mundane adventures in running
I came across this old Runner’s World article about cross training in the swimming pool. The author, Marc Bloom, opens with the line:
“Like most runners, I’d rather look at lane lines on a track than in a pool.”
Immediately, I find that I am not like most runners. I haven’t run on a track… ever, not unless you count the white painted 400m circuit on the sports field at my secondary school. Those lane lines filled me with horror, and the idea of lanes in a pool is far, far more appealing. I’m an amateurish but enthusiastic swimmer. I spend a fair amount of time in the pool and hugely enjoy it. I don’t need much encouragement to cross train in the water. All that said, it can get a little samey after a while. It’s easier to switch it up in running, to change your routine and keep it interesting. In running, you can easily make small changes, try new routes, listen to different music, run with someone else. It’s not so easy with swimming. Novelty comes in meaner portions: learning how to tumble turn, using finger paddles for the first time, trying different combinations of strokes. That’s about it: you’re pretty much stuck with swimming lanes.
So, it was with interest that I read the article. In summary, it recommends training in water as a low intensive, injury free alternative to running. The author gives a how to, recommending three activities for pool work outs: swimming (like, duh!), “running in the water” and strengthening and stretching.
I read it, assimilated it and decided to give it a go. My son, Isaac, has swimming lessons on a Sunday at one of the local pools. I normally take my daughter, but if she’s not about, I get to enjoy a very strictly timed half hour session in the water.
Isaac’s swim school is at Brixton Rec. Brixton is a community sports centre. It feels very much like a community sports centre: it’s not fancy, or elitist. It’s not particularly sporty. There are often people smoking fags and drinking special brew on the steps. They used to use the five aside football pitch once a month for the ital ganjafest that is University of Dub. The clientele are normal, everyday people without affectations to be sporting legends. While it’s fine to be sporty, you don’t want to try too hard. It’s also my favourite local pool (if I don’t count Crystal Palace, which is a bit too far to count as local, but is the most beautiful pool in London).
Anyway, it was with some trepidation that I followed the instructions in the article. Do note, I only had half an hour, so I did a slightly abbreviated version.
As soon Isaac started his lesson, I got to it. First, 10 laps, AKA 20 lengths. I did the first ten with a pull buoy, the second without to get my legs going. So far, no embarrassment.
The main pool is graded into divided lanes. There are fast, medium and slow lanes. I normally swim fast or medium, depending on how busy the pool is. There’s also an ungraded lane. It joins up with one of the two learner pools. It’s reserved for older kids mucking about, frolicking couples, pairs of friends who like to swim languorously whilst chatting, and weirdoes doing something other than swimming. I fell into the last category: it is the appropriate place to do something as stupid as swimrun.
With all the dignity I could muster, I sauntered to the deep end of the ungraded lane. There were two twenty something women chatting at the side. They glanced at me as i got into the pool with my noodle. I tried to look cool. I think I even tipped my head slightly in a kind of “a’ight” way.
Running, floating in the water is surprisingly hard. On dry land, your movements are dictated by your relentless progress. You know if you are running if you are moving steadily forward. In water, you have to try and imagine what running is. Moving your legs around impotently without getting anywhere feels wrong, and it is impossible to know if you are doing it right. Still, flailing assertively was sufficiently exhausting to feel like it was doing some good.
I decided on 5 X 5 minute intervals. For each one, I went for it, jiggling around underwater, clutching my child’s floatation device and slowly turning red. It’s hard work, and you can feel the resistance. I found it easier than I expected to get a decent workout. I reckon was exercising at the same level I would on a tempo run.
The women in the pool studiously ignored me as a I ran in the water. I may as well have been rubbing my groin hurling obscenities I looked so inappropriate. I felt like a pariah.
20 or so minutes later, I was all done. It was a relief to get out of the pool. Without catching anyone’s eye, I picked Isaac from his swimming lesson, did some gentle and unobtrusive stretching in the learner pool and left.
My verdict: I can see how this might help with your fitness, and it is a change to swimming. It’s not as fun, and doesn’t feel as good for you as either swimming or running. Added to this is that it really does make you feel like an idiot. I would quite like to try this again to see if I can get more out of it, but I would only do so in a private pool, entirely by myself, with the lights turned off and the doors locked.