Kris Rutford's Swimming History & Training Tips
English Channel Swim Journal - 1988-08-05
I began swimming when I was 7 years old. My brother was on the swim team so I was always at the meets, at one meet they needed someone to fill a relay spot and since I was there and could barely swim, I was put on a relay and the rest is history. From that day through college, I was a swimmer. I never did any other sport for three reasons, I was a decent swimmer, swimming takes a lot of time with year round training, and finally I was terrible at everything else. Anyway, I think that it was in the middle 70's when Doc Counsilman did the Channel and everybody knew about. Maybe one of those things that just sits in the back of your mind. After graduating college in 1981, I quit swimming and took up golf. Oh, I got wet once in a while but never any consistent training. In November of 1985, I was fishing with my best friend from college and a fellow swimmer. It was the day of the Omaha Marathon and he made the comment that he had not been training either and that maybe he would try to run it the next year. My response was--Bob, anybody can run a marathon, why don't you swim the English Channel? That was the end of the conversation, no big deal. A few days later, he called me and said that he was seriously considering making the attempt. I was very supportive and jealous. He the got on the ball and made a lot of calls to find out about the swim, how to train, what to do, etc.. He finally got hooked up with Hetzel and eventually asked him to be his trainer. Hetzel declined due to some other commitments or something and my friend was very disappointed. Needless to say, he asked me if I would help him to which I said yes. This was a blessing in disguise as in the end we really did not need Hetzel's help let alone have to pay his fee. Notice I said WE, this really was a joint effort. I felt all along that one day I would attempt the swim and we did do a lot of planning together. To make a long story short, he had a successful swim in August of 1986, great Tide but an awful sea.
I started training for real on September 1, a year before my anticipated swim. I think that this was very necessary, I had been doing some training but had our first child in December of 1986 and so I did not have a lot of time for the first year after his birth. That is part of the reason that I did not make an attempt the year after Bob did. It really helped that I had been with Bob through his training and had the opportunity to be on his boat for his successful swim.
I felt the most important part of my training was that I had a plan set up for the entire year when I started that September day by day. At the beginning of each month I would revise my "budget" based on work and family commitments that I knew were coming up. For your information, I have enclosed a copy of my yardage by day from the day I started up until the day that I did the swim. In the far column is the miles done each week by my friend Bob Mizelle--we decided that he had over trained so I did not do as much training. If you notice, because I am a CPA, I knew that I would not be able to train as much during Jan-April, so I broke my training up in to two "seasons". I had planned to do an 8 hour swim at the end of December to culminate the first season but was having shoulder problems. It was easy to rationalize that if I could do a 6 hour swim that I could certainly do an 8 hour swim. So that is what I did. Shortly after that, I was out with shoulder problems (I eventually had surgery in April 1991). January was not a good month. Lesson # 1 STRETCH. I had done no stretching as my time was so limited that I would just get in the pool, swim and get out. From the middle of January until the night before my swim, I iced each shoulder for 10 minutes before going to bed and also was a big user of ibuprofen.
I also had never done alternate breathing and had to learn how to do this which I began in September. This was important to reduce the shoulder problem and also important if you would have to swim on one side of the boat or the other. Periodically I would do workouts where I just swam, no counting and no looking at a clock. This was helpful in getting ready for open water swims where you really could not measure distance and you certainly would not be counting anything. I gave myself 4000 yards an hour--I am sure that I usually did more than that but figured it was close enough.
The other key was getting big open water swims in. I did 10 swims of 4 or 5 hours before leaving the US and also a 12 hour. The 12 hour was incredible. I started at 5:30 am and swam until 5:30 PM. Water temp 85, air temp hit 100. It was awful and certainly not anything like the Channel. Here is where visualization played an important role. The lake had a 20 ft. bank on one side which I considered the White Cliffs of Dover and at the end I swam up the beach as if reaching France. It was great!
One final thing. I always did 50 extra yards at the end of a workout. Just in case. Another example of doing that little bit extra.
I started out at 156 and 16 percent body fat. In December I was still at 156 with 12 percent. My goals were to be 180 with 20 percent. I eventually hit 178 and 17 percent. This is an area where I could have done a lot better. I ate terrible, a lot of fat foods and no planned way to gain weight. Next time I would seek some advice in this area.
