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? Hahaha..no. 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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Loved And Cared For Every Stroke Of The Way

My Catalina Channel crossing, by far my most challenging swim to date, would not have been successful without the right crew on the boat. I’m forever grateful to these guys who took care of me during my swim. It’s important to pick quality over quantity when it comes to your crew as having 10 clueless people on a boat can fail a swim compared to a crew of 2 rockstar marathon swimming experts. I knew that I was putting the fate of my swim into my crew’s hands and it helped me stay more relaxed going into the swim knowing that they’d take care of me. Three out of my 4 crew members had all crewed for several Catalina swims in the past. The feeling of love that I was surrounded by from them yesterday was much more than I could have ever imagined. They came together like a well-oiled machine and got me across the channel, just like I expected them to be able to do.

(left to right) Howard Burns, me, Cathy Harrington, Neil van der Byl, Peter Hayden before starting my Catalina Channel swim on Friday night.

My crew was:

Peter Hayden, Crew Chief – fellow Oakstreaker and someone I affectionately/playfully call my “swim dad.” Peter’s always been there for me in my time of need to just listen, given advice, calm my nerves, etc. I admire him. I originally asked him last November to be my Co-Crew Chief in the event that Gracie had to drop out given her busy schedule. He accepted immediately and said it’d be an honor to be part of my crew. He talked me off the ledge during my Anacapa Island to Oxnard swim (12.4-mile) training last year (and observed that swim for SBCSA) and knew I’d still be in great hands with him for Catalina. Peter successfully swam across the Catalina Channel in September 2013. In 2014, he became the first to circumnavigate Anacapa Island immediately followed by swimming straight to Oxnard afterwards for a total of a 25-mile swim.

Neil van der Byl – Gracie van der Byl’s awesome husband and together they arrange all Catalina crew requests. I met Neil originally on a Catalina swim last year that he was kayaking for and I was observing. I don’t think anyone has kayaked more Catalina swims than Neil. He just got back from a 2 week India trip when I contacted him about kayaking for my swim. Gracie was going to have to drop out of my crew due to contractual obligations to WTT (despite her best efforts to get out of that when they changed an event date to the same date as my swim). She replaced herself with Neil though, who she considers to be her sole crew and instructed him to treat me the same way he would treat her. He was a guardian angel to me during my swim as with the lack of a paddle needed with his Hobie, he and I could stay within a yard of each other so we had eye contact the entire time I was swimming with him on kayak.

Howard Burns – fellow OakStreaker and Dawn Patrol. I originally asked Howard to be part of my crew and he had other obligations. However when a last minute need came up due to Gracie’s absence, Howard made a huge sacrifice to be part of my crew which I can never begin to repay him for his kindness and generosity.

Cathy Harrington – fellow South Ender. Cathy did kayak support for all but one of my training swims back home in the Bay Area. She did kayak support for a lot of my Anacapa training swims last year. She is willing to kayak on any day at any time (seriously, I’ve tested this to no end) provided it doesn’t interfere with her work or family schedule. I was glad to be able to bring her with me to the main event swim this time around! I owe her about a gazillion kayaking hours and plan on getting her on some of the shorter marathon swims as she could totally do it. πŸ™‚

(left to right) Neil van der Byl, me, Cathy Harrington, Peter Hayden, Howard Burns after successfully completing my Catalina Channel swim on Saturday.

Given how I was feeling about the swim, the smaller and tighter-knit I had with the group on board, the less stressed that I would feel.

Paula Selby, Primary Observer – Paula coordinates the CCSF swim schedule and finding observers for all the swims. I’ve observed with Paula in the past and asked her if she’d observe my swim also. She, Carol Sing, and I were part of the same pod rotation last month for the David Yudovin Memorial Relay. She’s also an avid photographer so I knew that I’d have plenty of photos from my swim with her on board. πŸ™‚

(left to right) Paula Selby, Carol Sing, and me during the David Yudovin Memorial Catalina Relay in July 2015.

Kevin Colleran, Secondary Observer – I met Kevin when he was kayaking and I was crewing for a Catalina swim last year. He flies down from Idaho to support Catalina swims. In return for observing my swim, I said that I would crew for his Catalina swim when he does it next year. How badass is that though when you’ve got observers willing to fly in for your swims? BTW, we don’t get any of that reimbursed and it’s a small stipend to observe swims so really we observe because we love it.

