Please Stay, Don’t Go Away

In 2014 I was a regular at my friend Brandon’s spinning studio in South Pasadena, where I was (temporarily) living at the time. Between B, Scott (a triathlete & tri coach) and Eric (a now-pro triathlete), I learned that the largest part of what I got out of a class was due to the coaching from the instructors. I was coming home to San Francisco so much that the the other members at the South End Rowing Club, which I’d just joined to swim in the Bay, couldn’t tell that I actually lived 400 miles away.

For some crazy reason that I wanted to go spinning when back in San Francisco also on the dozens of weekends I was spending at home instead of SoCal. I had a friend who had been going to some place called OMPower for spinning that he would post about on Facebook. I decided to give it a try and booked my first class in June 2014 with someone named Enrique Julia. I’m dedicated to a fault sometimes and with how much I loved taking classes with B, Eric, and Scott, the stakes were pretty high for Enrique. I had no idea the affect that first class would have on me.

I actually don’t remember too much about that class except for Enrique working us really hard and I spent more time staring at the RPM on my bike’s monitor than anything else. B’s bikes didn’t have any electronics on them. I was using the numbers to distract myself from how much pain my quads were in and it worked! Enrique was like a shorter hairier version of Brandon (who is tall and bald) but they both have the same level of energy in their class. Neither of them really need a microphone either. I was instantly hooked though and knew that I wanted to work with that guy.

Karolina (another regular) showing Enrique how to use the new iphone’s camera.

I was already planning my move back to San Francisco after less than a year in Pasadena. Between South End and OMPower, I was subconsciously redefining my life in the Bay Area. My life in my native Bay Area was very different when I had left it in June 2013. I had been swimming in a pool for about a year and before that it was hard to get me to the gym even 3 times a week for 30 minutes. Now in Summer 2014 everything was coming together and it appeared that my life in the Bay Area would be very different than how it was when I had left the year before.

When I moved back to the Bay Area in October 2014, I started going to OM on a regular basis for Enrique’s classes on Monday and Wednesday nights. I slowly started incorporating other classes as I got interested in more of them although didn’t start a monthly membership until towards the end of last year when I did the math. I had decided in second half of 2016 to commit myself to two TRX classes a week for strength training. It was cheaper to just do the monthly membership than pay for 8 classes a month. With unlimited classes now, I was able to go to however many that I wanted and fit into my schedule without having to worry about the costs. By then I knew most of the non-yoga instructors and whose classes I liked and didn’t like.

Enrique still holds the record for most studio classes I’ve taken with anyone ever at 147. Not really fair on one hand since he taught more types of classes there than anyone else and subbed more often than anyone else. Equally impressive is my 106 TRX classes with Kevin and 79 spinning classes with Rob considering that’s all they taught there and Rob’s classes competed with my morning swim schedule. I’d only been taking Kevin’s classes for a little over a year too. I took 427 classes at OM mostly in TRX (176) and spinning (155) with the rest being yoga, indoor rowing, HIIT (high intensity interval training), and circuit training. I averaged 6 classes a week with two weeks being 16 classes each (along with several 10 – 14 class weeks). There was only one time that I was doing it as part of their 5th anniversary “how many classes can you take” challenge. I took 16 classes last week as I tried to get in as many classes with my favorite instructors before they closed their physical doors one last time. For the most part though I was going because I enjoyed being there. 427 classes and not a single injury from repetitive improper form.

One of my favorite classes was when I was the only one signed up for Kevin’s 4:30 p.m. class and got basically personal training. Although we drove Jennifer and Josh nuts as they could hear our banter from downstairs.

Devine Hardy, the original office manager at OM, told me one time about they were making a community and I didn’t understand what she meant by that at the time. I remember telling her about how I locked myself out of my condo the day after I got the keys. She offered to let me leave a set of keys there in case it happened again. This was no ordinary workout studio. Jennifer amassed a team who had a real passion for their specific areas and you could tell that this was more than just a paycheck for them. I never felt like just another faceless student there. They took each other’s classes and I’d frequently see some instructors there when they didn’t have a class. Some like Rob and Enrique knew the names of just about everyone who took their classes. They’d personally introduce themselves to new people and get to know them a little before class. They shared their personal lives to all of us. They cared about the people who were taking the time out of their busy lives to come to their class. They ensured that you were going to get the most out of their class and your time. Whether it was TRX or yoga or rowing, they made sure that you had correct form to prevent injury and maximize results.

I chose to drive to the city to OM’s location by the ballpark instead of the 24 Hour Fitness a few miles from me because it wasn’t just about exercise. Every class there felt like a training session with high quality coaching. I’ve talked with some of them outside of class about my own training and learning about other ways to think about training and health. I’ve gained a deeper understanding about myself and become open to new ideas on how to improve my performance and well being even more. I learned how to be more in tune with how my body moves. I learned more about nutrition and training than any other coach has ever taught me (and growing up figure skating and high school swim team, I’ve had a lot of coaches). Going to OM had never been about trying to look better in spandex or lycra (although sometimes I wish I picked sports that don’t involve skintight clothing). A good workout isn’t one where you crawl out of it with a busted body and can barely move. What good is it if you’re too sore to move the next day? As Duncan says, those workouts aren’t sustainable so you always hear people say “yeah I did [PX90, Insanity, CrossFit, etc.] for a year. Had to quit because I injured my [back, knee, etc.].” My ability to do so many classes wasn’t that I was somehow taking it easy during class and conserving energy to do another one. The classes weren’t easy either. Coaches like Enrique, Kevin, and Duncan were always on me to make sure that I wasn’t slacking off. They know that strength building comes from sustainability. Push yourself but not to the point where it hurts. If it hurts then something is wrong and you’re setting yourself up for (sometimes permanent) injury. I have little doubt that this level of quality is why I was then able to go out and ride a century (100 miles) or do my marathon swims (10 KM+) without riding my bike or swimming for endless hours beforehand as I was training smarter with them.

OM was about enriching my life more physically, mentally, and emotionally. Burning calories was a distant second. I went to OM because I enjoyed the classes and the instructors who became friends. It was comfortable to be there and the safe place that Jennifer and Devine had created for the community. I left each class with more energy than before I got there. I was always looking forward to the next time I got to go there. I scheduled other activities around my OM schedule. I brought friends to class with me to share the experience. I went to focus on myself knowing the team would help guide me to being the best I could be. It was the little things there that made the biggest impact on my life. They knew what I was capable of before I did sometimes. Like the time that Kevin got me to try a one-foot TRX side plank or Kim got me to try a Crow pose in yoga. I thought they were both crazy and then discovered that I could actually do them. I was comfortable being vulnerable there. The instructors were strong enough to admit when they were feeling vulnerable (e.g. Enrique teaching a rowing class when that isn’t his normal class). Jennifer and Dev took chances on new instructors who were just starting out and let them flourish. Everyone was nurtured there. They were some of my biggest supporters. There was some much love shared in that space. It truly was a hOMe.

Rob and I bonded quickly over cycling, music, the Giants, wine, food, and bourbon.

I’d left gyms and pools before on my own accord and it was relatively easy as I didn’t have a strong personal connection to the place. I wasn’t friends with the employees, coaches, or other members there. I didn’t grow there. They were just places that I used the facilities but had no emotional investment. OM was different in every way. It didn’t even look like a gym. I was shocked and sad when Jennifer told me that they were closing their doors because of a drastic and unsustainable rent increase. I didn’t want to leave the place that had become a big part of my life and that I’d come to love very deeply. It wasn’t fair and I didn’t feel like I was ready to move on. I didn’t have a say in the matter though.

So OM closed their physical doors on Sunday. I know the strength of the community that Jennifer and Devine worked hard to create though will live on as the physical space wasn’t what defined us. The people are what made it and we’re still around. I’m grateful that I became a part of it.

Dev, Jennifer, and me

Posted in Motivation | Leave a comment

Shizukana Ryu*

Watching sunrise over Honshu from where the Japan Sea feeds into the Tsugaru Strait was a surreal experience. My friends Steve Walker and Cameron Bellamy had just jumped into the water to start their attempt to cross one of the world’s most challenging channels to swim across. The Catalina Channel is like a second home to me and everything that I’d see today would be brand new. We knew and had planned for a strong current going through the middle of the channel, which the observer, Haruyuki Ishii, the honorable Chairman of the Tsugaru Strait Swimming Association, said that if the guys could make it past the middle channel, they were almost guaranteed success. Ishii-san himself had completed the swim in 30 hours in 1979 and his friend Mieko had done a triple crossing (!!!). I felt confident with having someone on the boat who was so well versed with navigating the strait from a swimmer’s perspective.

We had a mighty and bare bones international crew of Cam’s mother, Janita from Capetown (South Africa), Ian from Hong Kong, Bill from Hakodate (Japan), and myself (San Francisco). I was responsible for Steve while Ian and Janita took care of Cam. Bill provided communications support between Ishii-san, Sudo-san (boat captain) and the rest of us. We have a real I’d never crewed for Steve before and we’d gone over his feeds a couple of times beforehand. Both of them had completed 5 of the 7 “Oceans Seven Challenge” swims with the English Channel (England to France), North Channel (Ireland to Scotland), Molokai Channel (Oahu to Molokai), Catalina Channel (Catalina Island to Mainland), and the Straits of Gibraltar (Spain to Morrocco). Reaching the shores of Hokkaido today would leave them with only Cooks Strait in New Zealand left. Personally I have no desire to do this challenge as I have no desire to do the English Channel. Many of us do swims that “call” us and EC just isn’t doing it for me. I was interested in possibly the Molokai Channel until discussing the idea with Forrest Nelson, the President of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and very experienced with the Hawaii marathon swims, and he mentioned about the obvious difficulty of hitting Molokai (3 possible landing spots and if you miss the third one, you’ve missed the island and in open ocean) and tiger sharks (at which point I thought “I’m out!”). I would rather swim in a great white shark’s home waters (as evident by my 40th birthday party out at the Farallones that involved a fun swim around the boat) than a tiger shark’s home waters.

