somehow charge people for sending emails. At least an email could still be personal. A Facebook post? Hardly personal. It’s like a mass email all the time casting a big net and seeing whose attention and responses you catch in return.

Lately I haven’t done much since my Catalina swim in terms of exercise. There’s a false perception that I spend all my time swimming and cycling. Reality? Thanks for asking. I got my arm twisted into swimming during our club’s tri on Saturday which was the first time I’d swam in 10 days and the longest swim I’d done since my Catalina swim 6 weeks ago. I’ve been doing 1 or 2 “social swims” (with friends at the club that last less than an hour, nothing serious, and you can spend a lot of it talking) a week and that’s it. I’ve been in the saddle maybe once every other week if I’m lucky and not for a long ride either.

On Sunday I did the Princess Challenge bike ride up in Folsom. A 70-miler would have been no problem for me back in May. Given the lack of my time in the saddle though, this one was HARD. I seriously almost cried during the first third of it as I felt so out of shape and couldn’t keep up with my friends (one who I’m normally faster than). I’d never felt so lonely on the bike. The climb I was on wasn’t that steep or challenging had I been in normal cycling shape. I wasn’t though and knew it. I wasn’t even in gym-3-times-a-week shape. IMO I had no business being out there. The 95+ F temperature didn’t help either. I was miserable. I texted my friend Diana to hang back with me and keep me company. She obliged and I think I must have thanked her for that half a dozen times afterwards and meant every single one of them. There weren’t many people on this ride so without her, I’d have been by myself for almost the entire thing. I was in a foreign mental and emotional place that wasn’t comfortable.

I had time to think about how many people tell me that based on my Facebook posts that that must be how my life really is all the time. Your online persona is whoever you want to make it out to be though. You pick and choose what you share and what your personality is like. That doesn’t mean that’s how you are in real life and definitely not all the time. I can’t stand it when people post every single little thing they’re doing all day every day. I post some positive highlights and what I don’t mind sharing with a lot of people at once. It’s not personal to me. I have a line in my brain on what I want to publicly share and what to keep private. In my mind, Facebook is public (despite my privacy settings). Similar to how there is a fine difference between “tasks completed” and “accomplishments” (mechanical vs achievement), Facebook posts shouldn’t be confused with how one’s life actually is going.

Best scenario I had once was when someone said that I looked like I couldn’t be doing better and was doing all this wonderful stuff and being active all the time and enjoying life to its fullest and must be so happy. My response? “I got dumped yesterday. How are you?”

In general I’m not going to post negative stuff or even mediocre stuff for the whole world to see. There are a lot of things that I like to keep private and don’t really enjoy airing dirty laundry or anything that I’m having to work through and struggle with. I never posted anything on Facebook about my sister’s divorce, my relationship breakups/falling outs, bad days, etc. I found out recently that a loved one’s leukemia has returned and it ripped a hole right through me. Posting it on social media never crossed my mind. Ask me though how I’m doing and I’ll tell you though. Otherwise posting the negative side of my life in a rather public forum seems whiny and/or begging for sympathy/attention. I’m no whiner, beggar or attention whore.

A cousin was very surprised when she found out that I was moving back to SF from Pasadena last year. She cited my Facebook posts of me smiling with my friends down in SoCal and whatnot taking that it meant that I was completely happy being down there. While I love my friends there…what she and all except for a very select few didn’t know was that I was crying myself to sleep almost every night as I was so homesick. Others weren’t surprised when I moved back given how often I was flying between SF and LA to the point where my friend Shawn swore I was cloned because no one could be in that many places at once. Since moving back home I’ve traveled a lot less aside from going to SoCal for my own swims and to help others with theirs.

Have I recovered from my Catalina swim? Physically yes over a month ago. I’ve just needed a break and it’s awesome to be able to not have to do anything in regards to training anymore. I couldn’t keep up with my actual training schedule at the time anyway as I was getting kind of burned out with it before the swim ever happened. I missed having a social life and not having to be somewhere all the freakin’ time. I missed my friends. I missed not feeling guilty if I skipped a swim/spin/gym workout. Training isn’t really a lot of fun. And I had decided back in February that I’d take next year off from anything that required training and was looking forward to it even back then.

