SWAMPSCOTT — Swampscott native Craig Lewin will undertake the grueling 21-mile Catalina Channel swim on Thursday, swimming the channel throughout the night while being pushed around by strong currents.
The swim stretches from Santa Catalina Island, a rocky island off the coast of California, to Los Angeles. Lewin said the swim starts at Santa Catalina Island, with participants swimming to the mainland. He’ll start between 10 p.m. and midnight and swim throughout the night.
“I’m excited for the challenge and am just going to try to enjoy it as much as possible,” said 32-year-old Lewin, who moved to Canton three years ago.
Lewin, who swam competitively during his time at Swampscott High School and Boston College, founded Endurance Swimming about a decade ago, which is a swim program for triathletes. The open water swimming training for Endurance Swimming is done out of Swampscott, while the pool training is in Peabody.
Lewin, who coaches for Endurance Swimming, said he did some triathlons himself after college, but after he was hit by a car while riding a bicycle during a competition for the second time, he didn’t have the desire to get on a bike and compete in triathlons anymore. After being hit for the second time, he needed surgery and a lot of recovery time.
But he found that he didn’t have the same level of achievement when he wasn’t competing. Simply working out at the gym to stay in shape and stay healthy wasn’t enough for him. He was used to being competitive and training for something.
He began toying with the idea of attempting the Catalina Channel swim last September. He said the more famous English Channel swim, which is 21 miles from Dover, England to Cap Gris-Nez in France, is a lot less affordable and swimmers aren’t guaranteed a spot if they arrive and bad weather cancels their swim, even after paying for the attempt and travel.
He decided on the Catalina Channel swim because he didn’t want a competition that was too easy, where he could just put off training and cram everything in during the last two months before the event. This would require almost a year of training.
“I felt it was achievable with a lot of training and a lot of work,” Lewin said. “I wanted to push my own limits and see what I could do.”
In November, Lewin said he started to take the steps to put together a training program and secure a spot on the boat for the swim.
During the Catalina Channel swim, Lewin said he’ll be swimming alongside a boat, with a crew that includes his mother and father and two friends from college who will be support swimmers.
There will be two kayakers, who will be alternating throughout the night and the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation will be observing the swim to make sure it’s a certified swim.
His crew will be mainly there to feed him — Lewin will eat every half hour, so crew members will be making his drink mixes, but will also be there to keep him motivated and provide moral support through a dark, lonely swim.
“With long swims, you hit a wall and go through a hard place,” he said.
Lewin said his biggest challenge will be swimming through the night, but he expects unpredictable currents to push him around. When the air temperature drops, things also become less comfortable.
To prepare for the swim, Lewin said he took on an intense training regimen, swimming through the winter and also prepping for potentially cold water by sitting in ice baths for as long as he could. He said his biggest mental challenge was being uncomfortable due to being cold.
Getting into the ocean — he would train at Phillips Beach in Swampscott — in February and March was not fun, he said, as the water was in the low 40s and he could only stay in for 20 minutes the first few times.
Around mid-April, he said the water was still uncomfortable but he could take his wetsuit off and swim for 30 to 40 minutes. By mid-May, the water reached the mid-50s, and he was able to get an hour or two in pretty comfortably before worrying about hypothermia. Now, he said the water feels like a bathtub.
For his training, he said everything was done in four-week blocks. He started back in November with a base period of getting in shape, swimming in the pool for one to two hours a day. As the months went on, his training volume increased.
During his four-week blocks, he would build up to the fourth week, or the bulk week, where he would swim more miles and include two long swims, which would be five to six hours each. At peak, he would swim 100 miles a month during a four-week training block and 35 to 40 hours in a bulk week.
Lewin said he expects to finish, but nature might have other ideas. He said he doesn’t really have a goal time — he’d be happy with 10 hours, but wouldn’t be disappointed if swam the channel in 14 or 17 hours and still finished.
“I think I’ve set myself up for success and I’m confident in my abilities, but there’s always uncontrollable circumstances that will require you not to finish,” Lewin said. “I understand the weather and the ocean — they kind of have their own agendas. I’ll do my best and hopefully that will be enough.”