Sunrise over Honshu, Japan.

Steve and Cam had both given me their cell phones to update their Facebook pages and respond to anyone pinging them. I was busy juggling them and trying to eventually distribute any Facebook updates between their two accounts along with Steve’s wife Sue who was watching their tracker like a hawk! Steve and Cam are business partners so there was also an email thread with their staff that had to be updated along with a personal email group that Steve wanted me to send updates to. I had Steve’s feed list also along with his request of wanting a lot of data given to him during their swim related to their progress, speed, and conditions. I’ve never been so busy on a swim! Steve also warned me that he would go off the schedule based on his mood and at least I had a general idea of what he may do. Cam was happy to just go with everything he had on his list and ate and drank whatever Ian and Janita gave him.

The boys looked strong and confident in the water with long smooth strokes despite the water being a little choppy. Steve was ahead of Cam in general but they pod together very well. I was quickly getting sick of Steve’s ringtone as Sue was constantly texting me asking for updates and offering words of encouragement. I’d posted the link to the swim tracker to the South End Rowing Club’s Google Groups. Fellow South Ender, Kevin Buckholtz, posted the link to his employer SalesForce’s social group. Sue also works for SalesForce and didn’t know Kevin so was surprised to see the tracker link blasted out to the entire company. I told the boys that apparently all of SalesForce was tracking their swim! No pressure at all.

Cam getting into the water at the start of his Tsugaru Strait swim crossing attempt.

They charged through the middle of the channel in great spirits with not much chit chat time. Ishii-san was happy with their progress and the water temperatures were staying fairly constant around 16 – 17 C, water temperatures that are considered warm back in our San Francisco Bay. We watch a lot of container ships pass far in the distance but no other smaller boats. Steve and Cam seem in great spirits and focused on getting the job done. We don’t discuss anything that isn’t related to the swim during any of their feeds. Ishii-san had this great device like a mix between a horn and a whistle that you blow into that we use to help stop the guys for the feeds. Cam is more likely to miss any yelling or whistles when it’s feed time which I can relate to since I’m practically deaf while swimming, even without earplugs.

We head into late afternoon where the boys are almost completely out of the middle of the channel and heading into waters where the current is weaker, if non-existent. The winds have died down along with any surface waves. I’ve heard that swimming from light to dark has a horrible mental affect on swimmers as opposed to the more natural and positive condition of swimming from dark to light. My Catalina swim ended at 5:00-something in the afternoon in August 2015 so it was still bright light at that hour. We’re at the end of October though so the sun is starting to set at 4:00 p.m. I’m worried about them being able to finish the swim as they are out of the hardest part but still have a ways to go. Another swimmer had recently said that her Tsugaru Strait swim was harder than her North Channel swim which is contrary to popular belief that the North Channel was the hardest one of the Ocean’s Seven. Steve and Cam appear to be in good spirits though and their stroke rates are staying constant. I never imagine any outcome except for them reaching the shores of Hokkaido though and the celebration that we’ll have afterwards.

Steve and Cam in the middle of the Tsugaru Strait with a container ship in the background.

The sun sets over the Japan Sea and the wind picks up. The water temperature drops so quickly that even Ishii-san is shocked to see the water temperature is now 14 C. We turn the deck lights on as there is no other light out in the middle of the channel. Steve and Cam put their blinkies back on their goggles so we can see them in the dark. Steve and Cam are less talkative now and Steve is completely off of his feed plan even denying offerings that he had requested to be given just a half an hour before in the previous feed. They’re slowing down which can be expected. We get to feeds where Steve is hardly drinking any of his Gatorade/water blend. Steve asked for one of his caffeinated Gus during a feed and then couldn’t find it in the fish net even with a light shining right on it and his hand is right next to the packet. He gives up after the third try of trying to find it. I’m feeling like a bit of a failure of crew as we aren’t able to reverse the swimmers’ performance declining. Steve starts complaining about cramping and is getting pretty grumpy. He refuses to stop for one feed and instead swims in a circle while Cam feeds. They’re less than 6 KM from finishing the swim and Hokkaido seems so close even in the dark. We can clearly see the lights going along the road that snakes along Hokkaido’s coastline. Cam keeps swimming into the port side of the boat and we keep having to yell at him to swim parallel to the boat and farther away from it. Their progress is now just under 1 mile an hour but they are out of the current. My heart sinks as I sense that they’re starting to get hyopthermic due to the sharp temperature drop and the natural affect of being in water that much colder than you for that long. If they have it in themselves to crawl through these last few miles, they’ll finish the swim. Knowing how much time and energy into getting here, I want to see them finish! I’ve got a few DNFs (Did Not Finish) to my name and know how frustrating it is to come so close yet be so far from landing on that beach that you’ve envisioned for so long on reaching by your own power.

Sun setting over the Japan Sea.

Steve shouts out that he’s done and wants the ladder. He and Cam have been swimming now for just over 13 hours. Bill and I try to plead with him to just swim a little longer as we try to limp him to the finish. We’re a mere 4.5 KM from Hokkaido and they were making a beeline for it now. Feed to feed, 30 minutes to 30 minutes. This is a standard mental trick to break down a long swim to much smaller chunks as I don’t think any marathon swimmer is really looking forward to the gazillion hours that a swim is going to take to finish. Same as when riding up Old La Honda Road in Woodside or Mt Tam in the North Bay…one turn at a time and you’ll be at the top before you know it. Steve asks for the ladder again at the next feed and this time he isn’t taking any other outcome as an answer. We relunctantly get the ladder. Steve’s legs are so cramped that he can’t get up the ladder. Bill and Ian take Steve’s right side while I take his left side and we haul him up the ladder and over the side of the boat. Steve is shivering. We sit him down on the closest cooler and dry him off as quickly as possible. I hug his back to try and transfer heat to his back, which is one of the places we lose heat the fastest from (the other being the head). We get him into the boat’s cabin where Ishii-san is prepared with a foil thermal blanket. Steve instructs us to go back and take care of Cam.

Ian is busy outside trying to get Cam to keep going as now Cam wants to quit. I’ve only seen the expression on Cam’s face from when he finished his North Channel swim. I can tell that he’s completely exhausted and hit his wall. He’s begging for the ladder and is just mentally gone from any other thought. Ian asks him three times if Cam is sure that he wants to get out now which Cam affirms each time. As with Steve, Bill and Ian take Cam’s right side while I take his left side and we haul him into the boat. Cam is shivering uncontrollably and we do the same process of drying him off like we did with Steve. We escort him into the boat cabin and put him next to Steve. Cam slurs if he can rest his head on my lap which of course he can! Janita takes Cam’s feet in her lap to try and warm them up. I can’t imagine what it was like for a mother to watch her child be in this condition. Steve is better now and asks for his phone so he can talk to Sue. I’d already managed to slip in a text to Sue a few minutes before to let her know that her husband was safely back on the boat. The boat makes its long ride back to dock.

My biggest fear has always been that I’d have wasted my crew’s time and energy if I don’t finish a swim. I never felt like I wasted anything being there for a friend’s swim and always considered myself honoured to have been trusted to take care of a friend during their swim. I’ve been on other DNF swims but this one was different given the cost and time involved of us gathering in Japan for a swim. Marathon swims aren’t cheap and international ones are even more expensive. I was proud of every stroke that Steve and Cam did during their swim. They really gave it everything they had that day and made a heroic display of athleticism. While some consider it these swims a “conquering” challenge, it’s far from that. The strength of the swimmer has to match the conditions given with a little luck to make it across. Both Steve and Cam are very accomplished athletes and today just wasn’t their day to finish. They tackled a tough swim that most people don’t even dream about attempting even. I have the deepest respect for any swimmer who even tries a marathon swim as it’s a much larger commitment than just a single day. Marathon swimmers put several months into training and preparing for a swim and hope that Mother Nature cooperates on the target date. They swam really strong for several hours until they had nothing left to give and didn’t quit until they couldn’t physically swim any more.

There was no talk later from either of them saying that they could have made it and regretted not continuing to swim that day. No “coulda woulda shoulda” talk of what anyone could have done differently. We all did our best and it showed. Steve had tried the swim earlier this year and made it farther than he had the first time. He has more knowledge about the channel now. We talked briefly the next morning. He was ready to quit marathon swimming entirely and I told him to just give it a few months, regroup, and then figure out what to do. There was no reason to commit to a resignation right now. Cam has his own lessons that he can take into his next attempt. These DNFs are learning experiences and there’s never a person to fault for a DNF, whether the swimmer or crew. We have a saying of “this just wasn’t the day for it to happen” which is absolutely true. Different day and time and it may have happened or may not have. The unpredictability of open water swimming is the greatest challenge of it which is also what we’re drawn to the sport otherwise we’d have never moved out of the concrete pond. Pool swimmers can really only push themselves on speed as pool water will always be flat with a temperature of about 80 F. A pool distance is always going to be just that as there is no current. The ocean moves horizontally and vertically. Marathon swimmers strive for the greatest possible challenge in swimming and everyone who even starts one of these swims gets kudos from me for even trying. I know my own feelings of disappointment from a DNF where part of me never wanted to swim again and the real challenge is to overcome that feeling, brush it off, and let it make you stronger. A larger scale than my last Candlestick Point to Aquatic Park swim when the flood kicked in (AGAIN) before I got to the Opening and I thought to myself “OH HELL NO!” and booked it against the current up the breakwater and into the Opening to complete that swim on the second try.

