Cross-Training Nuance

EliptiGO ride - lake
Group ElliptiGO ride in Boston 2014.

In case this will help anyone else, I’m going to write a refresher course on pool-runs here, updated with one of my success stories about it, plus provide you with a new welcome twist to cross-training, the ElliptiGO.

Presently, I am sporting my fourth post-surgical walking boot in my collection (of which I am not proud); and for some time, I have been an advocate of cross-training, including this group ride pictured above (definitely proud – the short one on the left in an orange Boston jacket).  Some injuries keep me from even riding, injuries that require even stricter non-impact exercise, the kind that occurs in the deep end of a pool.

What are the chances that more than two friends in my circle would need the same pool running advice in the same week for the same reason?   Mine’s a broken ankle but both of theirs are broken toes.  Is there an epidemic?   I met Kim Chinquee, from New York,  at last year’s Runners World party at Boston before the fateful day last year.  While I have not actually met Marco, he is in Florence, Italy, we “met” earlier this year through my website/ blog, asking me about training for a marathon.  He blogs about his new found love for running at NOOBS IN PARIS.   Both  are runners, both open to coaching advice.  And here I am, right in line with them, awaiting my turn at the pool as soon as the boot for my broken ankle comes off.  Sigh, here we go again.

If you were to wade  (pun unintended) through all the training-tip articles I’ve parked on both the blog page and the coaching page, you will find not one but two specifically addressing pool running.  I suppose that is because I am the “queen of pool-running” as a close friend kindly refers to me.  I also suppose that’s because I’ve spent so much of my time training in the pool.

From around 1984, thanks to a woman named Lynda Huey, who first coined the term “Waterpower Workout,”  I not only discovered the first aqua exercise class in my town, I was such a regular participant, Lynda took me on as her first trainer. . . I believe she wrote the first book on the topic, first-ever and still teaching.  At the time, I think it was hamstring surgery that sent me searching for an alternative to land running.  Later, there were plenty of metatarsal stress fractures that kept me returning.

So that’s the brief background.
Included in some pre-marathon tips I wrote for a newspaper one time, leading up to one of the LA Marathons, there are specifics about how to pool-run and how to emulate your running workout in the water.
Basically, you can take your land running workouts and translate them into terms of “time” as opposed to “distance.”  You don’t get anywhere in the pool so you can’t measure distance, but you can measure effort.  Since you control your effort,  your workout can be as hard or easy as you want it to be, by how much you put in the effort.  It all feels easier than running, because you are not weight bearing, especially in the deep end.  It’s easier on your heart (think floating) so you won’t see your target heart rate go quite as high as it does on land.  On the other hand, for each of your leg strides, you are lifting and lowering your leg against the resistance of water so there’s some added effort.  You don’t really see yourself sweating, so that is another reason you might not think you’re working hard.  But trust me, it works.

Take those track workouts and repeat them in the water, but judge by time.  For instance, say it takes you 2:30 to cover an 800m on the track, so just go hard for 2:30 in the water, and call it an 800.

However, you won’t need as much interval rest between repetitions, because you recover faster too (remember the heart rate).  I almost never need more than 30-60 seconds rest between repetitions unless I do a very long and really hard effort.  Also, in the pool, I usually choose to run minute-runs or some variation of those.

Another thing, having a structured workout also makes the time go by faster.  Yes, I agree it can become tedious.  In this case, music can definitely help.  I’ll leave that to your imagination to supply the tunes.  POOLSIDE

I suggest in an hour workout sample:

10-15 minutes warm-up jog

30-40 minutes good effort

10-15 minutes cool-down jog

For the hard effort portion, I suggest:

“Minute Runs”  –  sprint one minute, jog 30 seconds and repeat.

“Ladder Workout”  –  do the above, but increase the minute to 2 min., 3 min. 4 min. & 5 minute runs, with that 30-60 second rest between, and come back down the ladder with 4, 3, 2, & 1 minute runs.  Perhaps take a brief (1-2 min.) break between going up the ladder and back down the ladder.

From there,  you can  be creative and do a whole set of 2-minute runs or any time sequence you like.  The point would be to work hard for at least half of the workout.

One important reminder:  use good running form.  Avoid “dog-paddling” or “cycling.”  Run tall, stay erect, lift your knees on the up-stride so your thigh is parallel to the ground, and reach the full stride on the down-swing as if you intend to push off the ground although  you are not touching it.  Bend the arms at the elbow 90-degrees, keeping them at  hip level.  You will feel the sensation of pushing the water back with your elbows.  Think “good form” all the time.

This is exactly how I got in shape for a marathon one time despite the fact that I had not run in over two years, when I retired with damaged knees and I had moved over to swimming.  I decided that if the BAA invited me to Boston to celebrate the 100th anniversary, I very well ought to run.  How many chances does one have that opportunity in a lifetime?  I designed my own training schedule that consisted of two pool days to one land running day.  The pattern was:  pool-run, land-run, swim, and repeat.  I even did my easy days, my steady state running, and my long (as in two hours) running in the pool.  When I got to Boston, I found myself sailing through Wellesley College (the half-marathon mark) at 1:30 and I was simply ecstatic.  (This was post-retirement, remember, not my peak.)  So I can tell you pool running can work — not only for maintenance, but for building fitness as well.

With Bryce Whiting at ElliptiGO headquarters.

My latest and greatest recommendation for cross-training now comes in the shape of something I could not have imagined even one decade ago, and I certainly wish I’d had one thirty years ago.  My racing repertoire would be longer.  In a word, ElliptiGO.  Let me just tell you that riding a GO feels more like running than anything else I have tried.  It looks like a cross between a scooter and a bicycle, and has no seat, plus the pedals are just like working an elliptical machine in the gym — with which I am all too familiar, and now I feel like a bird freed from a cage!  I am breaking a sweat, working as hard or as easy as I wish to go.  That is, before I broke my ankle in a completely non-related accident (in case you were wondering).  I am anxiously counting down the days to recovery and I already miss my new cross-training tool.  I will wean myself from the boot to the pool to (ecstatically) the ElliptiGO.

Meb-JQ-medals 5-29-14San Diego
Meb & Jacqueline at a San Diego celebration, post-Boston 2014.

So to Kim, to Marco, and anyone out there who needs rehabilitation or who wants to elongate their running career with cross training, try it.  So many of my friends are incorporating their running workouts with non-impact riding on their ElliptiGOs, or taking an easy  but active recovery day.  By the way, you don’t have to take my word on it, just ask Meb!  Meb rides the GO.