Kevin Colleran kayaking for Michael Ventre’s Catalina swim in 2014.

There were also the people I consider to be my “ground crew” who helped me get to the point of getting on that boat on Friday night to start my swim. Without these people, I’d have been a complete basketcase going into the swim.

Gracie van der Byl – my original pick for Crew Chief who served that role until a week before my swim when an event that she’s contractually obligated to was moved from the 22nd to the 15th of August. She was a very last minute addition to my Anacapa crew that I’m still shocked she was on. I asked her the day after my Anacapa swim in September 2014 if she could be my Catalina crew chief and she said “yes” immediately. When Gracie had to drop out a week ago, she tiredlessly worked with Peter and Carol Hayden to find worth replacements that would serve me at the same level that she would have. She sent me the next best thing…her husband Neil and Howard. I’ve got nothing but love for this girl.

Gracie van der Byl and me in November 2014.

Evan Morrison – fellow South Ender. We continued working on my stroke in about January of this year to take care of some kinks (usually on my left side and/or when I’m breathing) and got me to start bilateral breathing. We did some speed work also. In general, Evan owned me on Mondays at 7:30 AM to work on my stroke. I cannot recommend anyone higher for working on stroke technique with as he really is the best on this.

Joe Locke – fellow South Ender. Joe made many of my feeds during my training swim and even hand-delivered it to me the day before my Catalina swim. I’ve been happy to be his guinea pig for a feed he’s developing as it’s based on whole foods (no preservatives or chemicals so short shelf life) that processes cleanly in my body along with tasting good. πŸ™‚ His vast experience of open water swimming (successful Catalina, English Channel, Molokai, Gibraltar, Farallones solo swims) helped him give me some solid advice during my training. I made adjustments to my training plan based on his feedback as it all came together.

South End Rowing Club – my main swim family these days. There are too many to individually thank really for helping me along my journey. I spend more time at the club than anywhere else, including the place I actually pay a mortgage on. I’ve been amazed at the outpouring of support for me and my swim over the last several months and how many of them actually tracked my progress during the swim. I was a bit nervous of anyone knowing that I was attempting a Catalina crossing as I didn’t know what I’d do if I failed. Jim Bock reassured me that they’ll still love me no matter what the outcome was and he took as much pressure off of me as possible during the week of my swim. When I lost my clear goggles in the locker room (I can’t see s*** with tinted goggles in less than full sunlight) 5 days before my swim, Karina Marwan replaced them for me. Michael Heffernan kayaked for me when Cathy wasn’t available. Amy Gubser loaned me her Spot Gen 3 so people could track my swim. Several offered to crew for me if I still needed more crew members. My email inbox was flooded with emails of support and love from fellow South Enders the day I jumped (Friday). I read every single one before I jumped even though I didn’t get to respond to most of them. The club has felt like home from the very first day that I walked into it in January 2014. (btw thank Evan for recruiting me as he was always saying that I should come swim in the bay and I thought he was freakin’ nuts..then randomly took him up on the offer and haven’t looked back since).

The club is also where my beloved Nadadores Locos train from also which is a subset part of my South End family. A lot of under-the-radar crazy swims that we just go out and do. Ideas usually created with the assistance of alcohol, foolish enough to say “yes” to even while sober, and never met a swim route or condition that we said “er…no” to. You need a swim to get done, you get the Locos to do it since Locos don’t quit. I carried that mentality all the way through my Catalina swim. Many of my training swims were also Locos swims as all involved some long swim somewhere in the Bay and usually at what many consider to be unholy hours. Some of us were training for big swims this year or just like doing a 4+ hour swim for the hell of it (that’s totally normal, right?).

Sunset view from the club in July 2015.

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Good Girl!

Today is the 2 year anniversary of the first time that I ever swam open water. In 4 days, I’m swimming the 21 miles across the Catalina Channel. Has it really only been 2 years? It feels like a lot longer than that. Between swimming and cycling, I feel like I’m in two worlds that I was always supposed to be in and finally found at the right time. They’re natural fits and nothing that I quite saw as just exercise from Day 1. I fell in love with both hard and they’ve become integral parts of my life and who I am.

