Drift wood (a beginners guide to Aqua running) by Dave Moir
Lane swimming in public swim sessions always makes me think of the Travis song ‘Drift wood‘. A bit unfair probably, as I have previously always headed to the fast lane to avoid the drift wood, so have rarely had the problem of swimming around it. The term I’m using refers to those individuals who are usually very “naturally buoyant” so they are in no danger of sinking, and make so little effort in the process of swimming, they kind of rely of currents to get them to where they are going. So in essence, I’ve previously looked down my nose at those people “swimming” who are now compared to my aqua running pace, at least twice as fast as I am, so I wonder if they now refer to me as drift wood?
This tale really started in early December 2016, I had upped my mileage and was struggling with niggles, ignored them, kept the mileage up, and made them much worse. If nothing else, I think the “denial phase” I managed to perpetuate for about 6 weeks, was admirable in a way, as I managed up to nearly 90 mile weeks over this period, but just couldn’t up the pace for some reason. The knee on my “good leg” was packing up on me as well, as I was loading everything through that to avoid stressing the bad ankle. Eventually I was diagnosed with a stress fracture, and was grounded for 4-6 weeks, no running, but aqua running (you know that thing you’ve heard about, read about, and felt a little sorry for anyone who actually got stuck with having to do it ‘cos it sounds viable, but we all know it will never work) and spinning (so long as it didn’t hurt) were allowed.
The diagnosis was on a Friday evening in mid-January, so a hurried posting on Facebook for advice on Aqua running resulted in several offers of help to show me what to do, a belt and a training plan. One thing you can say about TBH, is that if you want advice about anything running related, then just ask and you shall receive.
So Sunday was my first session at the East End pool, and Paul Routledge met me there to show me the ropes (or the anti-wave floating lines as they are known in the swimming world) and he also kindly gave me a belt. I did an hour with Paul and learned a lot, the good thing is that they always keep the pool really clean with the best pentair whisperflow pool pump so is easy and cool to train here. The general theory is you keep in deep water so you don’t touch the bottom, replicate the running action, try to keep upright and don’t use your arms too much to pull yourself through the water. Your pace and the distance you cover is irrelevant, it’s the intensity and time that matters. Even when you “sprint” you don’t go much faster than the normal pace, hence you end up half the speed of the driftwood. You probably won’t be able to get your heart rate up to land running levels, but allegedly as you lose more heat to water than air, you burn more calories (not sure why I’ve put weight on then!!).
My second show and tell session was with Jo Gascoigne-Owens from Alnwick Harriers, who turned out to be a very accomplished aqua runner. I think she has trained for half and full marathons, predominantly training in the pool, still managing to post very impressive times. Jo very politely suggested I ditch the belt, as it makes it all a too easy. It may however (as I’m a little on the skinny side, she further explained) cause me to be lower in the water than her, particularly as ladies tend to be more buoyant due to body morphology. Jo showed me a great range of exercises she has devised over the years, and it soon became evident that she was a much stronger aqua runner than me, being able to do lengths without a belt and her hands behind her back (I’ve tried this regularly since, and it took me until week 5 to be able to complete a 2 X 10 length session with my hands behind my back). Again a steep learning curve, but a great offer from Jo to share her experience and knowledge of aqua running with me.
So Sundays I do my long run (at least 2 hours, usually with company for 1 hour with between 5 and 10 X 5 min reps in the other hour), I do four early morning 1 hour sessions through the week at Northumbria Uni’s pool, a 1 hour session at Jesmond on a Tuesday evening followed by spinning, a S & C session and a turbo session through-out the week. I’m pretty much doing as much time wise aqua running, as I would be running on land.
If you like to follow a training plan (like I do), then there is link at the bottom of this to the one I used as a basis to my initial 6 week recovery programme. The theory is that if you follow the 6 week programme, you should be able to return to running at a very similar level to where you left off. I also think Jo G-O has proven that aqua running can actually be used to train for races. Bear in mind 5 minute reps are a very long rep to attempt whilst aqua running, as it’s very hard to keep the intensity up, but it definitely gets easier the more you practice.
If however you rely on club sessions, and make it all up as you go along, then you can try to replicate club sessions, but they are not always easy to convert to pool sessions. I’ve not tried a tempo surge yet, but if I ever get half a dozen in the pool at the same time, then why not? Not only do you need to consider the time / location that best suits you, but the facilities that are available and the traffic in the pool may be a factor in determining when and where you do your session.
I can only comment on Northumbria, Jesmond and the East End pool, and here are my experiences of them.
Northumbria early morning – tends to be lane swimming, 3 for the Uni swim club and slow, medium and fast lanes for the general public. The slow lane as I’ve mentioned is at a pace faster than I can aqua-run, but as you start at the deep end then turn at about the half way point, you can usually keep out of everyone’s way as it isn’t that busy.
Jesmond Tuesday evening is a public session but there are area’s cordoned off for lessons and the main bit is a bit of a free for all. People often see you just running up and down the same line repeatedly, and just keep out your way, as I think they assume you are a little unhinged.
East End pool Sunday lunchtime – this can be busy, there are 2 lanes, and the pool is deeper on one side (1.7m which is pretty much what I need, down to 1.2m). This can be a busy session with kids jumping in repeatedly shouting ‘dive bomaaaaaaas’, just in front of you. I might have avoided this session had it not been for the fact that I get company from Paul there every week.
In summary, it took me a long time to admit I had an injury, but once I was diagnosed, I asked for help, got a plan sorted quickly and put it onto operation. Aqua running can be a little boring, and it helps if you accept that, and are mentally able to cope with it. It’s also a good idea to break things up if you can. Meet others when you can. I couldn’t do 2 hours without company for one of those hours, it’s just like your Sunday long run in that it’s easier and goes a lot quicker with company. Do intervals as the time passes much quicker doing a session, also have a go at other exercises like trying to keep your arms by your side for a length. I use other strategies like counting off the sessions as I go along. I started with 6 weeks X 6 sessions so 36 in total, and tick them off as I’m doing them. Having since had a further 3 weeks added on to my sentence, I’m still OK with that, but if I was told 9 weeks off at the start, I’m not sure I would have committed to the aqua-running schedule.
This is probably the longest lay off from running I’ve had since I started 14 years ago, and I do feel that if I hadn’t had aqua running as an option, not only would I be several stone heavier, I would be returning to running having lost a lot of condition, and in the mean-time it would have driven me nuts not being able to exercise like this. I’ve definitely changed my mind about aqua running as an alternative if I can’t run. I’m also a lot more understanding towards “slower swimmers” and have developed a new lane etiquette so that I don’t get in their way.
This is the training plan I mentioned earlier.
I hope this helps and encourages others who are currently unable to run.