Set Myself Free

It’s no secret that I tend to follow unconventional “building up” methods in my life. My 20.2-mile Catalina Channel solo crossing was almost 2 years to the day of my first open water swim ever (a very short one in Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe) and only 3 years after I’d ended a 17 years swimming hiatus. I did my first ride in November 2014 when my friend Linda taught me how to clip into my bike for the first time up in the Oakland hills. She said she couldn’t wait until I was up to doing 50 mile rides. Without really striving to hit that goal, I did a 54-mile ride on my 5th time on the bike ever about 3 weeks later. I’d tick off both Tam and Diablo, two of the three highest peaks in the Bay Area, within a few more weeks. I did the 107-mile (6381′ climbing) Marin Century route with less than 9 months of riding experience, which happened to also be less than 2 weeks before my Catalina Channel swim. I guess I’ve never really played well with “The Rules.”

I thought I’d get to focus more on cycling after my Catalina swim was done back in August 2015. Other things in my life got in the way though and the weeks and months passed by without really spending much time on the bike, if at all. Life just happens like that. Athletically I was a bit lost without having a big swim to train towards and I never trained for anything on the bike. I have to work more to get my body in shape for long swims as that takes more out of me in the process and takes longer for me to recover from them than anything I’ve ever done on the bike. My friend Reptile (aka Tom Linthicum) doesn’t train for any of his marathon swims (his favorite being the 20-mile length of Tahoe that he’s completed 3 times) and says that he just goes into his “Reptilian brain” to keep his body going forward (hence his nickname “Reptile”). I tend to do something similar on the bike of just suffering through the pain. I’ll still be able to make it back to my car and within 2 days I’ll feel totally fine again. I’m also generally looking at equivalently less hours on the bike than I will be spending in the water.

Winter tends to be a low activity time for a lot of cyclists because of rain, snow, and sometimes it’s just too damn cold outside to want to go out there in nothing but lycra. I got an email from my friend Kevin Buckholtz in February with the subject of “Chica de Cure.” Hmm..okay. I actually know Kevin through the South End Rowing Club although have never actually swam with him. We originally met in 2014 when I was repositioned swimming from Candlestick Point to Aquatic Park (about 10.5 current-assisted miles) and he was the kayaker taking over supporting me. I HATE being repositioned on swims so needless to say I was pretty pissed off when we met. Great moments in stupidity would be that it took me a couple more times to start recognizing him and he’d remind me about that swim each time. This time he was recruiting me for Team Schwab for the American Diabetes Association‘s Tour de Cure charity ride in Napa. 100 miles of relatively flat terrain (3651′ climbing). Of course like (too?) many other things, I automatically agreed to do it without much thought. You’d think that would have motivated me to actually start some kind of training regime with a lot of bike riding. My closest riding buddies were busy with other things in their lives or in Liz’s case, temporarily relocating to New Mexico, so long rides weren’t happening. I’d started a great job at the Cal Academy and could fit in a ride to and from work (about 15.x miles each way with 1000′ climbing) every now and then but those 50+ mile rides weren’t happening. The longest ride I managed to pull off since last October’s Levi’s Gran Fondo‘s 85-miler (6850′ climbing) was a 28-mile (3384’ climbing) ride in Woodside with my friend Alex back in March.

It’s been a struggle to find balance between swimming and cycling since I feel weird considering myself either when I’m not doing much of it. Can you call yourself a swimmer if you’re not swimming every day? Can you call yourself a cyclist when you’re not on the bike daily and doing at least one long ride every weekend? My friends who only do one or the other are always doing that sport as it’s such an integrated part of their lives and identities. I’ve always considered myself rather complicated since I identify as a broad spectrum of things. Too many interests and not enough time. At least I’m never bored!

Most people know about my upcoming 100-mile Tahoe ride on June 4th for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as I’ve been actively fundraising for it in memory of my Uncle Bill who died from leukemia in October 2015. (you can still donate to my ride here!) Hardly anyone knew about this Napa century (100-mile) ride I was doing on May 7th. Not having done a long ride since October, this was going to be interesting. I wasn’t too worried about it since it was a pretty flat route and I consider myself to be in decent shape. I just haven’t spent much time actually in the unnatural position of the saddle in months. Luckily I’ve had my team at OM to help me “train for [my] life.” This century ride without them would have been absolutely impossible.

