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You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf…

I found out last week that I have pneumonia. I swam a week ago Sunday and felt pretty good, went to work on Monday and came home two hours early because I had the chills, and then managed to sleep for about twelve hours hoping to beat whatever I had. I was concerned as the BC Provincials Masters swim meet started that Friday. I went to my doctor and found out the bad news. When I asked if I could swim a 1500-meter free on Friday night he gave me that look – not a big fan of that look.  He said…”Rod not to long ago people with pneumonia had a 50% chance of living even at the best hospitals”.

We all deal with things in a different ways and I definitely did not want to fall into the poor me’s… “Pour me another drink”. I quickly took inventory, calculated the days before the Channel and had something to eat – if I can’t swim I will train in other ways!

Below are some of the quotes that help me surf the waves…

“What we do does not define who we are, what defines us is how we rise after falling”    -Unknown

“The Best Part is the Hard Part”   -Fred Coogan, Austin, TX

“All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dream with open eyes to make it possible”.   T.E. Lawrence

H2O: two parts Heart and one part Obsession

Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win, By fearing to attempt. – William Shakespeare.

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”. – William Greenough Thayer Shedd

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out when the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.  So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”     -Teddy Roosevelt

A month before my first cold water qualifying swim I had a conversation with a friend of mine. I was talking about the Channel and confessing my doubts about cold water. He let me rant on for about ten minutes without saying a word. When I finished there was a long pause and he said, “You know Rod…if a Samurai Warrior goes to battle with any doubt, he will die”. After another long pause, I thought…wow, bit dramatic, but there is a lesson here…

“Those who are reluctant to give up their lives and embrace death are not true warriors…Go to the battlefield firmly confident of victory, and you will come home with no wounds whatever. Engage in combat fully determined to die and you will be alive: wish to survive in the battle and you surely meet death. When you leave the house determined not to see it again you will come home safely: when you have any thought of returning you will not return. You may not be in the wrong to think that the world is always subject to change, but the warrior must not entertain this way of thinking, for his fate is always determined.”     – Samurai Warrior

When we leave for Dover on the 9th of July, suitcase in hand, I will look back at our house determined never to return…

Feeding for a long swim

I am still trying to put together the best nutrition before, during and after the long swim. My two cold water swims to date are the best example I have of proper feeding. This knowledge/information was handed down from my spiritual advisor Mr Hobbs and don’t forget…what ever Brent does or eats I do too! After all, he did swim the channel.

I have been successful with a high carbohydrate powder mixed with warm water. This is the quickest and easiest way to feed. It is of utmost importance that you get used to these feeds well in advance as they can take some time for your body to get used to. The quantity of mix is also critical as to much can overload and upset your system. The best thing to do is follow the manufactures recommended dosage levels. Right now I am using the Hammergel products for longer swims (Perpetuem, Recoverite, Hammer gel and Endurolytes).

For the channel I plan to feed every 20-30 minutes, depending on how I feel and my caloric needs. My support crew will throw a water bottle ahead of me; at the same time I will tread water, drink the mix, and start swimming as soon as possible. I really don’t want to feed longer than 15-20 seconds because the longer I take to feed the faster my core temperature will drop and the more susceptible to hyperthermia I will become. Feeding will be a mental break as well as physical; swimming from feed to feed is a pattern that can be something to look forward to.

Can’t win for eating

I thought I would share my health wows with you. Before my first cold water attempt I had gained about 15 pounds, this was the good times of peanut butter, muffins, fast food and other great stuff, until I made the mistake of having my cholesterol checked and low and behold it was somewhat high. What a bummer for a future channel swimmer! I thought I could be large and in charge, eat until I could eat no more, pack on the pounds with no repercussions! Wrong… I will have to gain weight thru healthy eating. Brown rice, soya milk and other whole foods. My doctor was a bit shocked as he considered me one of his fitter clients, but cholesterol can be a genetic thing and sometimes this is the luck of the draw.

The above photos were taken on a cruise ship to Alaska. This was the Mecca for gaining weight…ow ya. I was on such a roll (no pun intended). I boarded the vessel and ate for two days straight, approximately ten meals, the third day I woke up at 4:00 am with what I thought was sea sickness, but it turned out to be Norwalk! That next two days were very intense. I was the only one of our group to actually lose weight. This never stopped me thou, I remember swimming in the ocean last summer and as I was into a 2 hour training swim and I looked over and saw this cruise ship, I was kind of bonking and remember muttering the words ”food boat”. I could have easily swam over and climbed aboard for lunch! So for now I will try to eat as healthy as I can, but will truly regret not being able to gain weight the easy way.

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!

100 x 100’s Kelowna, BC

On December 19, 2009 I had the great pleasure to swim 100 x 100’s at a fund raising event for the YWCA/YMCA Strong Kids Campaign in Kelowna, BC. This was a great excuse to swim 10km on a 1:25:00/100m pace time and satisfied my spiritual advisor as one of the many ways to train for the Channel. If you watch the video… Brent Hobbs, the “Kid” and myself all took turns taking the lead and possibly, drafted one another. The “Kid” got out at seventy and left the two old guys to finish…we like to think he couldn’t take what the “old guys” were handing out…