Fish Out of Water…in Water

I love running. I love the feeling of success after accomplishing a run, I love the (hopeful) tan you get from being outside, I love the feeling like I’m literally going to die after the last 400 meter repeat, and I love the feeling of “earning” my dinner (another discussion for another blog post). Of course, like most OCD or Type A runners out there, I have developed the mindset that some miles are good, so more are better, right? Wrong.

For me, this was more mileage at a higher intensity, because duh, this means I’ll get faster and increase my endurance! Yeah, that was a reckless mistake of adding too many stressors, too fast, too soon to my training. I would go out and try to absolutely annihilate every run. It worked at first… until it didn’t. Long story short, I ended up with injuries. A lot of injuries (if you’re interested in bones, stress fractures, anterior pelvic tilts and more of those goodies, stay tuned).

After heart breaking diagnoses, the world of cross training made its grand entrance. At the time of my metatarsal stress fracture, cross training really just meant I couldn’t run, which in turn meant the end of the world. I soon found out, though, of the many benefits that I could get from this different style of workout.

Cross training is a different type of training method that incorporates less sport specific conditioning to a workout routine. It gives the muscles you consistently utilize a rest while strengthening those muscles you didn’t even know existed. For me personally, cross training consists of anything from biking, rowing, elliptical, pool running and swimming. For this post, I’m going to zero in on the water aspect.

Cool picture from Rome; hey, there’s water in the background so it’s relevant 😉

When I was four and constantly at my grandpa’s outdoor pool, I thought I was made for the water. I had sparkly pink goggles and I was basically the most fashionable mermaid out there. Unfortunately, after a swimming course at the Air Force Academy, I came to the harsh realization that A) I couldn’t wear my sparkly pink goggles, and B) Those sparkly pink goggles must’ve given me powers because without them, I was trash in the water. To validate the course, we had to swim a 250 meter swim in under 4 minutes and 30 seconds…yeah, your girl swam a solid 10 minutes.

This only continued when I first started swimming for cross training. I could barely make it four-25 meter laps without dying (the life guard was probably thinking “This is it, this is the day she drowns”). To clarify, when I say “swimming,” I also mean all workouts that can be done in the pool, such as kick-boarding and pool running. Pool running is not a widely known type of workout, probably because you have the tendency to look like a poor soul doggy paddling. It is not doggy paddling, but rather mimicking running form in deep water where your feet can’t touch. Yes, you look like your drowning, but it made my lungs feel like they were going to explode. I already knew I looked like an idiot trying to swim, but I also knew I looked even less athletic (if that’s possible) pool running. There really was no winning. To put my self-conscious mind at ease, I would go to the pool at the most obscure hours; I couldn’t go too early in the morning because heaven forbid I see the swim team there.

However, as soon as I began my workouts I quickly forgot about my appearance and zeroed in on staying alive and breathing. Water workouts are hard. As a college runner I assumed I was in pretty decent shape; as soon as I hit the pool, I felt as if I had to reevaluate my fitness. Though the workouts were initially a shock to the system, the struggle actually became a welcome surprise. I realized that while I might lose some leg turnover since I wasn’t actually running, I could, for the most part, maintain if not better my cardiovascular fitness via the pool of death (aka the lap pool that the Doc made me almost exclusively rehab in).

Me struggling in the SwimEx (like a pool version of a treadmill)

With pool running, you can closely mimic running form which put my OCD runner mind at ease; plus, the added water resistance gave my arms a killer workout. I found that workouts that I would do on land were easily transferred to pool running (I would occasionally shorten the rest between intervals or add a rep since there was no “pounding” on the body).

Moving onto swimming; I was more hesitant to begin swimming workouts, primarily because most runners view swimming as a “non-sport specific” form of cross training. This is definitely true. However, the most fit I’ve been coming back after injuries were all following the times I added a healthy dose of swimming to my cross training regimen (3-5 times per week). Swimming created a break from everything running: from being on land to mimicking running form. The only component that remained the same was the fact that intervals absolutely killed me. I believe this break rekindled my love for running when I returned while enabling me to maintain fitness while sidelined. As soon as I came back to land, I went through the natural struggles of getting my “land legs” back, but my lungs felt fantastic. I’ve been a swimming convert ever since.

It is at this point where I would like to say my swimming magically got better after all this cross training. It did not. Well, it did, but very, very slowly. Interestingly enough, I fell in love with the benefits the water provided and for the fact that I realized the pool actually helped heal my body. I grew less self conscious about sucking and grew more cognizant of the work that I was putting into cross training and the purpose behind why I was swimming. Who cares if I looked like an idiot?

Moral of the story, injuries suck and they take you away from the activity that you love. However, the ability to discover another hobby via cross training not only gets you back on track faster (haha… track pun), but opens another avenue of enjoyment. I still can’t say I’m a fast swimmer (you’d think after three years I’d finally be decent…), but now hearing the lapping of water in the pool fills me with a peace and joy I didn’t ever have before. It’s a different serenity than running through the woods, but one that I have grown to love.

The new pair of pink sparkly goggles didn’t hurt, either.

Example Pool Running* Workout:
If the workout on the track would’ve been 8×800 meter repeats with 2 minutes of rest in between, I would warm up for the same amount of time as I normally would on land. To simulate the 800 meters, I would move my arms and legs as fast as I could maintaining “running form” in the deep end of the pool for about 3 minutes. I felt like a duck- you could barely see my head moving but beneath the surface, my arms and legs felt like they were going to fall off. The first rep left me gassed. Yay! Only seven “800 meter” repeats to go! I would then simulate easy jogging for 90 seconds to 2 minutes in between the reps. If you are looking to mix up track interval workouts, give pool running a shot (especially if you are injury prone). Your lungs will hate you and then love you later, but your body will generously thank you.

*When pool running, it is important to make sure you have a pool where you can’t touch the bottom. When you swing your arms in the “running” position, try to keep them close to your body as they have a tendency to float away from you due to the natural resistance and buoyancy of the water. You won’t be able to maintain perfect running form, but make sure you focus on keeping your core tight and keeping your body aligned (no excessive forward lean).

Swimming Workout:
If I had a running workout of 3, 2, 1 minutes hard and 1 minute easy jog in between each interval (the set was repeated 3-5 times), then I would do the same timing in the pool: 3 minutes hard, 1 minute easy, 2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy, and so forth. I prefer swimming the intervals freestyle/front crawl. For an extra challenge, I would try changing up my breathing. Instead of breathing every other stroke, I would try to go every three or five. If you are new to swimming, I would recommend looking into YouTube videos regarding form so you don’t end up with another type of injury! And don’t be afraid to ask the lifeguard for pointers (they know me by name now).

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