I mentally kind of checked out after my Catalina swim despite having the Princess Challenge last weekend and the Levi’s Gran Fondo this Saturday. I really don’t know what I’m going to do about Levi’s. I’m in no shape to do the Gran + Willow Creek that I’d signed up for and was looking forward to earlier this year. It’s painful for me to admit that I’m in no shape to do it right now. Other things have happened though lately that have convinced me that I need to start taking care of myself again which is what I’ve decided is more important. I’m not physically, mentally, or emotionally prepared to go through that ride. My friends Liz and Arianna are up for doing a shorter one which there’s the Gran + Fort Ross + Willow Creek which is shorter and a lot less strenuous while giving the highlights of the Gran route still. I’m thankful that I have them for support during the ride and to stay with me for its duration.

Where would I go after that? Back to my schedule from last winter where I may swim and ride with friends but it’s not a serious every day occurrence. I’ll have those glorious mornings where I get to wake up, make my tea and breakfast, and watch Netflix or read the paper all morning. I’ll get to see my non-swimming/cycling friends again. I’ll get to do a favorite pastime of getting together with a friend to drink beer and bitch about..I mean discuss.. politics and other current events. My normal life is actually a lot more settled than people have come to know over the last several months. Some people only know me as this crazy swimmer/cyclist and don’t know any of the other sides of me as I’m a fairly complex person who has never fit into a mold (nor would I want to). I can actually start to relax now. I feel like I’ve been sheltered the last 6 months while the rest of life has passed me by and I don’t really like it. In a way, it kind of feels like a bit of a detox right now. I’ll have more time for everything else in my life, some that I haven’t gotten to do in several months or years now. You know, like normal people…who happen to swim in the Bay and ocean without a wetsuit and ride 50 – 60 miles at a time.

So do you know the real me? Or are you just guessing based on perceptions from Facebook or elsewhere the last handful of months? How well do you really know me and what my life is like? Have you bothered asking and listening to the response?

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Digging Deep

In 2011, I had my pelvis surgically broken to fix my right hip dysplasia. In 2012, I had my pelvis surgically broken again to correct my left hip dysplasia and started swimming again after 17 years. In August 2013, I did my first open water swim in Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay. In September 2014, I did my first channel swim with the 12.4 miles from Anacapa Island to Oxnard. In August 2015, I swam across the Catalina Channel, one of the Ocean’s Seven.

Holy f***.

I’m not a fast swimmer by any means. Stubborn? Yes. Fast? Yet something that my primary observer, Paula Selby, said after my swim has been running through my mind since then. She was one of the few people who could have pulled me during my Catalina swim. She didn’t though since she knew that I was still mentally with it during the swim and that I could finish it. It didn’t dawn on me until a few friends asked about it, but I never once thought during the swim that I wanted to be pulled and end it. As much pain and suffering I experienced during the swim, I never once had the desire to get out of the water. Even when I stopped a couple of times because I was exhausted and hating life and hearing Paula say “Why is she stopping?”, I was never thinking “do I really want to be doing this? Should I get out now?” I was more thinking about despite how much pain I was in, there was absolutely no way in f***ing hell that I was ever swimming any of those miles that I had just done to repeat this swim again. Damnit, I was doing this ONCE.

I had a great crew that I had picked specifically for their unique talents, skills, and background. A core group of people that I could trust to get me across as they were the best of the best. I wanted a small tight knit group of minimal people on board because for me, the less people the better. It’s like a wedding where you have your wedding party of those who you trust are going to take care of you in your most important hour. I was shutting out everyone and everything else. It was a very long 17 hours 25 minutes 48 seconds and during that time for the most part, no one else in my life existed except for those 4 crew members on the boat. My observers were just flys on the wall, like they are supposed to be.

I was stressed before the swim. It was nerve wracking to be driving to San Pedro on 14 August 2015, like I’d done plenty of times before but this time it was for MY Catalina swim. I was excited and nervous at the same time. I was texting back and forth with Jim who was giving me encouragement and support along with making me laugh (as he says, to bring some normalcy to the day). I got to the boat and immediately threw my stuff into my bunk (lowest bunk on the starboard side of the stern). I talked to Jim to get some nervous energy out before Cathy and I headed to dinner.

Sunset at 22nd Street Landing, San Pedro, California.

Neil and Paula are running late which is fine since I’d alerted Captain Greg already. Greg does his usual safety and rules speech (varies a bit each time I’ve noticed as he forgets to mention things). Paula does hers for the CCSF which really Cathy is the only one in the room who isn’t a CCSF observer. She says that the wind is going to pick up around noon and we’ll be getting 4-foot swells and a strong current going west to east. F***. The boat’s taken off which is when I usually make a beeline for my bunk but I have to go over my feeds with my crew. Peter’s concerned that I’m planning on taking in too many calories and I tell Peter to do whatever he wants to take care of me then. THAT should show just how much trust I have in this man. I ask if I can go to bed now and he lets me. I text with Jim a little bit from my bunk while listening to Imagine Dragons on my ipod before falling asleep.