My first view of Emerald Bay back on 10 August 2013.

On July 12, 2015, I did my longest swim ever of 14 miles and it was a training swim. I was lucky to have my co-crew chief, Peter Hayden, on kayak. Peter is not only my friend, but also someone who I regard as my mentor and humorously as my “swim dad.” He was the SBCSA observer for my Anacapa swim. During Anacapa, I had to tell him every time I relieved myself (a sign of how hydrated you are and this is something as observers we are VERY interested as it helps tell us how your biological health is doing). It actually became kind of joke and even to this day I tell Peter when I have to pee every time I’m around him. He always responds with “Good girl!.”

Peter and me after my 14-mile training swim on 12 July 2015.

I’ve been very nervous about my Catalina swim actually. 21 miles. That’s FAR. Holy f***. I saw an overhead shot of the channel from Anacapa a couple of months ago and even knowing I had swam that before, it looks even farther when you see an aerial view of it. I’m going to swim almost twice as far as that. What was I thinking? Oh right, I wasn’t. Some crew shifts have come up recently that threw me for a bit of a loop and I freaked out a bit only to be reassured by Peter and Grace van der Byl, my crew chief, that they’ve got it covered and everything will be okay. I trust them with my life. I know that’s a statement that may be thrown around a bit by many. Really though, those are two people that I know WILL take care of me to the bitter end. They showed that during my Anacapa swim when I struggled (unbeknownst to me) and successfully completed the swim. I am deeply thankful that they are right there with me on this journey. A swim can fail with the wrong crew despite their best efforts. I start off with the best (along with my kayaker/friend Cathy Harrington) and leave myself with the dump end of the tape of “just swim.” They will know before I do of when I need more calories, more hydration, more electrolytes, etc. I will be well prepared for the water temperature as I heard that the water is an unusual 75 F which is the warmest open water temperature that I’ve ever experienced. Luckily Skratch makes some hyper hydration electrolyte mix that I’ve used extensively while cycling that I’ll have on board with me to help with any hyperthermia.

Bottles and feeds used during a 14-mile swim (aka why I have an entire mesh bag of sports bottles)

It was comforting to have Peter on my longest swim to date. I was in SoCal that weekend and was the perfect opportunity to work with Peter. Sometimes you really need that security blanket with you and my crew provides that for me. To give a small introduction, not only has Peter already done swims like Catalina, he was also the first to circumnavigate Anacapa Island with a straight shot to the mainland right afterwards for a total of some 25+ miles. He’s an incredible athlete. He’s also one of the very few that knows how to talk to me that can calm my nerves. And really in these kinds of swims you want a crew that you can trust when they say “We’re on it!” when you start freaking out over anything. I’m beyond lucky.

So here I am four days until I get on Bottom Scratcher, my favorite boat on the planet, for my Catalina solo swim. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I’m anxious. I’m..words that can’t be described. I’ve gotten an enormous amount of support from people, especially my South End and Locos families. I still feel like a peon though among the greats as I swim with people who not only have swam Catalina but also the Farrallones (including the first ever successful two-way relay from the GGB to the Farrallones and back!), English Channel, Molokai Channel, Tsugaru Strait, Cook’s Strait, Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, SCAR, etc etc. Damn, I really do get to swim with some elite swimmers.

Me with Gracie van der Byl, a living marathon swimming legend, dear friend, and my crew chief.

And my 2 year open water swimming anniversary is today. Who knew that 2 years ago I’d do a swim that would forever change my life. On August 10, 2015, I stepped into Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe as part of Jamie Patrick’s swim camp to do my first real open water swim. I remember how clear the water was and how exhilarated I was afterwards that I told Jamie that I never wanted to swim in a pool ever again. It’s been hard for me to get to a pool ever since. No pool workout will ever compare to being in the open water. The scenery both above and below the water is incomparable. Even in the Bay where the water is murky, you still see the beautiful SF skyline instead of a pool wall. Us open water swimmers are damn ass lucky and unfortunately most of the world will never get to see what we see. I never take it for granted. We’re lucky bastards.