TRX Strength Training with Kevin Defro

I go to OM on a regular basis for all of my strength training and now the weekly yoga (gasp!) class. I’ve always claimed that working out there has helped me with swimming and cycling and this “century without training” would be a real test. I never really thought that I couldn’t ride 100 miles, even now with what many people would consider as “unprepared.” I mentioned about the Napa century to Enrique a week before and he was flabbergasted and asked when was I training for this one as he knew I haven’t really been having a lot of saddle time. My normal weekly workout routine typically involves about 3 – 5 Bay swims, 2 spinning classes, 5 – 6 TRX classes, 1 yoga class, 2 15-mile rides (to/from home and work), and 1 – 2 rowing classes depending on my schedule. The week leading up to the Tour de Cure, I did 4 TRX classes, 4 Bay swims, 2 spinning classes, and the 2 15-mile rides between home and work. That counts as tapering, right? Wait, you taper if you actually spent time training and building up towards your big event. Okay, I just did a smidge less than usual.

I’ve added 3200 mg Conjugated Linoleic Acid into my diet too which has helped me get leaner and lose fat without starving myself or losing muscle mass. Even with normal body weight fluctuations, my weight rarely goes above 140 pounds now and my clothes, swimsuit, and cycling kit fits better. The difference has been very quick and I’m extremely happy with the results so far! It’s been hard for me to lose unnecessary fat at my current fitness level as I can’t really exercise more or eat any healthier without compromising a much needed life balance. I did my research before adding in the CLA and even though it’s found in meat and dairy, the required consumption levels to receive its benefits would cancel out with the additional calories and fat that goes along with it. As a cold water swimmer, this fat does nothing to help me stay warm since I’m losing white fat not my brown fat. That mitochondria-packed brown fat burns calories and produces heat for my body in the water. White fat just slows me down and makes me look like a manatee in lycra/spandex.

Looking leaner and stronger in my She Spoke kit!

I went into the Tour de Cure feeling just as good about my fitness level as I had for any bike ride I’ve done. I have little pressure when it comes to riding unlike my swims where I get nervous on the way out to the jump location and even more so when the boat is in neutral. I was on my Orbea as I hadn’t done any long rides on the Cannondale so wasn’t sure how its saddle would feel for 100 miles. The Cannondale is a 2.5 pounds lighter and I noticed the difference when just loading the Orbea into my car as I hadn’t actually ridden it in awhile. Nothing was wrong the Orbea but the Cannondale is the shiny new toy!

I spent the bulk of the ride by myself since Kevin B was doing a 5-hour century train with the bulk of our team and my friend Chris was going at a more leisurely pace. The only time I saw Kevin B on the ride was about 17 miles in when I heard a “KELLEYKELLEYKELLEYKELLEYKELLEYKELLEYKELLEYKELLEYKELLEY!” which I knew was Kevin & Co. zipping up behind me. They were averaging about 22 – 25 mph and were gone within seconds. I befriended one guy for a handful of miles but he was only doing the 80-mile route so I bid him goodbye at his turnaround point while I went off through Alexander Valley and Dry Creek for the additional 20 miles. I had talked with another guy on a couple of climbs on the way back to Napa as we were also about the same pace. Going into the 4th rest stop, he turns to me and says “Is your name Kelley?” Yes. “From the South End Rowing Club?” WTF???? Turns out to be Jimmy Walter, a fellow South Ender! He’s kayaked for some of our club swims that I helped organize the kayakers for but we’d never met. Wasn’t expecting to meet another South Ender about 75 miles into a ride up in Napa!

Cycling rockstar Kevin Buckholtz and me after finishing the Tour de Cure 100-mile ride.

