I did it. I went pool running.
I’m not injured, at least no more injured than usual. My knees have been banged up for a while, I can feel the burn of achilles tendinitis returning and my hip is its often creaky self, but I can still run and as long as I can do that, I’m not conceding that I’m injured.
That said, I’ve been increasingly curious recently about jumping into the pool to run a few laps. Tim spent a lot of time pool running over the past year or so rehabbing a series of ailments, and several members of my marathon clinic donned flotation belts to stay in shape after injuries crept up late in training for the recent Boston and Vancouver Marathons. While I haven’t been willing to call myself ‘injured’, I have come pretty close.
I was tempted a month ago when we took our girls to the Hillcrest Aquatic Centre, the converted pool which served a year ago as the Olympic curling venue. I even got up the nerve to actually ask a lifeguard about pool running. The courage to pool run in a crowded public pool does not come naturally to some.
We returned yesterday, and after becoming bored with three 10- to 15-minute sessions in the sauna as part of my Western States ‘heat training,’ I scoped out an unused area in the dive pool — a cross-wise lane cordoned off with the usual plastic rope — and eventually got up the nerve to grab one of the très masculin lilac-coloured flotation belts and buckle it up.
Just so we’re clear that I’m not injured, I should mention that I’d already run 27k in the morning out to the trails of Pacific Spirit Park, with witnesses, so this was intended as a way to add to my running mileage rather than replace it. I repeat: I am not injured.
After confirming with one of the lifeguards that it was okay for me to use the empty lane and that the purple foam would in fact keep at least part of my 180-pound mass above water, I hopped in.
To my surprise, I didn’t sink so I started moving my arms and legs. Things went well enough at first. I moved slower than I’d expected, but I did move forward and quickly found my rhythm as I ‘ran’ back and forth across the width of the pool. I had no trouble swinging my arms and legs, though at times my body would shift slightly backward and I’d get the sensation that I was actually back-pedalling. All it took was a quick correction to regain a slight forward lean and I was ‘running’ again.
At some point hell broke loose. I’m not sure what was wrong with all the dedicated swim lanes available just on the other side of the big divider, but for some reason, the pool’s least able and least courteous swimmers suddenly exiled themselves to my lane. In minutes, my lane, which had remained nearly empty the entire time we had been there, was instantly transformed into a circus. I found myself ducking under the lane rope to avoid ‘swimmers’ and was eventually pushed out of the lane altogether into the line of fire of the one show-off in the main dive pool doing the massive swan dives off the 3-metre board. The dude, who had to be in his fifties, had impressive form, but it was like crawling through an artillery range during live mortar shelling. Add to that, kids blindly diving off either side of the pool, a pair of love-struck ESL students making googly eyes completely unaware of my presence, and the odd swim class which seemed to be rotating around different parts of the aquatic centre, and my first pool run had evolved into a real adventure.
Admittedly, Sunday afternoon is probably not the best time to go seeking pool running serenity, but what is it about a single bobbing head, bearing an increasingly cross facial expression that people don’t see? I was moving, albeit slowly, in a fairly straight line and my orderliness must have stood in stark contrast to the chaos of the rest of the pool. How could they not see me? Pool runners clearly face an uphill battle to gain respect.
The challenges of running in a busy pool probably made the time pass quicker. Everyone I have spoken to about pool running cites the utter boredom, but I certainly didn’t experience that yesterday. Maybe it was the newness of it as well, and that it seemed easier than I had expected to actually ‘run’ in the water.
I must say that it didn’t feel like a real workout, perhaps because it lacked the constant pounding of feet on the ground. That’s a good thing. If I can sneak in an actual workout without feeling it, I’ll have to do this more often. I ran for about 35 minutes and felt like I could keep going for much longer if necessary. I could feel my back a bit and can feel a little more soreness in my arms today than I normally would the day after a Sunday run, so clearly the pool run woke up a few under-used muscles.
Overall my first pool running experience was a great success and I’m almost looking forward to going back.