And I’ve met so many wonderful friends who have become family to me during that short time. I have my OakStreakers down in Laguna Beach who I love to death and miss dearly. I have my South End Rowing Club family who I see and talk to more than my own parents. I generally think about how these are people who knew each other and would have continued existing even if our paths didn’t cross. They’re in my life though now and I couldn’t imagine my life without them. I am a ltitle confused with people who see such activities as just being about exercise. I never quite think of my swims as being about getting some exercise it. It’s always instead of a “I’m swimming with Cathy/Len/Justine/etc.” today. Who knows what we’re going to end up doing. Masters practice in the pool? You know what you’re going to do and it’s whatever the coach is going to tell you. It’s not an adventure. The pool conditions are always the same. Sunrise from the open water is much more spectacular and serene and fulfilling than from the concrete jungle. And there’s something more heartfelt about swimming next to a dear friend to Fort Mason than just seeing their feet in front of you for a 4 x 100 pool set. I didn’t know any of these guys 2 years ago and now I can’t imagine my life without them.

Some of my OakStreaker family in Laguna Beach on 5 June 2014.

It’s not just about swimming either. I hang out with these guys. I work remotely at the club sometimes since they have wifi. I try and encourage new members to volunteer at the club because a lot of people put their hearts and soul into it to make it function. Most are volunteers who help out because they love it. I’ve started helping out more as I’ve taken over kayak coordination for the club swims and cooking duties for the boat nights. It doesn’t take that much time and I do it because I enjoy it. I love cooking and don’t get as much opportunity lately as I’d like to have. Boat nights give me the perfect excuse to do it actually. I remember what a former boss at the National Speleological Society Colin Gatland told me years ago when I was IT Chair…do it because it’s fun and when it stops being fun, walk away. For now, I’m having fun helping out with what I can and what my strengths are.

Some of my South End Rowing Club family yesterday after swimming a “true Golden Gate” from beach to beach (2 miles).

Last weekend I did my first traditional century bike ride. Because of my swim training and bike maintenance issues (broken derailleur hanger, sold a bent gear ring, in shop for another gear ring, blah blah), I’ve spent little time on the bike in the last couple of months. Sure, the Marin Century sounded fantastic earlier this year when I’d been riding a heck of a lot more. There I was last Saturday in San Rafael with my friend Diana and not having done more than about a 20 mile ride in the last 2 months. F***. Already paid for so let’s get the f*** going already. I was in pain and suffering for the first half of it. Diana was climbing faster than me which normally I’m faster than her. I can still descend and run a flat faster though. I get to the third rest stop and check my Garmin to see that we’re 57 miles in. My quads are burning. I text Jim and he said that he’d be rebelling too if he were my quads and that I was built for this and got this. Those were the right words at the right time as I’d been fantasizing about calling a SAG to come get me and/or maybe I should have signed up for the metric century instead. I start off from 3 heading to 4 before I cool down too much. I hit a climb that I dry heave up the entire way. OMFG I’m in pain. I’ve got Jim’s words still ringing in my brain though which gets me to the top of that short evil climb. I find out later that it was a steady 14% grade the entire way. I start fantasizing about a SAG ride again and come across a sharp almost-u-turn into another climb with a ride volunteer directing bike traffic. Okay here’s where I beg for a lift but instead find myself climbing up this hill. There are other riders taking a break at the side. I didn’t know that I was at the foot of something called Marshall Wall. See if I knew the ride profiles beforehand, I wouldn’t do stupid things like this. I start climbing and keep telling myself that every corner up ahead is the last one and it’s going to flatten out. Turns out that if it does flatten out, it’s for about 10 feet and then goes up again. I’m feeling extremely out of shape and there’s no shade. Again I can still hear Jim’s encouraging words and decide that I’m not doing the walk of shame up this and am at the top before I know it. I had heard something about a “wall” on this ride despite my best efforts to block my ears from that knowledge. I’m thinking if there’s a harder climb than this on the route than I’m totally screwed. I descend/coast to the next rest stop in a couple of miles with a 12-year-old kid zipping past me. I take my sweet time at the rest stop and Diana shows up so I catch up with her as I’d been expecting her to pass my slow butt on one of these climbs. I finally look at the ride profile with her and give her a HUGE hug when I realize that there are not anymore steep climbs and we only have 2 moderate and 1 easy climb left for the rest of the ride. That heinously long climb (probably not bad if I wasn’t some 70 miles into a ride already and in better riding shape) was the famous Marshall Wall. Diana and I stick with each other the rest of the ride. After we hit the 100-mile mark, I’m in deep relief mode and decide to pull ahead of Diana as we’re on a flat. Surprisingly, my quads engage. I’m past the point of being able to feel pain as I start peddling as fast as I can. My Garmin tells me that I’m doing 28 mph on a flat. This ride finally got fun! I only stop because we’re now in a residential area and I’m waiting for Diana so we can finish together. The end is finally really near and I’m in disbelief of doing my longest ride on the least preparation. Funny thing too is that I’m not even physically sore. I get back to my car and throw my bike into it. I feel fine walking around and not completely spent. This actually gives me some reassurance for my Catalina swim on Friday that will be the longest I’ve ever swam and truly test my pain threshold to date while swimming.