I finished the ride in a total time of 7:15 with a moving time of 6:45, meaning I only spent 30 minutes off the bike total at 5 rest stops. I don’t really eat on rides and this one was no different with riding 103 miles on 5 water bottles (Skratch electrolytes in each with 1 Stinger Gel injected into one of them), 6.5 bananas, 1/4 of an almond butter and jelly sandwich, and a handful of small cookies. I had to force myself to eat something afterwards as unlike what many people think, I’m not starving when I get done with a ride either. I was glad to be off the bike mostly because the small part of my back between my shoulder blades had been hurting since about halfway into the ride. I tried adjusting my riding position to being more upright and take less pressure off of my upper body. My body wasn’t used to being bent over though for that long. My legs were okay and my glutes were a bit sore from peddling. I felt relatively okay though.

Kevin B asked me what my moving time was and I didn’t know until I uploaded it to Strava. I was very surprised to see that I maintained an average speed of 15.2 mph, which comparing to rides I’ve done in the area when I was riding a lot more was quite impressive! Especially considering that we had headwind both ways. I haven’t ever had a ride like that. And definitely not for almost 7 hours. The guys at the second/third rest stop (as it was the turnaround point for the 80-milers and then where the century ride rejoined) kept saying that we’d get tailwind then on our way back. Like the Bay currents though, it flipped around right about when we did!

Comparison of my longer rides in the Sonoma/Napa Counties

I spent way more time back in 2015 riding up to 3 times a week and more often than not doing 50+ mile rides on the weekends even while doing my Catalina training. I wasn’t doing too much strength training to supplement my swimming and cycling. Over time certain routes (e.g. hills) have gotten easier for me just from riding more. I’ve noticed the last several months that they’re even easier for me now without being on the bike all the time. Little changes in my diet (like those daily doses of BCAA and CLA) combined with my regular strength and mobility training at OM seem to have made an incredible difference in my performance without me really focusing on it. I do the classes because I like them and as a result have great repertoires with the instructors who have become friends. Like swimming and cycling, I have an emotional connection now to the classes that I attend. I attribute the success of me being able to pull off such feats as a 100-mile ride with little on-the-bike training to them as much as myself. It’s not just the social aspect though as I have come to highly trust and respect people like Kevin, Enrique, and Rob to help give my body the tools that I need to perform better. Like my opinion of the public school system, their knowledge and guidance is only useful if I’m willing to take it, which I do wholeheartedly. And Jennifer, the owner, will probably hate me saying this but the best workout I get is when I’m the only one signed up for one of Kevin’s classes so I get personal training with one of the best. I can then take and build on those improvements in the group exercise classes. Little changes make a huge difference. I’ve noticed the change in my body the last several months as I’ve adopted a leaner athletic build.

The interesting aspect is that I’m making drastic improvements in my strength and speed on the bike without having the long rides. The long rides would help with getting my body (mostly my back) comfortable being in one position for several hours. I should have struggled with this century though and any other time on the bike but I’m finding that I’m becoming a better cyclist with my unconventional methods. I was feeling a bit defeated about a year or so ago when I couldn’t keep up with riders who I used to be faster than, even on the flats! I remember a roadside talk on one ride with my friend Erika and she really helped me work through the emotional part of my physical condition at the time. Now I feel like I’m in my best cycling shape so far.This does not mean that I’m giving up long rides as I LOVE riding outside with friends as like open water swimming, there’s just no comparison with the feeling you get from being outside with people you love and a natural environment that you feel a deep connection with. I’m managing to do it with a training regime that probably no trainer would ever advise yet it is working really well for me. I have more energy and like Blue October said “And I feel like I can fly when I stand next to you.” I know technically I did the work but I couldn’t have gotten to this point in my life without OM’s support!

Recently my friend Arianna said she thinks that I’m faster than her now on the bike. She always kicked my butt going up hills but the last time we rode together, I got up first which has NEVER happened before. I thought she was waiting for our friend Liz, who likes to take her time with no pressure to go faster for anyone (admirable!). Arianna is a very strong climber, especially with her steel frame bike and cages. I’m not sure if my few pounds of personal weight loss and the lighter bike make that much of a difference since the last time we really rode together. I just know that the hill we did used to be a lot more tiring for me all around then it was that day. We’re not in any kind of competition with each other luckily. 🙂

I can’t wait to see where the continuation of my training takes me and maybe I’ll actually be able to keep up with Kevin B in the saddle one day!

Onto my Lake Tahoe century ride! T-12 DAYS!!!

Thank you legs for getting me through this century ride!

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