Cameron Bellamy and Steve Walker before their Tsugaru Strait attempt in October 2017.

I never regretted answering Cam’s invite to crew for them. I always suspected that my crew was lying to make me feel better when they said that they didn’t feel like they wasted their time crewing for me on a DNF. As a fellow marathon swimmer, I finally fully learned from Steve and Cam’s swim that your crew is being honest when they say such things. My biggest takeaway was the realization of just how tight knit and supportive that the marathon swimming community is of each other. We never just say nice things to spare feelings and we all genuinely want to encourage and be there for each other. It’s a give and take that comes full circle without discussion. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the swimmers and crew for any of these swims. Everyone shows up and gives it their best effort which is all you can ask from anyone. Not every swim attempt is going to be successful and it really is more about the journey than the destination. I think those who were always successful on first attempts don’t get as much out of this sport than others who have had to overcome setbacks. If you always get what you want then where was the real challenge? Who is more interesting to talk to…the kid who grew up getting everything they ever wanted handed to them or the kid who had to work hard, overcome failures, and really earn it? I have no doubt that Steve and Cam finishing this swim on another attempt will mean more to them than if they had finished it on the first try.

Even if I knew their attempt would result in a DNF, I would do this all over again for them without question. I’d crew for any of the other swimmers who I’ve been on their DNF swims. They all had strong crews who did everything right and it just wasn’t the day for that swim to happen. No faults and no blames. No time wasted by anyone. I’m always just glad to be included in the swimmer’s journey to achieve a dream. That day in Japan I saw Steve and Cam push themselves to their limits and was glad to be to help catch them when they reached their maximum output that day. I already told them that if they want to try again that I would do it again in a heartbeat with no questions. I would love nothing more than to see the stars align and them successfully complete this swim in the future. I know they both have the aptitude to complete this swim and have no doubt that they would be successful if they try it again. Their success truly would be sweeter having gone through more effort than those who were successful on the first try. I know both of them have it in them to finally scratch the Tsugaru Strait off of their To Do list. As my friend Marilyn Grace’s motto goes..”how hungry are you for it?”

I hope that Steve and Cam are still hungry.

* Shizukana Ryu means “quiet dragon” in Japanese.

Posted in Marathon Swimming | Leave a comment

The Devil Inside

“Are we making any progress?” I said at about 5:00 a.m. yesterday somewhere off the West side of Alcatraz. It’s completely dark and my crew are using the SPOT tracker and their phones to try and see where we are in the Bay. I’d started my second attempt at a Roundtrip Angel Island swim from the South End Rowing Club beach about an hour ago. I am a bit disoriented because Alcatraz doesn’t look like it’s moving in my field of vision as I can see the lighthouse’s light but not much else on it. Ribeye, John / Mayhem’s boat, is hard to see too aside from its running light on the stern and a single red light on its bow.

I’d made my first attempt at an RTAI 2 years ago and got pulled at Alcatraz on the way back even though I was making progress towards finishing the swim for complete BS reasons that I won’t go into detail now. Needless to say though I’m not using the same captain and boat. This time I’m out with Mayhem (aka John Sims) piloting his trusty Ribeye zodiac carrying Les Mangold (Godfather of the Nadadores Locos and one of the most knowledgeable people on SF Bay currents), Robin Rose (crew member, buddy swimmer, and sweetest woman you’ll ever meet), and Scott Tapley (veteran independent observer and is of great integrity). I’ve got a great crew that I could never thank enough for stepping up to accompany me on this voyage. I wanted a barebones crew of some of the best and got it!

I hadn’t done a marathon swim since my Catalina channel swim in August 2015 and had been feeling a bit lost with no goals to work on. I postponed my Strait of Gibraltar swim to August 2019 for financial reasons as it would have been in a few weeks otherwise. I needed something though so revisited RTAI since it’s in my front yard.

This year was different though as the Figure 8 route popped into my head of the route I wanted to do. I’d have been happy with finishing with any pattern 2 years ago. Figure 8 though adds 2 – 3 miles and multiplies the complexity of having to now not just cross the shipping lane between Angel Island and Alcatraz both ways but also criss-cross it (West Alcatraz-East Angel Island and East Alcatraz-West Angel Island either way). Timing and luck have to be on your side. I didn’t know either until talking to Evan Morrison the other day that no one has pulled off the Figure 8 pattern on this swim yet. If I make it, I’d be the first person ever to do it.

Me swimming through Raccoon Strait along Angel Island.

The swim went beautiful and we were head of schedule after passing from West Alcatraz to East Angel Island and all the way around Angel Island. One of my favorite images from the swim was Ribeye with the sunrise off the East side of Angel Island. Robin Rose buddy swam with me for most of the way around Angel Island which provided invaluable as she could communicate with the crew on where to go and I just focused on swimming. There was one small inlet where a couple of sea lions came to check us out. Robin guided me through one particular stressful section where there was a small rip current similar to what I’ve seen in portages. I wasn’t sure if I could make it through that as I could see the Egregia menziesii (aka “feather boa” marine plant) moving fast in the wrong direction for me. Somehow I made it through though and we were able to continue on our way. We made a perfect circumnavigation around the island hugging its curves all the way against the mild flood.

I had no problem with the boat being farther away from me since I could sight off the island points since it was now daylight. Crabbing through Raccoon Strait was interesting with all the rocks and vegetation I could see underwater. I was way too close at one point and I got knocked into the actual island on my left side. Freshly wounded swimmer…great. I know though from the multiple times I’ve cut myself around Aquatic Park that any abrasion won’t start actually bleeding until I’m out of the water and the blood returns to the skin surface. We made it around the island ahead of schedule and only about 5 hours into the swim. I was happy to see the East side of Alcatraz, my next destination. Robin got back in the boat to rest up for hopefully her escort swim to my finish back at the club.

Swimming through Raccoon Strait with Robin Rose.

I was instructed to head towards the Bay Bridge to get further East with the dying flood and hopefully line myself up to take the minor 1.3 ebb around Alcatraz and back to the Aquatic Park opening in the next few hours. However this is when things started going wrong due to the conditions. An Eastward wind picked up against the ebb which caused me to go nowhere and then a Northwest current was pushing me back towards Angel Island. My crew tried for 2 hours to get me out of the circle pattern to no avail and we didn’t know where or when conditions would change to make any Southward progress again. We just knew that I wasn’t getting anywhere. I swam in place for an hour on my Catalina swim towards the end which luckily in open ocean, I didn’t have any knowledge about what was really going on. Different story in the Bay where I know the landmarks and how far everything is from me. I knew I wasn’t going anywhere that entire time which was very frustrating. I could see the East side of Alcatraz but I couldn’t get to it.

You can see where I was going anywhere but South and actually heading back Northwest. 😦

After swimming for 9 hours and 15 minutes, we called it and I got back on Ribeye. I was really disappointed. Scott Tapley, my independent observer (co-founder of Monterey Bay Swimming Association and fellow Catalina observer; we observed 2 Catalina swims together for Kristine Buckley and Amy Gubser), said that my stroke looked great and that my stroke count didn’t decline at all during the swim. This was the longest I’d swam since my 17:25:48 Catalina Channel solo swim so it helped me know that I can still swim 9+ hours. A bonus is that I cramped something in my back 8 hours into a Catalina training swim and then pinched my right shoulder 8 or 9 hours into my actual Catalina Channel swim. Today my body feels fine aside from some weird soreness in my right rib cape which I’m still trying to figure out why. I’m just happy that my shoulders are good which means that I wasn’t overusing them in my stroke yesterday.

Just another day of me swimming in the shipping channel between Angel Island and Alcatraz.

I’m still struggling with taking this as a learning experience. I naturally focus on those last 2.5 / 3 miles that I didn’t do and not the 7 or 8 miles that I did swim. I was so close yet so far. I hate not finishing. I hate not reaching my goal. I think some people thought my goal was to make a “lollipop” shape and have been congratulating me which just makes me feel worse actually. They’re congratulating a failure even if they don’t realize it. I set out to swim from the club out and around Angel Island and back to the club with a criss-cross pattern and failed to do that. It sucks that it’s not because of the lack of my ability or training, which is the only thing I can control but that the conditions didn’t allow it. I successfully completed both Anacapa (12.4 miles) and Catalina (20.2 miles) on the first try and I can’t finish this one marathon swim in my aquatic front yard. WTF? It has been a battle the overcome my disappointment on not finishing the swim this time. I felt like I let a lot of people down, especially my crew who gave up a lot of sleep and a day to be with me on this swim. My friend Betty Jean helped make me realize that everyone on my crew also has a DNF (Did Not Finish) to their name. I’ve been on swims that the swimmer didn’t finish and I didn’t regret being there for them. My friend Robert said “The only way to not have DNFs in this sport is to choose easy s*** and that ain’t your style.” Very true. I’m grateful that I’ve got the support of such great friends to help pick me up when I’m feeling defeated like I have been since Saturday afternoon.

I love how open water swimming gives you something different each time which is why it’s complete BS to say you “conquered” a body of water or swim route because you didn’t. You managed to get lucky with the right conditions that allowed you to cross. I know I can do this damn swim as I can do the mileage without question in that body of water. I just need the right conditions and it’ll help if the currents would read their charts too. I’m trying to take the good with the bad and how we can make the next attempt be successful.