Exactly why I don’t want to know ride profiles beforehand as I’d rather not know things like what lied between #3 and #4.

I met up with Evan this morning for some stroke work. I haven’t seen him in several weeks due to my schedule being all over the place. It was important for me to see him though for the emotional/mental aspect of working with a coach/mentor figure and friend who I think knows more about marathon swimming (and swimming in general) than anyone else out there. We talk about my swim and what I need from him today. He gives me his words of advice and encouragement. He has faith in me being able to do this and I leave feeling less stressed and anxious about my swim.

And it helps knowing that Gracie and Peter are waiting for me down south. They really are worth a crew of 10 lesser people. I’m very fortunate and lucky to have them on my team. I really can’t express in words what it means to me.

And holy f*** I’m doing this 2 years and 4 days into my open water swimming career.

Friday’s Swim.

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Bigger Than This : The David Yudovin Memorial Catalina Channel Relay

I’m crying in my car because I can’t believe what just happened over 14 hours 24 minutes 24 seconds. I cried after the magnitude of my 12.4 mile swim from Anacapa Island to Oxnard swim last year finally sunk in and this is different. Relays are mechanically easy as you’re only swimming for an hour at a time in shifts and have your teammates for support. Yesterday that was no ordinary Catalina Channel relay out there. We had made David Yudovin’s dream of a Catalina Channel relay to raise money for the City of Hope Cancer Research Center a reality and in the process many of us honored the memory of those we lost to cancer. Some participants had never met David and here he was, continuing to inspire other swimmers to get into the water. Beth Yudovin was at our side all the way and in the kayak rotation to help support us even more. She threw rose petals in at each relay leg to make 23 miles of flowers across the channel in memory of her husband. The weather was absolutely perfect which I told Beth that it was like David had designed it himself.

22nd Street Landing

I love Captain Greg and Bottom Scratcher. I got to the dock first and bounced onboard to claim one of my favorite bunks in the stern. Captain Greg and his crew were already on board so I got to hang out with them for a bit before everyone else got there. I was excited to be back on the boat, in the channel, and seeing a bunch of my OakStreaker friends again, many who I hadn’t seen since September 2014. After Greg, Dan, and Jim gave their mandatory talks regarding boat safety/rules, relay info, and CCSF rules respectively, I slid into my bunk to get a guaranteed deep sleep. I proved to be no ray of sunshine when I was woken up right before the initial jump. I was so confused that I thought it was *my* turn to swim as I wasn’t counting on being awake before then. After watching Dan, Susanne, and Trevor start the swim, I went back to slumberland.

Team Photo

“Kelley! 9 minutes!”

Huh? What?

I leap out of my bunk and am thankful that I put all my swim stuff in one bag so I dig through that on deck and change into my suit. Paula Selby, Carol Sing, and I are swimming together and luckily watching Paula lube up reminds me that I have to do that also. We jump seconds after I’m ready. I find out later from my friend Russ that Jim had actually tried to wake me up several times beforehand and couldn’t which they were starting to wonder how they were going to actually wake me up. People ask a lot how I have the energy to do everything I do and I’m not really joking when I respond with “Have you tried waking me up?”

