Practical Tips for Pool Running

I realize it’s been pretty quiet around here lately – not the most impressive of starts for our MDI running blog! The good news is that there’s no shortage of good ideas kicking around, so hopefully we’ll pick it up from here on out and call it a negative split.

Seems that for the first time in my running career I find myself sidelined by a real injury – one that doesn’t go away after a few days rest & therapeutic attention. Turns out that after about 3 years of steadily improving my times and increasing my mileage, my lower legs are demanding a hiatus.

While our friends up at Absolute Endurance helped to get me back on the road after the initial onset of ankle pain, now I’m heading out into ‘uncharted waters’ in terms of cross-training. I’ve been making do with the elliptical machine and stationary bike, but we all know where injured runners eventually end up… Everybody into the pool!

Lucky for me, I attended Coach Jen’s water running clinic a few weeks ago. (And hey, if it’s good enough for the women’s winner of the Chilly Half (ONE TWENTY!?) then it’s good enough for me.) As if that weren’t enough, Coach Kev assures me he’s logged over 350 hours in the pool, and he’s hardly pruney at all. For the full story on Coach Kev’s own journey (and epic mileage) in the pool, check out this link. But for now I’ll leave you with his highlights on how to be successful in the pool:

1. Find Company

If you can, arrange to pool run with others. If you can’t, then enjoy the company and conversation of your day to day fellow poolmates (and yes we mean those septuagenarian and octogenarian water aerobic and social swim enthusiasts). Since you essentially “float in place” (or drift slowly) while pool running, it’s ideally suited to some upbeat conversations. Much more motivating, and time passes much faster this way!

2. Focus on Form 

Strive to emulate your “on ground” running form: in posture (upright or only slight lean forward at the hips), and in cadence (quick and fast). Don’t exaggerate your arm swing and leg range of movement—try to keep your stride rate up around 50-60 strides per leg per min, which is not easy given the resistance of the water). Constantly monitor your form to ensure that your knees remain close together, that your elbows are always cinched in close to your sides, and that your hands remain either loose or lightly clasped into a ball (so that they don’t form “paddles”). Every 10 minutes or so do a 30-60 second cadence count check, to ensure your stride rate hasn’t slipped below 50 per foot per minute).

Reminder: For our purposes here, water running is defined as emulating “real running” in the DEEP end of the pool. There are techniques that involve running or bounding in the shallow end of pools, but those are not what we are referring to here. Here is a link to helpful YouTube video that does a good job of demonstrating ideal water running form (specifically the footage at 45-60 sec).

3. Variety – Mix it Up! 

Anyone who’s done water running more than once can tell you that it’s not the most “intrinsically rewarding” activity, so ensure than every water run workout on any given week has a different focus and character than any and all other pool runs.

If water running only 1-2 times/wk: For example, if running healthily, and using water running for supplemental aerobic x-training, make sure your water running is easy to moderate overall intensity (i.e. 65-75% max HR or perceived effort). You can use either constant steady effort or a fartlek approach (i.e. mixing 1 min hard, with 2 min easy) for added variety.

If water running 3-4 times/week: For example, if injured or on the cusp of injury, and using water running as a replacement of your actual running workouts and/or for supplemental aerobic fitness, then just as you would when actually running, make sure each pool run of the week is noticeably different in purpose. You can replicate any type of run workout in the water: tempo, steady state threshold, LSD, fartlek, intervals, you name it. This way, there’s at least a week between any water runs of same/similar character, which greatly enhances the freshness and purposefulness of them all.

4. Be Flexible.

Create multiple options for your pool running at different locations and times. Check out the schedules for all the nearby community pools you can find, and try to find morning, afternoon and evening options so you can  squeeze the water running in, no matter what your schedule for the day. In the summer months ahead, some of you will have the added options of backyard pools (yours, neighbours) and cottage lakes. So no excuses!

Aside: While it’s possible to run during scheduled ‘lane swim’, you’ll likely find it’s best to leave the lanes to the swimmers, since you’ll spend so much time getting out of the way. Your best bets are to look for public swim, adult leisure swim, family swim, or fun swim time slots, where you can stick to the deep end around the edges/ropes, wherever there aren’t kids thrashing about!).

5. Intensity – Make It Count! 

In general, with water running, the harder you work the better you’ll feel (during, but especially after…lol!). But it’s awfully hard to push yourself with any sustained aerobic workout (especially for us number-obsessed runners), much less water running, without SOME form of objective measure to show/prove how hard you worked, isn’t it? (i.e. distance traveled, pace attained). Since you can’t use distance (when done correctly you simply drift ever so slightly forward slowly while pool running, truly at a snail’s pace), the best gauge is heart rate—so wear a waterproof HRM (heart rate monitor).


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