And we’re off!

Bottom Scratcher is in neutral. Show time.

What is it with boats going into neutral and cars going into park that wakes me up? That and physically touching me while I’m asleep which I don’t recommend since I’m sure I’ll literally die of a heart attack from that move one day. I get out of my bunk and start getting ready. Cathy and I are much closer friends after she helps me lube and sunblock up whether she likes it or not.

Neil’s already in the water waiting for me. I text Jim that I’m jumping now. Cathy and Peter make sure that the Spot Tracker is working. It’s really weird going into water that doesn’t give me hypothermic shock. And clear. I’ve never swam into Doc’s Cove before and didn’t know there was a little net around it. I get up on the beach and wait for Neil to relay to me that Paula said that I can start swimming. I start and remember what Neil says: “Stay within 1 yard from me as that’s what Captain Greg likes. Kelley, let’s have some fun!”

On my way to jump for my Catalina Channel solo swim on the night of 14 August 2015.

I stick to Neil and his kayak like a barnacle. I am slightly freaked out by night swimming with bioluminescence going on because you can see EVERYTHING. Sharks are like spiders..I know they’re there and would just rather not see them in the open ocean. Reef sharks are a different story as I think those are really cool to see while swimming or diving. I love being able to be smack next to Neil as he uses a Hobie that uses foot pedals instead of a paddle.

Within a couple of hours a small pod of dolphins swims beneath me heading west to east. I was hoping they’d turn north to join me but no such luck. I’d love to have the magical experience I had during my Anacapa swim of literally swimming with that pod of 50 dolphins up close and personal for 2 hours. This was better than nothing though.

I’m getting stung mostly on my right side. I know from Anacapa and my Catalina relay though that the jellies in this channel don’t really affect me. At one point I feel what must have been a long jellyfish tentacle wrap around my leg as it goes down. I’d only have three marks on my left forearm after the countless stings I experienced on this swim. I was stung a few times at the top of my shoulder when it was starting to hurt which would have worked out well if the jellies had aimed a little lower to the actual muscles that were sore.

I see one bioilluminated creature for a split second that looked and moved like a shark down below. Not big enough to be a threat and my usual policies go into place of: a) if you make it to your next feed then it wasn’t interested in you and b) if it is interested in you then that’s a better way to go than being hit by MUNI.

I’m swimming close enough to Neil that I feel a huge sense of security with him right there. I can have constant eye contact with him while swimming. I SO want one of these Hobies.

Swimming next to Neil van der Byl and his awesome Hobie.

Cathy trades off with Neil and gets her first experience with guiding a channel swim. I’m glad that she gets to experience this after all of her help for my swims over the last 2 years. The winds had picked up and Paula tells Cathy that hopefully Cathy has some wind protection. Cathy carries me into daybreak.

Neil gets back in and starts telling me what my stroke count is which is very useful. He doesn’t want me to drop below 50 spm and asks me to dig deep and bring it back up again. Mentally I start thinking about a couple of Green Day songs (names elude me now which is totally embarrassing and I’ll remember at like 2 AM in my sleep). Neil said he’s proud which how I dug deep to get stroke count back up and rewards me with a cookie.

When my right arm really started giving way around the 11th hour, I pulled out literally my only swimming trick I have: I switched to backstroke. I had talked with Evan earlier in the week about what the limits were, if any, for switching strokes and he said there were none since was truly freestyle out there. I happily flip on my back and Neil is blown away with how my stroke count shoots up to well over 60 spm. He says that I’m very efficient at backstroke and I tell him that it was actually my stroke in high school and my backstroke was faster than my freestyle.

I’m back with Cathy on kayak and still doing backstroke. My back is getting cold and I can still see Catalina looking relatively close and San Pedro doesn’t look close at all. Crap…how much farther do we have? I kind of don’t want to know. I’m looking at the sun position and know that it’s just after 12 NOON and looking at where the sun should be when I’m about done. That seems like a far way away from its current place. The waves and wind have picked up so I’m getting slapped in the face and so much salt water up my nose that it feels like someone set my sinuses on fire each and every time. I can’t breathe out of my nose. I’m literally wimpering. I don’t want to swim anymore and I don’t want to get out either. I only start swimming again because I put too much into this to get here and there’s no way that I’m repeating those last several miles ever again.

Swimming with Peter Hayden while Cathy Harrington is on kayak duty.