The original formation was supposed to be boat – me – Carol – Paula – kayak from left to right. There’s some bioluminescence going on and I can see a bunch of little sea creatures in the water. I’m getting stung from the tiny jellyfish which is okay as these little guys don’t really leave much of a mark. I’ve never swam with Paula or Carol before and we’re all over the place. I’m supposed to swap places with Paula and leave Carol in the middle but Carol ends up ahead, behind, on the other side of Paula, 5 feet from the kayak where I’m supposed to be, etc. Paula and I pretty much stick together and I can see her silhouette under water from the galley lights. Carol and the bottom of the kayak both have green glowsticks and I keep thinking that the one under the kayak is Carol. I’ve never done a tandem relay. It’s hard getting into a grove since I’m thinking about the locations of the boat, Carol, Paula, and the kayak in addition to thinking about my actual swimming technique and the purpose of this relay in the first place: honoring those who have lost, won, and continue to fight their battles with cancer.

My friend Brandon always says to treat every pedal stroke, swim stroke, run like it’s your last as there are people out there who would give anything to be able to be where you are right now. Somewhere there is someone taking their last breath. Growing old is a privilege that is denied to many. My Tía Cecilia told me that my Tío Ed was skin and bones before he died from cancer and the only thing keeping him alive was his sure will to live. He passed away 10 days before I was going down to Lima to visit him. I remember having lunch with them on my previous trip to Peru and how full of life he was. He was determined to beat cancer. In the end, it ended up getting the best of him though.

My childhood friend, Jen Nathan, passed away from cancer at the age of 36. This is a video her husband made after she passed away.

Just two days before, my cousin Sean’s wife completed her first half-marathon (bucketlist item). She was cancer-free for 6 years only to find out in January that it was back with a vengeance and had spread to her blood, brain, bone, and lymph nodes. Her oncologist said that she couldn’t run the half-marathon as the bone cancer was too advanced and gave permission for her to walk it. And she did…2 days after a chemo treatment! Her brother-in-law (an Ironman addict) informed the event organizers who made a special announcement at the finish for her along with having a human “Tunnel of Love” for her to walk through at the finish line with my cousin and their kids waiting for her on the other side. I hope she beats it this time too so she can watch her kids grow up.

My cousin Sean’s wife Julie finishing her first half-marathon 2 days after a chemo treatment.

Luckily Dan has a white light on the kayak that he shines when our time is up. Anyone who has ever kayaked for me knows that I can’t hear **** when swimming and respond immediately to visual cues. Our reliefs are jumping in. Thanks to our color-coded caps, it’s easy to find our teammates. I high-five Saffi so she can start her first channel swimming experience ever. I sit there for a second wondering what I’m supposed to do now…oh yeah, get back on the boat (an odd experience for me not involving hitting land first).

Craig, part of Captain Greg’s crew, starts making breakfast for all of us. I could get used to this on my swims. A bunch of us are hanging out in the galley munching on the plethora of snacks that people brought. Carol even brought a birthday cake for David as coincidentally, it was David’s birthday that day too. During the second rotation, Russ is saying something about sharks and I tell him to not worry since there are millions of sharks in the ocean. He’s such a great person and I’m grateful he still talks to me, especially after that prank I pulled on him around Seal Rock in Laguna last year. He didn’t know that I was behind him in the kelp and I reached out and grabbed his ankle with both hands fast. He screamed and curled up into a ball. πŸ™‚ Yeah I’m going to swimmers’ hell sometime for that one.

After the second pod of the second leg jumps, I find out that we’re only about halfway across the channel. We’re going farther than your standard 21 mile Catalina swim to Cabrillo Beach because Dan wanted a sandy beach for the finish. Captain Greg usually lands at a rocky inaccessible beach. Dan has it in mind for a photo finish with some SAA folks at Cabrillo so convinced Greg to go there instead.

Perfect conditions in the middle of the Catalina Channel

I start getting read for my next jump about half an hour beforehand. I’m getting anxious with all the time to stand around waiting to start and almost wish I’d been asleep and waking up last minute instead. Since Sumner had said that we may end up having to do a third jump, I get into my still-wet swimsuit. He tells me right after that actually I won’t have to do a third hour which I swear he planned that. My second hour is easier this time since Paula, Carol, and I have already had some time together in the water. It’s hard still getting into a grove knowing that this is only going to be an hour long. Usually I just go from feed to feed and have a good guess on what 30 minutes feels like. Thanks to my multiple Alcatraz swims, I also know what about 45 – 50 minutes is like. I can see Paula checking her watch every so often and keep wondering if this is the time that it’s going to be over, especially after I feel like it’s been about the time length of an Alcatraz swim for me. She eventually stops and says that our time is up. It’s weird to think that the next time I jump in will be because we’re at the finish and going to join the last pod on Cabrillo Beach.