I drank High-Carbo EXCEED during my training and the swim. This was key. I was very used to drinking this stuff and had used it on all my lake swims or any swim that was 3 hours. I drank about 12 ounces every hour. Now I take about 10 ounces every half hour. If I did the Channel again, I would probably feed more often than every hour. I feed more often now because I am usually working harder. The Channel swim was for endurance, not speed.
I arrived in Dover on July 24 for my neap Tide set which began on August 5. I went over by myself to be joined later by my friend Bob and my wife. I thought that this was just about right as far as getting acclimated to the water there. It was great, each morning I would sleep in, eat a light breakfast and then go swim in the Harbor. After the swim, I would eat a big lunch, sleep, read, snack, sleep, eat a big dinner, read eat a snack, ice my shoulder and the go to bed. What a life.
On the day of the swim, it was a so-so day. I remember the first hour of the swim-- asking myself if my goggles are too tight, I need to go to the bathroom, did I train enough, it seemed like it took forever. By the way it was a great feeling walking in to the water with that grease on. What a feeling. I also made a mistake by doing all my training in the harbor, I had never swam in a swell before.
The highlight or fright of my swim came when I had to do two things at about the same time, first swim through a bunch of seaweed and the meet the jellyfish, they scared the heck out of me. I did not get stung as they were far enough below me to avoid that, but there were a lot of them and they were something that I had not prepared myself for. I kept thinking that I had done all that training and now they were going to prevent me from making it.
Another thing about the swim that I remember well was my feeding at 6 hours, I asked Bob how I was doing and he told me that I was half-way. This meant time-wise. We agreed that we would tell the truth and be realistic. I then deduced that OK 12 hours worst case, he must have at least a half hour cushion, therefore I hope to be done between 11 and 11.5 hours. Good. In the middle of the swim, the sea went calm and I literally became delirious, I had a tough time concentrating on the boat and was absolutely bored. I think that at about 8 1/2 hours was the first time that I could see France. My crew (Captain Ray Dixon, his mate, Bob and my Dad) told me that if I picked it up, that I could maybe hit Cap Gris Nez, oh sure, after this amount of time. I tried but to no avail. On a side note Ray, the Mate (Ian) and Bob had all done the swim and before we took off they had said the they would have 3 Channel swimmers the boat to which I quickly responded that there would be 4 on the way back! I was very pleased to land near Wissant France to the welcome of a group of people who gave me a round of applause as I left the water and was standing on the beach, nobody spoke English, but they obviously knew what had just been done. By the way, for a portion of my last 500 yards, I did backstroke in honor of a guy who had spent 3 weeks waiting to make an attempt to be the first to do the swim doing backstroke the whole way. He never got a chance as he never had cooperation with the weather and he could not stay any longer---a risk you take on this deal.
It was a great feeling to get back on the boat for the journey back to Dover. My official time was 10hr 44 min. Ray Dixon got a kick out of that because his time had been 10:43!
I remember that I did a lot of Kiwanis talks etc. after the swim and used the letters of CHANNEL to describe part of what it takes.
C. Commitment. During this whole deal, I was totally committed to my training. Not possible without the support of work and family. My line stolen from Dennis Conner who I heard say, "It is not the commitment but the commitment to the commitment" I thought that this was so true. I gave up a lot of things during my year of training.
H. Health. Most important to do the right things like eat properly (which I didn't), but get proper rest and take care of yourself.
A. Attitude. Have a good positive attitude about your goal. No negatives allowed.
N and N. Never Never give up on your dreams and goals.
E. Effort. Give your best effort in the process of training for and reaching goal.
L. Love. You have got to love what your are doing. The most important thing is too be sure you are having fun.
I also did my swim as a fund-raiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Bob's new wife was a nurse and had made the suggestion. I wrote all my friends and relatives for donations and also solicited a number of area businesses. I raised a total of almost $11,000, they in turn paid for all my costs. I spent about $4000 which included air fare for Bob who served as my trainer.
I am going to have to do some looking for some pictures from the swim. I mostly have slides which I would be happy to let you use if you think that it would be beneficial.
If you ever need anything, please do not hesitate to call me. Next time I will be more prompt to respond, it is not my style to be so tardy.
3136 South 25th Street
Lincoln, NE 68502