My calendar says it’s still somehow spring, but in the ATX we know better than that: Summer has arrived. And if it’s summer, you don’t need me to tell you that the heat and humidity around here makes running pretty darn tough. That is, running on land.
There’s another, cooler way to run at least some of the time during our brutal blow torch of a summer: Deep-water running. It’s still running, but your feet never touch the ground. Or, in this case, the bottom of a pool.
Deep-water running has been around forever, but most runners hold their nose and only even contemplate doing it when injured. Make no mistake about it, deep-water running is an excellent aerobic workout when you’re injured because there’s no impact whatsoever–the chief culprit of most running injuries.
But deep-water running is more than just for injured runners. It’s a great summer alternative to dry land running. It gives you a break from the pounding and complete relief from the disgusting three-digit temperatures and oppressive humidity we enjoy so much in Austin during summer.
One of the beauties of deep-water running is how easy it is. All you need is a pool (or lake) to get a terrific workout which is roughly equal to your dry land training but without the oppressive heat and/or pounding.
First, find a pool with a deep end. It doesn’t have to be extremely deep, just deep enough so that your feet won’t touch bottom. Because you’ll be running, you will also need some room (preferably, your own lane) so as not to get in the way of the lap swimmers or kids playing Marco Polo. Try to stay out of their way and hopefully, they’ll stay out of your way.
Barton Springs is perfect. So is Deep Eddy. Another good option is Dick Nichols Pool on Beckett in South Austin. There are plenty of others. Best bet is to go early before the crowds get there. Lunchtime or early morning is usually when the lanes are the most crowded.
Your next step is to find a partner to “run” with because the No. 1 complaint runners have is that pool running is incredibly boring.
It can be. So get a training partner who you can “run” with. Being able to chat, bitch and gossip the time away will make it pass quicker.
If you can’t get a training partner, get a boom box and blast some high-energy rock ‘n’ roll if the lifeguards will permit it. Anything to get you motivated to do this because it will take some degree of motivation to get into the water and run.
You will look like an oddball running in the water, but bite on this: Doing a pool run of 45 minutes is not any different—aerobically–than a dry land run of the same length. So if you’re injured and want to stay in shape or you just want an alternative to the blast furnace, hop in.
Pool running is much better for your actual running than swimming. Even if you are a good swimmer, swimming is great for the upper body but does almost nothing for the legs. Plus, unless you are a great swimmer and able to do a huge amount of intervals, it doesn’t do as much for a fit runner as running in the water will.
The first thing potential pool runners want to know is whether they’ll need a floatation belt. You don’t. I know this is somewhat controversial, but you won’t sink if you don’t wear a floatation belt. Even skinny wimps like me do just fine without any floatation aids designed for pool running. But if you’re simply not comfortable in the water, go ahead and wear one. A water-skiing belt works just fine too.
If you don’t wear a belt, you’ll be working a little harder to maintain a comfortable position which will tax your aerobic system a bit more and give you a better workout. This winter when IBM 10-K winner Matt Kutugata was injured and resorted to a pool-running regimen, he started out with a floatation vest but found he couldn’t get a good enough workout. So he ditched it and was able to get his heart rate up higher and “run” harder.
To begin a pool workout, all you need to do is start your runners’ watch, hop into the deep end and begin to run. Move your arms and legs as if you’re running on land. Try not to bounce up and down in the water, but maintain a steady cadence. Breathe normally.
The first thing you’ll notice is you’re going very slow. That’s because water is a heckuva lot denser than air so it provides much more resistance which is another good thing because it works your quads, calf muscles and hamstrings without placing any impact stress on them.
You will be moving through the water, but you’ll be going so slowly it’s almost imperceptible how little you move. For ambitious runners, this is kind of a downer at first because we want to go as fast as we can. But in the pool, your speed doesn’t really matter. The training effort (time spent pool running) is what counts; the laps don’t.
If the pool is crowded, you may have to just go back and forth in a lane. Or in a tight circle. So being slow actually helps in reducing the water you cover. Again, Barton Springs is ideal because there’s so much open water and you shouldn’t get in anyone’s way if you go early enough.
Continue running and try not to pull with your hands or kick your feet. Don’t cup your hand to provide propulsion. Simply, use your hands in same up-and-down motion and rhythm as running. It will be harder to pull your legs through than on land, but that’s what is providing such a terrific workout.
One major difference between running on land and in the pool is your heart rate is much lower in the water because the water makes you so buoyant (and it’s cooler, especially if you’re running in The Springs).
To get your heart rate up, simulate a speed session. Try running hard for one minute, recover for a minute and then follow with another minute of hard running. Do 10 of those. Or sprint hard for 30 seconds every minute. That’ll get your heart rate up.
Or, try doing a fartlek workout. Run hard for five minutes, recover for two, run hard for 10 minutes, jog recover for three. Or run hard to one pool ladder and recover as you run to the next ladder. Mix it up and add variety by simulating your dry land workouts. Do whatever it takes to make it interesting and get your heart rate elevated.
You don’t need to wear goggles because your face should be above water most of the time, but sometimes the chemicals in the pool (especially early) can irritate your eyes. Generally, I wear goggles when I run in the pool just to make sure and give my eyes some protection from the sun.
There are also some water-proof iPod like devices, but I’ve never found that they work particularly well. A boom box works best—if the lifeguards will allow it.
I’ve been running in the pool for years and even do it as a supplement when I am not injured. I live near the Nichols pool and what I like to do is run an easy 20 minutes to the pool, jump in and “run” for another 30-40 minutes. Then, run home. For me, that doubles the amount of running I normally do on land, but without having to kill myself in the summer heat.
When Kutugata was injured, he would long runs in the water and finish each one with 20 minutes of swimming. You don’t have to “run” that far, but topping off each pool run with a swim is always a good idea.
Assuming you aren’t injured, use pool running to supplement your regular training. Instead of running on dry land, substitute one or two pool runs per week this summer. Again, running in the water is just like running on the land—except without the pounding and heat.
Is pool running boring? Well yeah it can be. But if you can get over it, pool running is an ideal way to stay in shape this summer so when—or if—it gets cooler again, you’ll have stayed in top shape and can immediately plunge back into full-scale training.