While the pod after mine is swimming, there’s some commotion as they see two fins pop up out of the water about 10 feet around the swimmers. Many think that it’s a shark, even a great white shark and it swims away. Later it’s identified by one of the swimmers who was in the water and saw it as being a harmless marlin.

Janel McArdle, Swim Across America’s president sees the names written on my arm “In Memory Of” and says “there are too many names there.” We bond over having loved ones who needed bone marrow transplants while fighting leukemia only to have donors back out at the last minute. She’s impressed that I donate platelets weekly. You become more selfless when you experience loved ones’ cancer struggles.

Russ, Eric, and Lynn jump in for a third time and they’ll be the ones to finish this relay as we’re only about half a mile from shore. I’m dressed and ready to go knowing that Captain Greg is going to go as close as he can and then the rest of us can jump in and join our teammates at the finish. I can’t believe this relay is almost over and we’ve made David’s dream come true. We get the call to jump so we quickly zip in to follow the last pod into the beach. Beth is in the kayak and I wish she’d have been joining us on land. As I swim in, I see what looks like Lynne Cox standing on the beach. I realize that it IS Lynne when I get out of the water! What a nice surprise! Recently I had discovered that my good friend Dusty and her are longtime close friends. Lynne brought some Mother’s Animal Cookies as they were David’s treat after he finished his swims. Dan takes them unopened back to the boat so we can feast on them there. What a nice thoughtful surprise and as Dusty says, Lynne is always a class act!

Finish at Cabrillo Beach

Our unofficial time was 14 hours 24 minutes 24 seconds. We had raised $35,838.00 for the City of Hope Cancer Research Center and made David’s dream a reality. We honored those who had lost their battles with cancer, those who were lucky to win their battles, and those who continue to fight it. We helped get one step closer to finding a cure.

I walk with Beth back to our cars and she asks me what my next swim is. I tell her that I’m swimming Catalina as a solo swim August 14 – 15. Her eyes light up and she gives me a big hug saying that she’ll track my progress that day. I get in my car and my eyes tear up thinking about what just transpired over the last 16 hours. What transpired was so much bigger than just another Catalina Channel relay and one that I was very deeply proud of participating in. I wish David could have been there to see it.

I need to recognize those who generously contributed to my fundraising for the City of Hope Cancer Research Center. Their support was incredible and I can’t thank them enough. This swim meant so much to me on many personal levels. Combined they donated a total of $2950 to my swim! They are:

Asha Allen
Lisa Amorao
Kathy Bailey
Kip Baumann
Michael and Melissa Black
Jim Bock
Ned Boynton
Eunice Chan
Rob Cox
Cynthia, Jamie, and CJ Drobile
Erika Dumaine
Morgan Empey
Maurice Evans
Mick Fingleton
Cathy Harrington
Phil Harrington
Carol Hayden
Alex Honor
Laura Hovden
Betty and Al Jaurique
Robert Kane
Jim and Rose Kasarda
Steve Kazakos & Ale Khachikian
Jane Koegel
Brooke Dougherty
Lynn Kubasek
Nan Luma
Linda Mandolini and Scott Geyer
Janet Manning
Kathy Monahan
Tim Mooney
Jay Myers
Ryan Nelson
Dusty Nicol
Ruthann O’Connor
George Prebil
Sue and Bill Prebil
Cecilia Raffo
Chris Rasmussen
Robin Rose
Mark and Elaine Scott
Virginia Scribner
Jesse and Bri Silver
Liz Steppe
Diana Theriault
Leslie Wall
Ben Wu
Shannon Yonker

If you still want to donate and have not or want to contribute more, you may do so still at http://www.swimacrossamerica.org/site/TR?px=1223179&fr_id=3620&pg=personal. All donations are 100% tax-deductible.

Dan said that there will be another David Yudovin Memorial Catalina Channel Relay in 2017. I told him to sign me up for all of them until we find a cure.

Next up: Catalina Channel Solo Swim – August 14 – 15. 22 days and counting.

Rose petals to scatter in the channel for David.

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