Monthly Archives: March 2010

Stroke Technique

On Friday, March 12, I was lucky enough to participate in a freestyle swim clinic hosted by the Okanagan Masters Swim Club with special guest Karlyn Pipes-Neilson. In 2004 and 2007 Karlyn was voted the World Masters Swimmer of the Year and since 1993 she has set over 200 Masters World Records. For her complete BIO visit

It was great to meet her in person and I came away with more than I had bargained for. The days of the old “S” stroke are surely a thing of the past and ever since the Australians started the high elbow catch there is no looking back. I thought I had that nailed, but Karlyn pointed out a few things…the majority of the stroke takes place in the front quadrant, you want to extend your arm out and away from centerline and “catch” the water with a slight pause and then pull your arm back with a high elbow break. The pull phase ends just before your hand reaches your hip minus the follow-thru. That was the simple version, and like a golf swing your stroke can be broken down even more incrementally.

This was a fair amount of information to digest in four hours, but Karlyn was right there if you needed help and did a great job with us. She has a video that I highly recommend as the clinic was organized around this. I am confident this stoke will make me a faster swimmer in the future.

Cold Water Qualifying Swim

In order to attempt the English Channel one must first qualify. The Channel Swimming Association asks for proof of a six hour, unassisted swim in water no greater than 15 degrees Celsius. (Without wetsuit).

On June 8, 2009 I attempted to qualify for the English Channel in Lake Okanagan. I was pulled from 12 degree Celsius water at 4 hours and 15 minutes into my swim. I will never forget the uncontrollable shaking and slurred speech l experienced due to moderate hyperthermia. Luckily the crew on board quickly had me wrapped in a sleeping bag and a warm drink in hand. I did eventually recover about an hour later and I remember watching my swim partner, 18-year-old Allison Donelon of Canmore, Alberta finish the six-hour, 25-kilometer swim. Allison would go on to successfully swim the channel in late August. Watching her stroke count the last two hours made me think that putting on weight was not the complete answer to cold water, but being in great shape was as important to keep your core temperature adequate to withstand the cold for long periods of time. I weighed about 216 pounds at the time and for my second cold-water swim I was in better shape and weighed 208 pounds.

September 20, 2009 – Second cold water attempt off Bowen Island.

The “call” by Brent Hobbs…

“I am pleased to announce that Rod the Rocket Craig has qualified to swim the English Channel! Rod swam for 6 hours, and not one minute more, in Howe Sound in 15’C water without a lifejacket! He looked very strong and battled some cold spots.  The water temperature averaged 14.5’C and dipped to about 13’C in Georgia Strait.  At that point, we made the decision to return to Howe Sound to find warmer water. That proved to be the right decision.  Rod hit the wall at 4.5 hours, but he dug deep and persevered with a little help from his friends.  At that time, we also upped his feeds from every 30 min. to every 15 min. This gave Rod something to look forward to.  Once we arrived at Hood Point, we set our sights on Boyer Island. This gave Rod an end-point / goal to stay focused on.  This was a big milestone in Rod’s journey to France! Go Rod go! I have recommended to Rod that he swim 6 hrs in Lake Okanagan next June.  Rod is due to swim the Channel in late July 2010”.

This was a great swim and taught me how to swim in cold water. I remember the 4.5-hour mark and wanting to rest because I was cold and tired, but I keep telling myself that this is the best time and place to mentally and physically train for the channel. It seems crazy, but you have to get 4-5 hours into a swim before the real training starts. I also learned that if I feel cold at the one or two-hour mark I don’t have to get out, if I keep moving I can generate enough heat to last six hours. I used to think that if your feeling cold and a little shaky you better get out.

I have to thank fellow training partner Frank Koch for his boat and patience in piloting this cold water swim, John Sommers for his help as a crewman, cameraman and always witty commentary and Brent Hobbs for his assistance on the boat and in the water…Cheers to all!