Already picking dates with my crew for trying this again in 2018.

So close yet so far from making it back to Aquatic Park

Posted in Marathon Swimming | 4 Comments

Angels In Everything

Around the first anniversary of my uncle’s death, I’d decided that I wanted to do more to help leukemia patients than just my regular platelet donations and being registered in the national bone marrow registry (which really isn’t doing anything but waiting for the 0.02% chance you’ll ever match someone). Something that involved cycling too would be the perfect reason. A Google Search gave me Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride with a century ride (100 miles) around Lake Tahoe. Perfect! I’d done the 72-miles around the lake before so adding 28 miles to that wasn’t going to be a problem. I love riding around the East side of the lake and around the Emerald Bay part on the West side.

Beautiful Lake Tahoe.

The first time I’d done a charity fundraising event that had any personal meaning was the inaugural David Yudovin Memorial Catalina Channel Relay in July 2015 where we raised money under Swim Across America earmarked for the City of Hope, who had helped David successfully beat leukemia. My uncle wasn’t so lucky. While there are other big charity cycling events like AIDS Life Cycle, I don’t have much connection to them. I also tend to like smaller charities that get less attention (therefore less money) like my friends’ charities Nepal Orphan Fund and Ubunye Challenge, both 100% non-profits with no overhead costs. ❤ I was attracted to AMBBR because I wanted to help others fighting leukemia not the distance that meant something to me. I was thinking yesterday about how my feelings about people's struggles with leukemia changed when bone marrow matches for my uncle dropped out, one who did the week the donation was supposed to take place. I was angry about this emotional rollercoaster that my family was put on. I remember there was one 10/10 match and 3 9/10 matches. My dad was an 8/10 match which wasn't ideal. The 10/10 declined to donate for whatever reason and then one of the 9/10 matches did also. I was pissed off that these people were in the bone marrow registry and got that 0.02% chance call just to say "No." I didn't care what their excuse was at the time and assumed that they just signed up because they thought they'd never get the call but could just feel good about themselves for "trying." They didn't have to see someone go through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and run out of other options. I want to say that maybe if they have then they'd also feel that they don't want anyone else to have to go through that and help out any way they can. The day that second match dropped out was when I decided to register for Be The Match. I couldn’t register though since I was still within a year of a major surgery (Periacetabular Osteotomy). I marked the one year mark after my second PAO in my work calendar to register for the bone marrow registry that very day (and did).

Uncle Bill and me in 2014.

I’d ridden centuries before with the supported ones donating to various charities but nothing that I had to personally raise funds for the ride. I was more concerned about being able to get the minimum $1600 in donations than physically doing the ride. I knew that I could ride 100 miles, even in Tahoe, without much difficulty. I knew that I could count on people like my dad to always donate to whatever I’m raising funds for but $1600 sounds like a lot. I registered for the ride in late 2016 and remember the only thing I hated about it was having to select “In Memory Of” in the section where it asked if you were doing the ride in honor or memory of someone and if so, what was his/her name. I made my first post on Facebook announcing my ride and asking for donations. My Aunt Sue, my Uncle Bill’s widow, made the first donation within minutes and my dad, of course, was the second. I am very grateful for all the generous donations I received of amounts between $5 and $500 as it added up to $2680!! I meant it when I said that every little bit helped and I appreciated friends and family donating what they could afford. It meant a lot to me as I didn’t want my uncle’s death to be in vain and what we went through to be a faded memory. People said they liked me sharing my story which is actually a little hard for me to even think about without getting a little emotional. You can still donate to my ride by the way at here.

Some have asked what my experience with Team In Training was like and I really couldn’t tell you. I didn’t show up for a single training ride with them. Their website originally only gave me the Silicon Valley Team as an option and I’m nowhere near Silicon Valley (an hour’s drive without traffic). My friend Linda was doing the same ride also with TNT and told me to join the Greater Bay Area Chapter as that was closer to me. I finally got switched over after a few emails with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The first ride email I got from them was starting in Half Moon Bay, which is the coastal town on the other side of the ridge from me (a tunnel would make it a 5 minute drive, if that). Yes this group was infinitely closer to me than the South Bay! My weekends tend to be booked in advance and Saturdays (TNT’s ride day) are popular for just about everything. There were actually two Saturdays that I could have joined them for a ride but instead I was at Stanford Blood Center donating platelets. Otherwise my “training” all year only involved 1 103-mile/3000′ ride (3 weeks before), 1 80-mile/5000′ ride (1 week before), 1 36-mile/2000′ ride (2 weeks before), 1 28-mile/3400′ ride (March) and several short ones generally to/from home and work (15-miles/1000′ each way) along with, of course, my usual 11 – 14 workouts/week of a combination of Bay swimming, TRX, spinning, and indoor rowing.

We had a team meeting the day before the ride up in Tahoe. Others knew that Linda and I were friends and were asking her about me. They didn’t know if I was actually there or if I could finish the ride. Linda was basically like “you don’t know who you’re dealing with” in regards to me. I didn’t really remember whose group I was in even! They were handing out awards and Linda got the “Invisible Woman Award” since she showed up to only a fraction of their training rides. She said that I should have gotten it since I showed up to absolutely zero training rides. I got publicly named at that team meeting with everyone turning around and looking at me. I felt exposed! I nervously waved “hi” to everyone. Linda introduced me to Karen, whose group I had been assigned to. I met the other people in the group and was set to meet up with them the next morning for our staggered rollout.

Linda and me after she got the “Invisible Woman Award” that she said I deserved.

The morning of Sunday, 4 June was a little chilly but not bad. I’d brought my trusty companion, fellow early bird, and swim buddy Cathy up with me as she’s training to swim the length of Lake Tahoe later this summer. She came to cheer my sendoff that morning complete with a “GO KELLEY!” sign she made for me. Aw! Karen flagged me down (thank goodness since I didn’t quite remember what she looked like) and asked me about my cycling speed for a distance like this, if I even knew it. I told her how I’d done the Tour de Cure century in Napa a few weeks before and averaged 15.1 mph for those 100 miles. Her eyes got really big and she suggested we talk to Dominic about going with him and “the other speedies.” Dominic’s group was the fastest TNT group in the chapter. I would be the only girl in this group too. Dominic was surprised when I’d told him that I’d spent 30 minutes total at the rest stops during the Tour de Cure century and that was only that long (for me) because I took an extra 5 minutes at the last one to cool down the hotspots on my feet. We took off with Cathy ringing her cowbell.

Cathy seeing me off at the start of AMBBR.

I started off the ride talking to Dominic. He’s done the Death Ride and lives at the base of Diablo so rides it about once a week. Okay, this guy is a legit cyclist. Dominic’s group was the best group for me to be in since we were more or less together the entire time, even on the hills they’d be right there with me. They took a longer than I’d personally spend at rest stops but that’s okay. On the first climb, I was talking to one of the guys about my uncle and I could feel myself starting to tear up a little. I fought that back though as I really don’t like crying in public and there was no way that I was doing that on this ride. Last time I had was actually in front of Beth Yudovin last November when I told her that my uncle had passed away the year before and she tenderly hugged me.

South Enders during a short (for us) swim in Lake Tahoe the day before my ride. Water temperatures comparable to our beloved San Francisco Bay.

We were going to paceline from Tahoe City to Truckee and back (the additional 28 miles to make this a century ride). I’d never done much pacelining before and my general concept of it is what I learned in Enrique’s spinning class with the person in front increasing his/her rpm by about 20 rpm while everyone else takes a break and drafts. I’m accustomed to drafting definitely and had done some of it during the Tour de Cure with a couple of the ride marshals that I ended up chatting with for about 10 miles of that ride. Here we were going to take the lead for 2 minutes each in the rotation. After my first turn was done, I couldn’t figure out why there were only 2 other guys with us and Dominic didn’t realize it until his turn was over as he was right behind me in the order. We had a rest stop at the turnaround point in Truckee where I’d learn that I’d left most of them in the dust as they couldn’t keep up with me even though they were drafting. One guy noted that we’d dropped 3 mph off our average speed and we were on our way to a 6-hour moving time. Enrique has trained me too well perhaps! I’m sure any doubts of whether I could keep up with them or finish the ride disappeared by then. I took an easier pace when in the lead on the way back to Tahoe City.

My quads were starting to really hurt between Tahoe City and Kings Beach. I remembered my friend Brandon’s constant coaching about how lucky we are to be alive and how someone somewhere right now would give anything to take one more pedal stroke instead of their last breath. I’m thinking about how lucky I am to not only be alive but also be able to physically do this ride after Dr. Bellino saved my hip joints in 2011/2012. I passed by a woman who had photos pinned all over her jersey of a little girl who had passed away from leukemia. The photos are flapping up and down like little wings and I have no doubt that she’s thinking of that little girl the entire ride. At least my uncle got to live most of his life. That little girl was cheated out of hers. Most people doing this ride are either leukemia survivors themselves or had a loved one who had it. There are a lot of custom jerseys with “In Memory of” and names and photos printed on them. We’re all there for the same reasons and it’s not just to see if we can bike 100 miles around Tahoe.

Dominic’s Group at Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe.

