Training & Racing
On the Track with Alisa Harvey: Pool RunningBy Alisa Harvey
For the Washington Running Report
Throughout the years of being a runner, I have heard about the cardiovascular benefits swimming could have on my performance. Unfortunately, I do not swim. I have always been anxious in the pool. Last spring I suffered a tendon injury to my left leg. Walking was painful for me and I was unable to run. It was vital to maintain my fitness while recovering from the injury. I immediately set aside my water anxiety and began pool running. Four weeks into my pool-running program I was able to run on the track surface again. In addition, I had maintained my aerobic fitness. My experience taught me that pool running can be an ideal training method for injured, beginning, social, and competitive runners.
Since I had no formal instruction as to how to go about a proper pool running workout, I had to feel my way through my initial workouts. I began by using an Aqua Jogger: a floatation belt that is worn snuggly around the waist that allows you to perform running motions while afloat. The pool attendants supplied me with the floatation belt. I positioned myself at the 4'6" water depth lap swim area and began running. At 5'3" I had no problem staying above the floor of the pool. It was awkward at first, but soon I got the rhythm of running in water. I learned quickly that it did not take long before I was in oxygen debt. My arms and legs burned with fatigue near the end of each lap. I treated each lap as an interval run. I hung on to the side of the pool until my heart rate slowed. I only spent seven days running with my feet not touching the bottom of the pool.
By the second week in the pool I moved to 4'4" depth. My feet now made contact with the floor of the pool. I wore water shoes that I purchased from the drug store for $9. I even slipped my orthotics inside the shoes to support my weak arches. I still wore a floatation belt since the buoyancy made my body lighter on my feet; my injury was still tender. I pushed off with each foot, paying careful attention to keeping the same amount of stress on each leg. I did not want to favor the injured leg. As my injury healed I removed the floatation belt, which allowed me to bear more weight on my legs.
By week three I was in 4'0"of water with no floatation belt. I was doing laps of running while opening up my stride and increasing my pace. At times I would sprint for a few meters with all my strength while pushing off the floor hard with my feet. I bounded on my injured leg in order to correct my discrepancy in strength, which caused my injury. I was getting closer to being ready for dry land running. I knew I was ready to get back to running on the track by week four when I was able to run with little discomfort in 2'6" depth of water.
The transition from the pool back to the track was smooth. I could run steadily for 30 minutes on the track or treadmill. I was able to do quick strides. At three days out of the water I completed an 8 x 200m workout with no difficulties. I hastily said goodbye to the water, but found myself back in the pool just four days later. I was hooked. I missed the soothing feeling of the cool water resisting my movements.
The pool running that was once my rehabilitative therapy is now a welcome addition to my training program. Occasionally, I add pool running to my workout. The additional cardiovascular training is a nice addition to middle-distance training. I also use pool running after track workouts now that I have recovered from my injury. The water provides me with decreased stress on my joints and resistance training for my muscles. The cool water temperature of the pool provides an ideal low impact post workout aerobic session; while I recover, my body temperature decreases. As I grow more comfortable in the water I might even begin taking swimming lessons!
Pool Running Tips
Wear a well-made competitive swimsuit. Fashionable suits may not hold up to the forceful movements of your body against the water. In addition, pool running can be a high impact activity. Ladies, be sure that your suit is supportive, or wear your running bra underneath.
Check out your local drug store or sporting goods store. Water shoes need to have a rubberized bottom for protection from the floor of the pool. Be sure to fit the foot closer to the toes. The shoe should fit snugly in order to avoid being forced off by the water resistance. Use water-proof orthotics if you wear orthotics in your running shoes.
Some pools will mandate that they supply you with floatation belts; outside floatation devices are often not allowed. You can purchase the Aqua Jogger swim belt online or at some technical running stores.
Many public pools are occupied with lap-swimmers, water-aerobics classes, and others. Be attentive to others. Pool running does not require a great deal of space. You can achieve an intense workout with just ten yards of pool space.
Avoid running across the steep grade of the pool. The harsh angle of the floor of the pool can injure or irritate the muscles, bones, or tendons of the lower leg. Run up or down the floor of the pool. Larger pools generally have a slight grade which makes running across the pool acceptable.
Be creative with designing workouts. Just focus on achieving a challenge to your cardiovascular system. An injured runner should gradually increase the amount of stress on the injury while performing aerobically challenging workouts. Beginners should focus on adapting their bodies to running by starting with the floatation belt; practice proper running form. Adjust slowly to running on the surface of the pool. Once a beginner has mastered running on the floor of the pool, he should attempt running on dry land. Social and competitive runners should utilize the cross training benefits of the water. The resistance of the water is excellent for building muscle strength.
Since you are submerged in water, your body does not take the full stress on the bones, joints, and tendons. Don't be afraid to push off the bottom of the pool with your feet a litter harder than you would on land. If you are wearing a floatation belt, increase your pace a bit more than your normal walking or running pace. A waterproof heart rate monitor can guide you through an interval workout. Be sure to gradually increase your workout pace or intensity over time. A 20-minute pool workout is a good time goal. Add more time to your workouts as you become more fit.
Alisa Harvey is a 2008 Olympic Trials qualifier in the 800 meters. She was named USA Track & Field 2007 Masters Athlete of the Year. Harvey is the World Record Holder of the indoor masters mile (4:47.26). She also holds U.S. masters records of 2:07.57 for 800 meters and 4:46.29 for the mile outdoors and 2:05.75 for 800 meters (set February 24, 2008), and 4:26.18 for 1500 meters (set February 9, 2008) indoors. She was the 800 meter and 1500 meter champion at the 2007 U.S. Masters Outdoor T&F National Championships.