Club member, Anji Close, introduces us to the world of Aqua Running.
I want to start by attempting to dispel two common misconceptions about aqua running.
1: It’s not just for injured runners
2: It’s definitely NOT the same thing as aqua aerobics.
My baptism of fire into aqua running came in May this year when I was found to have a double stress fracture in my calcaneum (heel) following around 4 weeks of very painful walking after a race. At this stage, I wasn’t even allowed to cycle let alone attempt any kind of weight bearing training such as using the cross-trainer or stepper. And running was definitely out for 8 weeks minimum, likely up to 4 months. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t understand “rest” and can be something of a loose cannon when it comes to training. Aqua running had been recommended to me by Kenny Mac and Dr Dan and I found that marathoners Claire Hallisey, Alyson Dixon and 10ker Charlotte Purdue had all used aqua running on their road back from long-term injuries. I felt if it was good enough for them it was definitely worth a shot.
The first few times I tried aqua running I kind of plodded in the water back and forth with the flotation belt on and probably didn’t try very hard but I found the time went quicker than just swimming (which I cannot abide) and my legs felt happy to be used. The idea of aqua running is simply that it works your legs and resistance in the water raises your heart rate to also keep you fit. Wearing the belt allows you to keep your core centred as it would on the road and stops you from “paddling” which is a definite no-no. I found the belt one of the hardest things to adjust to, and I was always pleased to take it off! Aqua running belts are becoming a little easier to get your hands on as interest in it grows. I used the Kiefer flotation belt (eBay and Amazon have them in abundance) but I later found much prettier ones by Adidas in Start Fitness.
Together with Rob Kirtley, who was also nursing a stress fracture, I researched a structured programme I could get my teeth into. I developed my own training plan progressive over 8 weeks, developed from Pete Pfitzinger’s schedule for aqua running. The sessions were 5 out of 7 days a week and included a mix of “steady” (ie plodding back and forth) and paced interval work. My favourite session became the pyramid which looked something like this:
1min hard 1 min easy, 2min hard, 1min easy, 3min hard, 1 min easy, 4min hard 1 min easy, 5min hard, 1min easy then back down again.
All of the sessions included intervals of “hard” pool running in which you must aim to do 180 steps per minute. I’m not going to lie, this is the hard part to crack and in the beginning it can be soul destroying in sessions such as 6x5mins hard if you NEVER reach the 180 cadence! It does somehow just “click” though and by the end of the 8 weeks I found myself easily pool running at 200cadence.
There are lots of styles of aqua running depending on what you want to achieve from your pool work but if you are embarking on a long-term programme it’s best to have a mix. It’s best to start aqua running either by doing it alongside someone who has done it before or to first watch a youTube video of the steps being demonstrated. Please note, aqua running for 8 weeks WILL be very boring and it’s definitely better to do it with a friend. You will get sick of each other and in my experience there may also be incidents of crying in the pool but it’s definitely worth it. Research shows that a great deal of injured runners return to racing after pool running with a faster 5k time as their legs are used to the short bursts of high cadence sprinting. I found that my quads shrunk considerably despite becoming stronger, and that as I’m slowly returning to the road now my legs are strong and ready to run.
The proof for me personally is yet to be seen as I’m slowly coming back and nursing a new injury to the problem foot. It’s definitely been better than doing nothing and now that I don’t “have” to aqua run I love my weekly pool sessions, something I never thought I’d hear myself say!
Anyone wishing to see my aqua running plan please feel free to get in touch. I’d also be happy to do a demo session with anyone who would like to give it a go. Aqua running is my new passion and I can’t wait to see it grow within our club.