The boys and I regroup at the lunch stop in Kings Beach. I don’t really eat much since I just don’t eat much during rides aside from eating bananas like my life depends on it (and the potassium they have pretty much makes it true). We take way longer here than I usually like and the one time during the ride I really miss Arianna. My friend Arianna is so fast at rest stops that she is usually waiting for me so we can get going again. The longer we spend standing around, the colder my quads are getting and the harder it’ll be to start pedaling again. I contemplate too on asking Cathy to come pick me up and screw the last 30 miles but I know that there’s no way in hell she’d ever agree to let me quit early. I’m looking forward to the second half of the ride around the lake too since IMO it’s more beautiful with sweeping views of the lake for most of the ride.

Turns out one of the guys (John) belongs to “that other club” next to South End Rowing Club. The boys were interested in my open water swimming as Linda had told everyone that I had swam in Lake Tahoe the day before. Our conversation went like :

John: “I belong to Dolphin Club.”
Me: “I’m sorry.”
John (thinks for a second): “South End?”
Me: “Yup.”
John: “Well that can’t be helped. They would’t let you into Dolphin Club?”
Me: “Didn’t even try. (South End is better).”

I mentioned about thinking about swimming after the ride is over. John agreed but he said no way was he going into the lake. Why would anyone want to swim in a chemical-filled pool when you’ve got Lake Tahoe right there in June? Those Dolphins are really weird.

We take off for Incline Village which is where my legs start working again. It’s generally around the 80 mile mark where either I get a second wind or my quads are in so much pain that they’re actually numb so I no longer feel the pain anymore. There’s really only one climb on this side which I try and think about as the same as my home/work commute since it’s about 15-miles total with 1000′ climbing. Difference is, of course, that I’m not 70 miles into a ride already when I leave home or work. This hill is fine when you start off a ride from the North side totally fresh but right now at this point in the ride, this hill sucks. Dominic wants to regroup at the top of the hill so we can try and finish the ride all together. A few of us stop at a rest stop we see thinking that this is the one he was talking about. He tells us to go ahead as he’s waiting for the last in our group and that we’re only halfway up. WTF? ARG! We get back on our bikes and continue slogging uphill. I’m looking at the top of the ridge trying to figure out how close we are to the top as we appear to be running out of hill (and hopefully soon). We finally get to the last rest stop and try to regroup but some of the guys aren’t there yet. If it was just me, I wouldn’t have stopped here at all actually as I didn’t need too since I had plenty of water and we were only 15 miles from the end with it being either rolling hills, descents, or flat the rest of the way. Dominic finally lets the rest of us head off which was good since I was tired of just standing around. I told him that we’ll try to at least not embarrass him too much the rest of the way.

We pulled over in one parking lot just outside South Lake Tahoe as we weren’t sure where Dominic wanted to meet up before the finish. We finally see him so start off again as a group. I get excited seeing the hotels of SLT and knowing the finish is coming up. I’m not entirely sure what happened since I was out in front for the last couple of miles thinking that the guys were right behind me. I come into the finish and see Cathy waiting for me. I’m touched since this is the first time that someone was waiting for me at the finish for any ride or swim that I’ve ever done! (Those who had also done the same ride or swim don’t really count) The guys weren’t right behind me and they show up just a few minutes later. The boys and I take one final group photo before parting ways. I ask Cathy to get my shoes from the car since the one thing that I really look forward to after any ride is getting out of my cycling shoes. She’s the best sherpa. 🙂 We depart to meet up with Linda’s husband Scott at the Cold Water Brewery and Grill because we couldn’t resist the name!

Crossing the finish line.

One of the guys said that the total moving time for him was 6:16 which makes mine a few minutes less than that. My Suunto recorded a longer moving time for me but it’s on my wrist so counts all the time that I was walking around rest stops. The LLS form asks what your predicted ride time is when you register which I tried to put in 8 hours at the time, but it wouldn’t let me put that in saying that was too low of a time. I had put in 10 hours since that worked and knew I wouldn’t be anything close to that. It took me 10.5 hours to do the Marin Century 2 years ago when I was a weaker cyclist and the Marin Century involved a lot more climbing (6400′ vs Tahoe’s 5000′) including the cute 3-mile/770′ beast called “Marshall Wall.”

Our group at the finish in South Lake Tahoe.

I’m plan to do this ride again next yer and even make some of the TNT training rides. They’re a good group and it’s a great cause. I like that I can combine my love of cycling and Uncle Bill together to help others. There’s no physical challenge for me to overcome for completing this ride. I want to help other leukemia patients so hopefully they don’t have my uncle’s fate. I’ll always appreciate the donor who did give bone marrow to my uncle as it gave him a few more years with his wife, kids, grandkids, my dad, me, and his other loved ones. You can’t buy that time. Uncle Bill has continued to inspire me to find new ways to help others like him and I wish he was around to see it. I can’t thank everyone who donated to my ride enough. You helped make this possible and helped the LLS raise $3.25 million to help fund leukemia and lymphoma research and treatment! I wouldn’t have been able to do the ride without your support. I’ve already marked my calendar for the next one on Sunday, 3 June 2018. I’m looking forward to it already!

Kings Beach with the south side of Lake Tahoe a short 20 miles straight across.

Posted in Cycling | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Cycling | Leave a comment

Finding a New Way hOMe

I started off March with the 5th Anniversary OMember Challenge at OM Power last week. Deal is that you take as many classes as you can and whoever makes the most classes wins prizes. What a lot of my studiomates didn’t know is that my regular workout schedule already includes 2 – 3 hours of exercise a day (more when I’m actually training or going on long bike rides) so something like this is right up my alley.

I mapped out how many classes I could make in 7 days with maintaining my previous commitments like work and social events. I would have to give up almost my entire week’s swim schedule but everything more or less would stay the same. I could make 19 classes in 7 days and I’d only keep 1 swim on my schedule. What many people there didn’t know is what my regular workout routine actually is as I don’t usually do it all in one place between swimming, OM, and 2 gyms. 2+ hours exercising a day doesn’t sound too bad until you add it up to 14+ hours a week.  I’m used to doing multiple hours of cardio at a time ( up to 10+hours on the bike and of course my 17.5 hours Catalina Channel marathon swim crossing).  I’m used to mainly cardio with some resistance training, not the other way around. The reverse would be the challenge for me. Just the weekend before I’d done the Row HIIT, Spinning, and TRX classes on Saturday (all before noon!) and the Row TRX and a Bay swim on Sunday then going into my usual weekday schedule that starts off with Spinning on Monday mornings. What’s a “rest day”?

My workout class schedule for the OMember Challenge 2017. 19 classes in 7 days.

The week also coincided with the anniversary of my hospital stay for my first pelvic surgery. I’d been checking out Facebook’s “On This Day” feature and saw the posts from 2011 that I made while in the hospital and shortly after getting home. I think about that time a lot but I’d never gone back to what I wrote during that time and had forgotten some of the details. It was strange yet familiar, like reading someone else’s writings even though it was yourself who wrote them. I wish I’d written more back then as it already seems like a lifetime ago. I’d never had major surgery before and never broken a bone before 2011 so I really had no idea what I was in for. I also didn’t know that it’d give me the new way to look at life and simple things like walking (and stairs!!) that people take for granted.

For someone who works out at a place mostly known for yoga, I rarely do yoga. Like 5 times in my entire life. I mostly take TRX and spinning classes here with the rowing classes thrown in when I can make them. So my 19 classes were made up of 9 TRX, 5 Spinning, 2 yoga, 1 rowing, 1 rowing HIIT, and 1 Row TRX combination classes. Actually the yoga classes were to get Enrique off my back (more or less) about me not doing yoga to balance out everything else that I do. I’d have done more rowing classes if I didn’t have that thing called “a job” and unfortunately many of those classes aren’t at times that I can make it. I didn’t even think about 9 TRX classes being hard for me to do in 7 days. I was excited to try out a few instructors whose classes I don’t normally make it to like April (TRX), Kara (rowing), or Megan (yoga). April’s class would be the first female-led TRX class I’d ever take! Kara won the bronze medal in the quadruple sculls in the London Olympics! Jennifer, OM Power’s owner, and Enrique said that I’d love Megan’s class which I was still a little skeptical about but ’tis the week to try her out.

I made it through the first few days without any issues since 8 classes (hours) in 3 days is normal for me. Tuesday (Day 4), I was starting to hurt a little in April’s TRX class. Not painful hurt but just the muscle fatigue wasn’t something I experience except immediately after a 80+ mile ride with lots of climbing or a 6+ hour swim. April’s class is definitely different than “the boys”‘ classes. A lot of aerobic energy and a “keep moving / active recovery” motto that Duncan has in his Rowing (HIIT) classes. Every time I think of it, I just see her blonde ponytail bouncing all around. The woman LOVES jumping jacks!

After work I power through Enrique’s TRX Strength and Kara’s Rowing classes. Kara looks like she’s still training for the Olympics. Super tall, broad shoulders, no body fat, bright smile. During the “nice and easy” warm-up, I see her splits are about 2:08 / 500 m for a 22 strokes per minute. My splits are about 30 seconds slower and I’m booking it if I’m hitting 2:08. She isn’t even breaking a sweat! There’s no way that I’m going to be able to come close to her splits so I’m not even going to try. It’s not a competition though and I’m focusing on what I can do. Love her class as like Duncan, she’s going through all the proper technique first then focusing on maximum power while maintaining your form. I decide right then and there to start incorporating her rowing class into my schedule when I can do it. Rowing is primarily about legs then torso and finally the arms which makes sense since your leg muscles are bigger than your little arm and upper back muscles.

