The unrefined art of pool running

On the heels of an injury post, it felt fitting to pay homage to an injured runner’s frenemy: Pool running. I have met very few people who truly enjoy pool running. In fact, I can think of only one friend who claims to love it. Because what is there to love about running in the pool, really?

The scene: You willingly enter a space that, more often than not, has no windows, poor lighting, and the sterile smell of chlorine.

The activity: You strap an awkwardly-fitting flotation belt around your waist and proceed to run while floating in the water. The pool clock loudly displays your less-than-satisfying elapsed time as you slowly inch your way back and forth from one end of the pool to the other.

The onlookers: You inevitably receive quizzical looks from your fellow pool-dwellers. Children and seniors alike gaze at you with both curiosity and concern, confused why this floating head is bobbing along looking so focused, yet bored.

The result: You get out of a 60-minute pool session with no data on distance run, elevation gained, or mile splits hit. There’s no satisfying way of quantifying a pool running session; even heart rate data can be dispiriting, as it can be challenging to maintain a high rate while pool running.

All that said, there is a reason we runners take to the pool in times of both injury and health. When injured, it helps us keep in touch with the sport we love, stay connected to our goals, and reminds us to appreciate times of good health. When healthy, it offers a low-impact cross-training option and helps flush accumulated fatigue out of tired legs.

Now that you’re convinced to hop in the pool, here are some tips for honing your pool-running craft:

  1. Find a friend! We can all agree a couple of floating heads bobbing in the water is far better than one singular bobbing head.
  2. If you’re really fancy, get waterproof wireless headphones and dive in to your current audiobook, podcast, or killer playlist. Save your favorite listening items for the pool ONLY. It will make the pool feel special, in a way.
  3. Find a pool with windows – do they exist?
  4. Accept and re-frame the monotony. Boring hours in the pool are great mental prep for marathon training and racing!
  5. Don’t expect it to be more than it is. Is pool running fun? Not really. Is it going to be exceptionally boring at times? Yes. Is being cleared to pool run better than nothing? Of course. Is it a step towards being a stronger, healthier runner? Absolutely.
  6. Mix it up! Do fartleks in the pool. 1 minute on / 1 minute off, 2 minutes steady / 30 seconds hard / 90 seconds easy, and so on. This helps pass the time and gets the heart rate up!
  7. Is it summer time? Skip the pool and jump in the lake! More scenic, less monotonous, and more destination-driven. A much, much more enjoyable rendition of the same workout.
  8. Just keep… pool running!
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One Response to The unrefined art of pool running

  1. Bette says:

    I found an aqua fitness class at a local pool that was high energy with gr at music. At first I pool ran in the lap pool next to the exercise pool and benefited from the music and energy—and then, after a few times of doing this, joined the class either before or after doing some pool running—a great aerobic workout with “weights” (foam dumbbells) that really helped build upper body and core strength—and made my whole recovery period of not running on land much less boring. In fact I actually looked forward to this routine. However, when I went back to running on terra firma after 4 months, while I may not have lost too much overall fitness, gravity weighed in and it took some time to feel that I could get my breathing right again!

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