Howard gets into the water with me and gives me a “magic pill” from Peter. Know how they teach you to never take pills that you don’t know what they are? That rule doesn’t apply when you’re in the middle of a channel and your crew is telling you to swallow this pill and keep swimming. Ask questions later. I’m happy to have Howard in the water with me and haven’t gotten to swim with him in several months.

I’m still in a lot of pain and have almost hit my ibuprofen limit for a 24 hour period. Peter gets in to swim wtih me and gives me another mysterious pill and tells me to do some freestyle with him. I know he’s trying to get me to stretch my right shoulder out and I do whatever he tells me to do. Peter has a beautiful stroke and I entertain myself with watching him and trying to imitate his movements too. It works as I start to feel less pain my right shoulder. Not painless, but less pain.

Cathy gets in to buddy swim and I’m humored with seeing that she’s wearing her new tankini. She’s doing some breastroke which makes me feel bad that I’m going SO slow that she can’t do freestyle like she normally does when we swim together back at home. I stop bilaterally breathing so I don’t have to see her breastroke and swim obviously super slow next to me. Howard and Peter are much faster than me and can slow their stroke down to match my speed. Cathy eventually figures it out though which helps.

I do ask how much longer I have and the first distance I remember is having about 5 nautical miles to go. Ah crap. Okay, you can do this. Shut up and swim. I remember looking and seeing the 4-foot swells going east. I’m in pain and not enjoying this yet seem to have some sense of humor still along with my brain being okay. I remember Howard giving me another “magic pill” when he jumps in for a second time. I can see Neil saying a lot to those back on the boat. I’m not sure what’s going on. I’m told that we have 1 nautical mile to go and that my next feed will be my last before we hit shore. Awesome!

I get to the next feed though and look towards San Pedro. We’re nowhere near it. DAMNIT.

Feeding during my Catalina Channel solo swim on 15 August 2015.

Neil tells me that we missed the second landing spot and now we’re finding another one. Being in the middle of open water, I don’t realize that I swim in place for an entire hour. I feel like I’ve been swimming forever and not even sure where we’re heading. I get the sense that we’re so close and I just want this swim to be over with NOW. I’ve come WAY too far and have experienced WAY too much pain to quit not and like hell we’re not going to finish this swim. Neil then tells me that they’ve given up on the second spot and that we’re going to swim with the current as there’s another sandy beach for me to land on. I ask him how long it’ll take and he said 45 minutes or less. Okay, that’s a Pier 7 (to club) swim back at home. I can do that easily. I tell him “OH HELL YEAH!” and get moving. Cathy’s in the water with me and swimming on front of me. She’s not allowed to get to shore before me and I don’t want to feel like I’m trying to catch up to her either. I tell her to stay behind me and she obliges. I almost cry in my goggles with the thought of finally finishing this swim.

I see sand finally appearing beneath me and almost don’t believe it. I can actually see the beach and people on it. Oh my god this swim really is finally going to end. I’m actually going to do this. I get to a reef wall and start looking behind me to where the water is breaking. Not too much of an issue actually. I step on the reef wall and my right foot shoots right through it and I scrape a few of my toes in the process. I keep making my way to shore and get out of the water. I’m surprised my legs still work. A lifeguard asks if I’m the one who just swam from Catalina and I say “yes.” He congratulates me. I do the usual end-of-swim stand that looks kind of like you’re about to do a cartwheel. After several seconds I drop my arms. I’m sure other people on the beach are wondering WTF was I doing. Cathy comes up on shore and we hug. She reminds me to grab a rock and I stuff it into my swimsuit. A couple of other people congratulate me on my swim. I’m exhausted and just happy that the swim is finally over.

I remember how after Anacapa I was waist-deep in water with Gracie van der Byl to head back to the boat and couldn’t get myself to actually start swimming again. This time I’m with Cathy and we’re both having trouble getting back over that reef wall with the waves. Someone on shore directs us to a break in the reef wall that we can swim out to meet Neil. Neil has me get up on the back of the kayak so he can give me a lift back to the boat. He goes back and gets Cathy.

My Catalina crew: (left to right) Cathy Harrington, Howard Burns, Neil van der Byl, Peter Hayden, and Kevin Colleran (actually one of my CCSF observers).