One of my cans of OSMO Acute Recovery catches my eye in my pantry on Tuesday night. It’s an exercise recovery drink that I haven’t taken in months because I haven’t been in any kind of real training mode in months. I usually have it in my car for after long rides and usually forget to take it after the ride. The thoughts of getting out of my cycling kit, changing clothes, showering, and eating (as I run my body on the bare minimum during rides like many cyclists to avoid indigestion, cramps, and nausea) take precedence over remembering that I have a recovery drink waiting for me in the car. Why haven’t I been taking this stuff all week? I throw it into my backpack to use the next day.

I’m sore and looking forward to my usual Wednesday (Day #5) morning Bay swim with Cathy. I need the cryotherapy to soothe my muscles. Cathy and I have been swimming on Wednesdays for the last 2.5 years (basically since I moved back to SF after the 15 months in Pasadena). I don’t like not showing up for our Wednesday morning swim dates and the OM Challenge isn’t a good enough reason to cancel on her. The cold water does some good on alleviating my muscle fatigue but not all of it. I’d liked to have stayed in longer but I had to get to work!

Best swim buddy Cathy Harrington and me swimming in Aquatic Park on Wednesday, 8 March 2017.

I make it through a triple workout Wednesday night with both of Kevin’s TRX classes and Enrique’s Spinning class. I’ve never looked so forward to a Spinning class in my life since cardio is my bread & butter (yum..bread..yum…butter..what we were walking about?) and easier for me to drag my sorry carcass through. I take some of the OSMO Acute Recovery right after the Spinning class.

The recovery drink turned out to be a total game changer for me. Usually after long rides or swims I’ll take a day or two off afterwards to recovery and get back to normal. I’ve never had to do a multi-day endurance event like this OMember Challenge that combined cardio with strength training. When I swam in a pool every day I was swimming about 3 hours / 6+ KM a day every day with no rest days without issues. The combination of resistance training with cardio isn’t something my body is used to and it was suffering. I woke up Thursday (Day #6) morning completely refreshed with NO muscle fatigue at all!! It’s a miracle!

I bust through April’s TRX class before work and Enrique’s TRX class after work. I tell him about what I learned about the importance of the recovery drink. He tells me that unlike other people doing the challenge, I’m learning about how to improve my training and get my body to recover faster so I can push my body harder. I’ve been training with Enrique for the last few years and as a triathlete, he understands what I’m putting myself through with endurance sports. I remember my first Spinning class with him which was the first one that I’ve ever had a RPM meter. I was trying to ignore the pain my legs were in and focus on hitting the RPM that he would say to be at during every part of the workout. Even though I was living in Pasadena at the time, I knew then that I wanted to hit up as many of his classes as I could when I was home. I started going to his Spinning classes regularly when I moved back home in October 2014.

It’s Day #6 so the challenge week is winding down. I can’t do Kara’s class that night because I’ve got dinner with friends in Oakland and again, I hate canceling on people for non-health reasons. Time with my friends is priceless anyway since there’ll be a day where we all can’t get together since we’re not immortal. I know a couple of other OM members have declared that they’re going to beat me in the challenge which they can have it as far as I’m concerned. I was just seeing how many classes that *I* could make regardless of what anyone else was doing. It’s the same thing I have with cycling and marathon swimming. You’ll get frustrated if you are trying to compete against anyone else’s times and in the long run it all comes down to YOU. The most important thing really is to finish since there are a lot of people who DNF and even more who never even started. Do what’s right for you though and find out what you’re capable of for yourself. Ego boosts from winning a challenge isn’t necessarily going to turn into a lifelong change for better health.

Enrique’s TRX Strength classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 PM. He loves single arm/leg exercises!

Day #7 and the last day of the challenge arrives. Yah! Rob is off at Spring Training so Katie is covering his Friday morning Spinning class. Katie’s new to OM and I’d taken her class the previous Sunday and given my feedback to EJ and Jennifer. I’ll give her another shot though and my second class with her is definitely better. I do really like her energy and personality. Thanks to combining my recovery drink even once a day after the multiple-hour workouts, I find that I have zero muscle fatigue and feel like I could keep doing this intensive workout for several more days. Friday evening yoga arrives and April is also telling me that I’m going to love it. Still a little skeptical.

I only know two positions in yoga : child pose and downward dog. Everything else I’m completely lost on. I grab a spot next to Jay, who has done many classes as me during the week. I’m really glad I’m next to him instead of an unfamiliar face or someone I know who is a die-hard yoga expert. Jay is a leukemia survivor and we’d bonded earlier in the week over our medical histories and our past experiences with leukemia (as my uncle passed away from it in October 2015 and I donate platelets almost weekly and am in the national bone marrow donor registry). I’ve got a clear view of Sarah who is a yoga addict so I look at her every time we’re supposed to change position so I can see what we’re supposed to be doing. Why don’t most yoga instructors demo what the position is before you have to get into it? My friend Rebecca is the only yoga instructor I know who does this! Megan’s Hatha & Alignment class is slow enough for me though that I’m not feeling like a total bafoon during it and watching Jay struggle with some of the moves right next to me is also comforting. I stick around for Megan’s Restorative Yoga class afterwards. I’m confused on why we need pillows and blankets for this class at first. It’s not an exercise or yoga class at all but more of a relaxation class. You get into certain positions for several minutes with the lights really low and just lay there. Megan goes around and presses on a certain part of your body. I like this class because it gets me to really do nothing for an hour. I decide to incorporate one or both of these classes into my schedule with time permitting. Hopefully the Hatha & Alignment will help me stretch out the areas that get built up from swimming and TRX along with regaining a lot of the flexibility that I lost from my surgeries. The restorative class would be good just to get me to actually relax.

The week was a learning experience on what it takes to get my body to recovery quickly and keep going. I can bring that into my training schedule when I start training for my big swim later this year and future ones. I’d started coming to OM Power 3 years ago strictly for spinning classes and it’s become much more important to my fitness and training than that. Each class instructor has really been more of a coach in different areas of my learning about myself and enabling to push myself farther. Enrique has been a great mentor for my endurance training and offering advice on how to listen to and respond to my body. He also calls me out when I’m slacking off as he can tell instantly like any good coach. Unconsciously every time I’m on a bike there is at least one time where I hear his voice in my head saying “Push! Pull! Push! Pull!” This is especially true when I’m coming off a descent or trying to quickly cover distance on a flat. Rob has taught me a lot about cycling especially about controlling my breath. Jennifer introduced us over email when I’d asked for help training for my first endurance ride. Rob and I exchanged several emails before I’d ever met him in person or taken his class. He recently shared some of Jim Karanas’ old articles which got me into thinking and researching what exactly my body is going through biologically during exercise. Kevin has taught me an incredible amount about nutrition and weight management. I think I’ve annoyed him the most with all my questions! He’s a TRX Master Trainer so you seriously won’t find anyone who knows more about making your body your machine in the Bay Area who is better than him. His enthusiasm for fitness encourages me to maximize  my potential on multiple levels while still having fun. Elliot’s enthusiasm has gotten me to try new things because, as he always insists, I’m going to love it (even if I don’t, at least I tried). Duncan manages to kick my butt with his workouts no matter what and I always come out of his classes feeling stronger (eventually, after I recover). He’s the energizer bunny when it comes to fitness! Kara makes rowing look effortless and while she’s got the aura of the Olympic champion that she is, she’s approachable too. I love her constant encouragement and positive feedback even though I feel like a fat slug next to her. April has limitless energy and always getting me to keep moving. I’ve never met anyone so positive and absolutely has your back 100% of the time. I look forward to attending her classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings that I’m not swimming. Jennifer, the owner, did a great job recruiting the right people to make up her team. She hired people who shared the same level of passion for their respective areas of fitness that she has for her own. They get to know all of the members on a first name basis and make the effort to get to know you as a person and athlete. OM isn’t just a type of gym for me as it’s become a place where I make new discoveries about myself and become a stronger athlete. More importantly, they’ve become people I consider to be more than just friends and are part of my extended family.

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Conversation With My 18-year-old Self

You’re not comfortable in your own skin and you pretty much know that. A lot of it has to do with your weight and a neurosis that your mom implanted in you back when you were 14. There’s a diary entry from the start of your freshman year of high school where you wrote about getting your body fat measured in high school PE class and despite you being 11% body fat, your mom “still calls [you] fat.” It isn’t ever right to tell anyone that they’re fat. Do yourself a favor and don’t let this carry on the rest of your life. It’s behind in its rent so evict it NOW.

Figure out and focus on what makes you happy for you. Find what makes you feel good and keep doing it every day. You’ll try and fail numerous times to get on a gym schedule with the sole intent of losing weight and it’ll never stick because that isn’t the right reason to do it. That’s just about burning calories and your heart isn’t ever going to be into that. There’s no joy being on a treadmill. Even with the pool you’ll go maybe a few times a week every now and then and I know you already find that boring. You respond well to challenges though and they’re always just to see what you can do. You hate competition and the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. Take it one day at a time and stop being so hard on yourself.

You really aren’t focused on your health of any kind and running around a bit like a burnout at the tender age of 18. Learn how to cook already. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it. Ithaca has awesome farmer’s markets so take advantage of it. Take a nutrition class at Cornell or something to learn that a lot of what you are eating is total crap. It’s basically college comfort food that isn’t serving you well. And worse off is that you’re eating way too much of it. Listen how your body responds to what you eat as you may notice that you really don’t feel good afterwards. It’s not your fault though since you don’t know better and popular belief is that the “college diet” is what you’re supposed to be eating. They’re wrong. You didn’t need to eat that much in high school either and again, that was all crap that you were eating and unfortunately lots of it. Try some kale as it’ll practically be your best friend one day. Start your plant-based diet now and ditch the white carbs that really aren’t fueling your body.

