Growing up I liked playing Monopoly. Most everyone wanted to buy Boardwalk, Park Place and the expensive properties hoping to put houses and a hotel on them. And collect big $ when someone landed on them. But I also liked Water Works, one of the utilities. The payback was decent – averaging about $28 and up to $48 rent (based on a roll of the dice) on a $150 investment. Chances were in the course of a couple of trips around the board someone would land there. Nothing fancy, but a dependable return. And that is what deep water running offers to runners. I was reminded of this twice in the past two weeks.
The first time I had gone for a fairly hard run in the cold rain. Came back to the gym, warmed up and thoroughly stretched, planning on a hard track workout the next day. But that night I didn’t sleep well and woke up with some back pain. It seemed wise to delay the track workout a day. So I headed to the gym and since the pool schedule didn’t allow for a water run, I jumped on the StairMaster. If anything, that made things worse and as the day progressed the back hurt more. Sleeping that night was uncomfortable and in the morning just walking was painful. Clearly running was off the table. So I headed to the pool!
I slowly walked from my car to the Y and did 45 minutes in the 88 degree program pool – it’s like a bath but on that day welcomed. I felt the back in the water but it wasn’t getting worse. After sitting on a heat pad most of the day while working, by evening things were maybe 30-40% better. The next day, I headed to UVM and did an hour in the pool (78 degrees so I wear a shorty wetsuit – no legs) followed by stretching and light weights (on parts other than the back.) More heat pad and by evening I felt 80%+ recovered. Rested well that night and in the morning went for a very easy 5-mile run, mostly on dirt. No problems! The following day I ran 8 miles, including two-miles of tempo near the end. Felt nearly 100% – saved by the water!
But then three days later after a solid 7-mile run, I came back to the gym for some stretching. I regularly perform one-legged balances on an inverted Bosu ball while doing dumbbell presses with a 10-pound weight in the opposite hand. But for some reason I picked up a 15-pound weight, lost my balance and took an awkward step off the ball jamming my ankle. I quickly felt something pinch in the area of the ankle dorsiflexors, the muscles that allow you to lift your foot upward when running. Sure enough, after a couple hours it began to throb and it was clear running wasn’t going to be an immediate option.
This was Tuesday and my dilemma was I had an important team race on Saturday. Nobody wants to totally rest during the days leading up to a race. So I was in the pool. Two solid pool workouts the next two days along with stretching and foot orbits had me at 90%, enough do an easy four miles the day before the race. By race day there was hardly a trace and I felt nothing (in the ankle!) during or after the race. Once again, water worked!
Suffice it to say, I will make an ongoing argument for deep water running. I’ve been doing this for over 25 years. Usually twice a week between running days and more when injured, using an aqua-jogging belt so the effort can go into running and not into staying on top of the water. Maybe some find it boring, though with new technology you can get wireless headphones and listen to podcasts or music through your phone sitting on the pool deck. Time passes by looking around and counting your cadence (the only real measure besides heart rate to monitor.) It’s not “running” but is the closest thing to it I have found. And many top echelon runners have also found this method useful in bridging their training gaps.
I have tried, regrettably with little success, to interest fellow runners in deep water running as both a regular part of their routine and a bridge to maintain fitness when running is not an option. Most runners attempt to “run through” their injuries, big and small, or take time off, which I submit for masters runners is problematic. We’re already losing muscle and CV function and total rest only exacerbates that. I’ll keep preaching water running to my friends and clients. And will be waiting for someone to write a guest blog post about how they have found it to be the magic elixir of sorts. For sure, there’s nothing like a good run. But if you can’t (or shouldn’t!) do that, deep water running is a great alternative. Water works!