I’m back on Bottom Scratcher and in disbelief that the swim is finally over. I jokingly ask Paula if it’s still Saturday. I find out that it took me 17 hours 25 minutes 48 seconds to reach shore. Paula says that it’s a good time given the conditions that I got. I get my phone and text Jim that I’m done. Captain Greg tells me that he would have left me for dead during Hour 14 and was surprised to see me still swimming. He was even practicing “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes to play when I would have quit. He said that he’s piloted over 200 Catalina swims and I’m the toughest broad he’s ever met. I’m surprisingly able to stand and talk on the boat. Unlike Anacapa, I don’t feel mentally out of it and like I’m still moving all over the place. I go to change out of my swimsuit and need help as I can’t really use my shoulders or upper arms. My crew is amazing and unloads everything off the boat and tells me to not carry anything.

The actual route I swam across the Catalina Channel.

Cathy drives me to my best friend Susie’s house which I stay awake for the drive although start falling asleep a little towards the end of it. Susie gets me whatever I want for dinner which I ask for a classic Peruvian dinner: pollo a la brasa, papas fritas, helado de lucuma, and alfajores. She also throws in some yuca frita. I’m really not hungry and can barely eat, except for the ice cream. Cathy goes to bed really early. I can’t really sleep for more than a couple of hours. I go through my text messages, emails, and Facebook posts. I’m floored by the support from friends, family, and my fellow South Enders. I can’t believe so many people were watching the spot tracker and cheering me on. Some stayed up all night and day to watch my swim. Looking at the Spot Tracker, you can see just how far east I got pushed. My crew estimated that this added another 3 hours to my swim. I swam about 21.5 miles, which is about 1.5 miles more than a normal Catalina swim. Several incredible marathon swimmers like Joe Locke tell me that they don’t think they could have lasted 17 hours in the water and that I had a real incredible swim.

The chalkboard by the front door and the whiteboard in the women’s locker room at the club after my swim. So surprised to see this! Feeling the love!!!

I did wake up early Monday morning, 2 days later, with my arm joints feeling like they were on fire.

If you had asked me before the swim if I could have lasted 17.5 hours in the water, I don’t know if I’d have said “yes.” The 10 hour training swim I did in Laguna with Peter on kayak was hard on me mentally to go into. I’m glad that I didn’t know that I’d be swimming for another 6 hours after my right shoulder started hurting. Not many people have swam 17+ hours regardless of their swim speed. Water time is water time where you’re losing body heat and in a non-natural position. My nutrition was so spot on that I didn’t get nauseous or puke once which surprised Paula. Given the amount of time I was eating abnormal food and swimming, it would have been common to have thrown up at least once. I know it was a hard swim regardless and it was some of the most pain that I’ve felt. I’m surprised to realize that quitting was never an option in my head and never crossed my mind during my swim. My friend Simon told me afterwards that there are people who you can look at in the eye and know that they’ll do it and he sees that in my eyes. I saw that he had emailed me before my swim asking if I wanted to quickly chat with him which I regret not doing as he’s always offered such strong encouragement. He’s believed in me at times when I failed to believe in myself.

My biggest fear was disappointing my crew and everyone who had supported me. I didn’t want to waste their time and energy that they had spent on me. Kevin flew down from Idaho to observe my swim and I didn’t want that to be in vain. The rest of my crew gave up time away from their friends and family and other life obligations to be on that boat with me. I’d have felt like an utter failure if I didn’t finish. I think that may have been why I was so determined to finish this swim. I also seriously really hate unfinished business. Perhaps this is something only marathon swimmers understand as wasting an entire crew’s time is just the worst feeling in the world. Never matters what they say about it was worth it, you did a great effort, blah blah blah…they were supporting you and you let them and yourself down. It may sound cliche, but the love and support that I have from my friends and family are really what helps get me through this on a very deep level.

Red line shows the normal straight-shot path most people get to swim versus what I actually got the sheer pleasure of suffering through.

It wasn’t until the following Tuesday, 18 August that I finally slept the entire night once I was back at home. I’m still recovering also as I have a pinched right shoulder. My physical therapist / swimming friend Romy took a look at my shoulder last week after dinner and pointed out that she can get her hand under my shoulderblade when I’m lying flat. She gave me some exercises to do to stretch it out and I need to look into deep tissue massage. She taped it up too which I keep hearing makes me look like a badass. I’ve been back in the water a couple of times and primarily stick to backstroke since freestyle hurts my shoulder too much. I learned just how strong of a person I am during this swim.

I completed a solo swim across the Catalina Channel 2 years and 5 days after my first open water swim ever.

Glad I did it and even more glad that it’s over. Never swimming Catalina solo again.

I’m looking forward to taking next year off from any big solo swims. I’ve got plans for 2017 and 2018 though that I already started planning a few months ago. Until then, I’ve got a very pretty Orbea that’s feeling neglected.

First day back at the club with my right shoulder taped up.

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