You don’t recognize yourself in the mirror and you hate photos of yourself because of that. This is exactly why you need to start taking better care of yourself. Do it for you. It’ll be 90% diet and 10% exercise so start making smarter choices about what you eat and just as importantly, how much of it you eat. You’ll lose almost all the weight you put on in high school and go back to a normal weight just by changing your diet. Take it one meal and one day at a time. You didn’t put on that weight overnight and it’s not going to go off overnight either. It’ll do wonders for your self-esteem though and help you get more comfortable with who you are.

One day you’ll get really into being physically active and it’s not about exercise at all. It’s more about pushing yourself to see what your body can do. You’ll make friends along the way who also share that passion and drive to join you on that journey. You support each other and it’ll become very social, almost to the point where you forget that you’re burning calories also. Cardio will become a big part of it and no, you still don’t like running. You’ll accomplish some incredible feats that’ll teach you just how emotionally and mentally strong you truly are. If you’re not mentally and emotionally there then you won’t be able to physically get through it which is why the gym routine isn’t going to work for you. Change your diet first to lose a lot of the weight and then start exercising as it’ll be a lot easier without the excess baggage. It may be laborious at first but you’ll get more energy eventually. In fact people will become impressed with how much energy you have one day. For you though, it’s just your normal daily routine as it’s part of your lifestyle.

You’ll learn that it’s a privilege to move because you’ll have it all taken away from you. Head’s up…you have hip dysplasia in both hips. Your pelvis is slightly deformed to where there’s not adequate coverage of the femur on either side which is causing undue stress on your hip joints. It won’t cause any problems until just after your 34th birthday when you’ll lose the ability to move your right leg while being in the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your life. Go straight to your cousin Denise as she’ll help you with getting the proper diagnosis sooner. Go to the Center for Sports Medicine at St. Francis anyway for the cortisone shot and pain meds so you can at least sit down without crying. A extremely gifted surgeon at Stanford, Dr. Michael Bellino, will surgically break your pelvis to save your hip joints and stop the arthritis that started forming literally overnight. You’re going to be bedridden and using a walker and wheelchair for 6+ months over 2 years while you get your pelvis fixed. Your Aunt Marge told you that your golden years are when you’re younger and can still move. She knew what she was talking about. So stop complaining about the walk back to Akwe:kon from class / the lab / COE because other people don’t have the option to walk, including you and luckily yours was temporary. Take advantage of the beauty of Upstate New York as you’ll look back fondly on these days.

Having your periacetabular osteotomy will be one of the best things that will happen to you. The new lease on life will guide you to you accomplishing feats beyond your wildest imagination. Next time you’re home, go to Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghiradelli Square (I know, trust me on this one though). You’ll see between them a nondescript white building with red trim that you’ve never noticed before even though it’s been there since the 1930s. That’ll be like your second home one day and the people there will become part of your family. It’s an amazing experience there and you’ll only possibly regret that it didn’t enter your life sooner. However, you’ll cross paths with the people there at the right time in the right place.

Your mom is going to always be who she is and she doesn’t know any better. You really do take after your dad more and he will teach you that he never doubted that she loves you and Stephanie and she just never learns how to show it. You’ll grow pretty close to your dad and even when you’re almost 40 he will be there for you. How awesome is that? One caveat though is that he will badly hurt you one day and he’ll regret it. You already know your parents’ marriage has been over for about a good 5 years now. He’s sticking around to make sure you girls get through school and that’s something you’ll never be able to repay him for. He doesn’t have many regrets in his life and not telling you before he moved out of the house is one of them. Understand that he gave up 10 years of his own happiness for you and your sister. He’s human and he made a mistake. Don’t be so hard on him for it. There’s a lot of love between you two. He got you that far and finally made the first move for himself in decades. He’ll continue being there for you the rest of his life in every way that he can without asking for anything in return.

Stop thinking that everything will be fixed tomorrow. You’ll always end up playing “catch up” if you do that. You’ll never feel like an adult until you stop playing that mental game. Tomorrow’s never guaranteed and you don’t want to live in the past. This is the hardest lesson that you’re going to learn. Live one day at a time.

This goes for your time with people also. Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today. You regret not talking to your grandma on the phone what turned out to be two days before she died. You’ll have others die before you and you’ll regret that you didn’t spend more time with them. Make the most of what you’ve got today. Be present.

You’ll have a great attitude for all of your failed relationships as seeing them as “learning opportunities” instead of “failures.” Each one will help teach you what’s important and not important in life which you’ll find surprising. Stay away from this guy Mike that you’ll meet shortly after graduation though. He’ll just waste 2 years of your life otherwise. Don’t sell yourself short though in them as otherwise people, even friends, will walk all over you. You’ve already learned that despite Robin saying that she wanted to keep in touch with you after high school graduation, she couldn’t bother to return a phone call or email since then. She never will either and you don’t need false promises and friends like that. Hold onto and learn how to vocalize your standards to yourself and others. Not everyone is going to appreciate your heart. Focus on those who appreciate you since they are your people. There’s no sense in giving it to those who don’t care. If you’re not getting at least as much effort back then walk away from those people are they’re poison to your spirit. Many others are worth your time and energy who will help enrich your life and pick you up when you get knocked down. You’ll do the same for them too without any questions asked.

Drop the expectations on yourself and other people. People get too wrapped into expectations of how others, including themselves, are going to behave. Accept them for who they are and this goes for yourself. You can’t change who you are deep down. People get angry at others because the other person’s behaviour didn’t match up to expectations. The sooner you realize this, the better. It’s good to have goals for yourself and make them realistic. You’re a planner so make a plan for goals that suit you best that ensure you’re taking care of yourself and then run with it. Everything needs to be broken down into smaller manageable chunks as then it’s all easy.

The biggest secret that you don’t know is that you’re an incredible person. You’ve got a big heart that you’ll throw into your career, activities, and relationships. Your career will take you on a weird path but it’ll all make sense in the end as you’ll end up exactly where you are supposed to be. You give a lot of yourself to others, including those who don’t deserve it. You can’t change who you are though. Some people are going to try and take advantage of that though. Figure out what your standards are for your relationships with others and then stick to them. Yes I repeated that to get it through your thick skull. Do your heart a favor on that one! It’ll never feel like work because you’ll figure out what is worth your effort and what is not.

A lot of things aren’t going to make sense and you’ll always spend too much time overthinking just about everything. You’ll end up exactly where you’re supposed to be. It just may not look like how you expect but it’ll eventually feel right. You’ll know it when it is right for you as you’ll finally start feeling settled and at peace. Everything will fall into place.

Housemate Alex and myself on our housemate Holly’s bed in Akwe:kon (Native American Residential Program House) at Cornell University in Spring 1996.

Posted in Motivation | 1 Comment

The Educated Free Thinker

I usually reserve this blog for entries about swimming, cycling, and philosophical musings related to my motivation within the “athletic” (as I wouldn’t define myself as an “athlete” despite riding centuries and marathon swimming across channels in open ocean) endeavors. Too much has been circling around my head though in the last 10 days that has affected me greatly and brings a huge concern to me mentally and emotionally as I go through the next 4 – 8 (heaven forbid) years.

Like many, I cried a lot on Wednesday, 9th November. I woke up at 2:00 AM, looked at my phone, and saw the worst news I think our country could possibly ever receive. Now mind you that I do not think anyone in politics is an angel as a former director of mine taught me that no one is pure evil or pure good as we’re all somewhere in between. However at 2:00 AM that morning I saw the closest thing to the beginning of the Apocalypse that I’ve seen in my 39+ years on this planet. I cried no less than 4 times that day. It wasn’t because “my candidate” lost. It was because I knew that the country was going to change in the wrong direction. There is good change and bad change and there is no way that the outcome of the election said that bad changes were coming our direction.

The Facebook posts by my friends and those in Pantsuit Nation were absolutely heartbreaking and made my disappointment and sadness even worse. Yes I was upset when Gore loss to W (and I still remember my dad saying “That idiot didn’t even win his home state!”) but that was different. W came across as a simpleton and how much harm could he do really? This time though..oh my word…here was someone that the KKK supported openly and has made such insensitive and condescending remarks about almost everyone. Forget about undoing everything Obama did, this guy was about to do everything that Lincoln did even.

The argument of “We survived Obama. You’ll survive this.” is total BS. Why? Because Obama wasn’t seeking to take anyone’s rights away. He wasn’t looking to strike fear into anyone. He was charismatic and diplomatic. He wanted to work with everyone to come to a solution. He never viciously attacked anyone. He never came across as drunk with power. He thought carefully about the results of his actions. He never wanted to hurt any of the people he represented. He was selfless. He didn’t let anyone get the best of him, or at least he never dared show it publicly. He took the job seriously. I greatly admire him.

Spurred by a hair-pulling experience by a total stranger’s experience with her therapist on Pantsuit Nation, I also feel like I should clarify some things about myself:

  • I’m not a Democrat.
  • I’m not a feminist.
  • I’m not gay.
  • I’ve never had an abortion.
  • I’ve never been married or divorced.
  • I was raised Catholic.

It’s worse. Much worse. I’m an educated free thinker.

I don’t belong to any political party. In California I’m registered as “Decline to State”, which is our version of “Independent”. As I told my 7th Grade teacher when I was thinking of not considering myself Catholic anymore as I saw a lot of their contradictions, I don’t need anyone telling me how to think. I’ve never voted for a Republican and it wasn’t because the candidate is identified with that party. It’s because I don’t agree with them on the policies that they want to enact in office as individuals. I happily voted for Bernie in the primaries as I thought and still do think he was the best choice for our next President. I voted for Hillary in the general election because even though I agree more with Jill Stein’s views, I don’t agree with her action methods sometimes and feel like she can be a bit of a loose cannon. She’s the Green Party version in Trump in a lot of ways of just coming across as an angry person a lot of the time and I think to be a world leader, you need to be a lot calmer and more diplomatic than that. For the general election, Hillary was the only one on the ballot who I saw as having the grace, professionalism, level-headedness, and “down to earth” persona to carry out her plans without getting hot-headed and angry about it. Above all, I felt like she generally cared about the country and making it better across the board. I trusted her to do the job and be able to focus.

I support equal rights for everyone to be treated fairly and under the same laws. Why should anyone be treated differently? You don’t get to choose who you fall in love with, for better or worse. I’ve never understood how what someone is doing in their own personal life affects anyone else’s. I have friends with open marriages and I remember telling one that hey, as long as it’s all out in the open and no one is getting hurt, then what’s wrong with that? How is it that we live in a country where people having multiple partners is seen by some as acceptable but two people madly in love who happen to be the same sex is seen as unacceptable? How come straight people can get married for 55 hours and somehow that preserves the meaning of marriage but two people who have loved each other and been there for each other for decades somehow is an abomination? Whoever said that a gay couple wants to get married in your church?

My dad and I ended up a lot alike. He was born in 1943 and grew up in Southern Illinois. He remembers segregation and didn’t understand the point of it. I was raised pretty blind to differences between people. I didn’t realize until looking back that my grade school class only had two black children, a handful of Asians, and predominantly white. I never thought of it. When I was a sophomore or junior in high school, my history teacher brought in two gay men to speak to us. I think it was her way of introducing “sensitivity training.” I remember when they said that they were gay I thought “And your point is….??” I really didn’t care as it made no difference to me.

A longtime friend of mine used to play “the pronoun game” when telling me anything about his dating life. I remember when he finally told me that he was talking about a guy as he hesitated and finally said “him” and looked at me for a reaction. I had none so he continued talking. Since then he’s been very open to me when talking about his relationships and I even met one of his boyfriends when they were dating. My mom recently asked me why I had never dated him and I had to tell her why. I had a good laugh about it with my friend afterwards.

I dated a guy for 2.5 years who when I’d tell people that I was the first woman that he’d dated in 20 years, they were confused. “How could he not have dated anyone for 20 years if his libido is that high?” I would then have to point out the obvious that he had been dating men those 20 years. Some were horrified and asked how could I date him. I’d jokingly say that I’m sure he’s showered since then. I didn’t care and it was actually flattering in the beginning as it was obvious that we liked each other for who we were. Our relationship didn’t work out for other reasons. One of my closest cousins is married to a man who identifies as gay apart from the fact that he fell in love with my cousin, a woman. You really don’t choose who you fall in love with.

Mississippi? Actually this woman’s car was vandalized last week in Denver, Colorado.

In college I had a housemate who asked me when we first met on how I felt about interracial marriages. We were living in Akwe:kon, the Native American Residential Program House at Cornell University. She was white as snow and from Michigan. I just blankly looked at her and said “Well as the product of one, I’d have to say that I’m okay with it!” She was weird. I’ve never been asked again.

I actually didn’t know what my ethnic background was for a long time until I was asked to put it down for some reason in 5th grade by my homeroom teacher. I knew my mom was from Peru and we had a lot of family there as we went to visit once or twice a year to stay with my grandparents. I didn’t know that that side of the family was ethnically Chinese. I didn’t know that most families I knew weren’t eating the same food at home as my mom cooked a lot of Peruvian food. We went to dim sum on the weekends. One of my sister and my favorite restaurants was Mifune in Burlingame. Mifune was a Japanese restaurant that was usually empty when we went and we didn’t know why (or care quite frankly as we just wanted to eat). We ate all sorts of different cuisines without realizing that it was all from different countries. I didn’t know that we were “different.” I didn’t know what my dad’s family’s background was (Answer: Slovenian and Croatian). All I knew was that “Grandparent’s Day” at my Catholic school sucked because it was an entire day dedicated to activities with your grandparents and the closest mine were was in Arkansas where my paternal grandparents had retired. Family friends used to attend as surrogate grandparents so I wouldn’t be one of the only kids in the entire school without a grandparent that day. It was usually around their annual Mexican vacation though so my mom started letting me stay at home that day on the years that Joe and Jackie couldn’t come with me. I was too embarrassed to go alone and am thankful that my mom accommodated me.

My mom when she was in grade school.

I was filling out a form this morning that asked me what my Ethnic background was. I hesitated as now I don’t know if that would really help or hurt me. Having seen the open racism towards others in the last 10 days gives me reason to pause. I’ve always been proud of where my family has come from and now I’m afraid of how other people are going to react. I’ve heard some people say that it’s good to have this racism out in the open. WTF? That didn’t come with a “so now we can resolve it.” It was common belief that racism and prejudice were wrong before and now there are those who think that it’s acceptable and almost (shudder) American to act like that. I can’t believe those who idly stand by and ignore it saying things like our fears of treating others as sub-human from a government level and/or having a government that will allow it to happen. It’s already happening. They’re not the ones affected by it. Unfortunately it reminds me of the starts of WWII with the Jews except now it’s everyone that is not Caucasian, not “straight”, and/or not male. There were a lot of Germans who didn’t think that anything was going to happen in their country either when Hitler came to power and look at what happened. When you’ve got the KKK throwing the winner a victory parade, red flags should go off that THIS IS NOT GOOD. The KKK wasn’t throwing a victory parade when Bush won in 2000. Ignoring what is going on is saying that you don’t care what happens to your friends who are already affected by it because you don’t really care about them. If your friend gets hauled off to an internment camp or the victim of a hate crime, are you going to sit there and say “Gee, I didn’t think that would happen” and then be sorry? How many Germans watched their friends get hauled off to concentration camps by the Nazis thinking that there was no way that Hitler’s government would really round up all the Jews and perform genocide. What about what happened in Cambodia with Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge back in the 1970s? How can our country be putting a government into place that has no real interest in protecting the very people that these civil servants are supposed to represent and work for? The American Dream where we were a melting pot where people could come from all over the world and be whatever they wanted to be has been killed 10 days ago. When Europeans immigrated here starting in the 15th Century, they were escaping religious persecution. Ironic now that a right wing nut job is now starting to put a cabinet together that seeks to either directly persecute others for nothing more than their sexual orientation, color of their skin, and/or religion and staging a war on immigrants ignoring the fact that ALL of us have immigrated from another country in our family tree.

Alabama? Why no…this is Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn, New York and vandalized yesterday. Yauch was Jewish.

A good friend of mine is Muslim from Iran. One of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. Muslim registry? Please. The federal government knows exactly where she is and who she is. She and her husband have to submit documentation (photos, statements, etc.) every single year to show that their marriage is not a sham, she has not had any access to weapons-grade Plutonium, etc. He converted to Islam when they got married. They are two of the most peaceful people. The husband is actually more of a hippie with long hair who is completely against violence of any nature than someone who has sinister plans to destroy the world as we know it. Besides, our world is going to be destroyed by ugh..I can’t even say it and refuse to say it ever but you know who.

I was talking to a friend the other day about divisions. I never look at my friends as “my gay friend” or “my black friend” or “my Muslim friend” or “my Jewish friend” or “my female friend.” They’re just my friends. I look at more of how they love and what’s in their heart and soul than anything else that can be defined on a form. Isn’t that what should matter when we look at each other?

I believe in a women’s right to choose even though I’ve never had an abortion. I can see where pro-lifers say “that’s a child and it has rights!” What about the woman though? That’s a lifetime commitment there. If she didn’t want to have it and still did, the options then are give it up for adoption or treat the kid like she didn’t want it. Whoever wants to grow up in an unloving household? There are enough kids that are up for adoption and need loving homes. It’s not so simple. I don’t think it should be used as a regular means of birth control but I understand that accidents happen. They’re not all teenagers going “hey, we’ll risk it and always abort in case she gets pregnant.” And if anything I think history teaches us that women will go out and get an abortion anyway. My view is that with abortion legal, at least the woman is safer having it done by medical professionals instead of in a dirty bathroom with a coat hanger or drugs obtained illegally by someone in an alley. Remember from “Dirty Dancing” when Penny had hers from a guy with a dirty knife and a folding table? That’s what happens when abortion is illegal. Most women getting abortions aren’t waiting until the last trimester to decide “oh hey, I don’t want this after all.” Again, how does her having an abortion affect your personal life? I used to say when W was President that that’s fine if he took away abortion as long as he was willing to adopt every single one of those kids himself. And really there are some people who should not be reproducing at all.

I look at the hate towards them from others and during my lifetime I’ve become convinced that hate is taught. My parents never taught me that. It wasn’t the “San Francisco Bubble” that is why I turned out the way I did about this or any other issues. It’s because my parents overall never taught me to hate someone based on the color of their skin or sexual orientation. They’ve never even talked to me about it so I grew up never thinking that it mattered. People were just people.

Me at 6 years old in 1983.

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The Pains of Marathon Swimming

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

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

Backstroking across the Catalina Channel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every day I get a little bit stronger.

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

Her name is Ryen.

Ryen and me riding in Riverside, California

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

Ryen has Cerebal Palsy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death Ride Course Map.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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