Monday, February 4, 2013

pool running... who knew??

As many of you know, I was sidelined about a month ago after a running accident.  (I ran into a moving SUV, which is a whole ‘nother long story.)   I got through it with mostly scrapes and bruises, a black eye, a broken little toe that healed in just a few days, a sore and very weak right arm, and a bruised and swollen right foot.  After multiple xrays, the doctor confirmed no broken bones and said I could put weight on my foot just as soon as it was comfortable to do so, and sent me home with an air cast.  I was able to walk a (very slow!) mile again with my kids, and get out of the house some – HELLO STARBUCKS!   I was so happy to be free of crutches, but it wasn’t long before my knee began to protest, and I was afraid walking on the air cast might mean a knee injury that wasn’t part of the original package.

Of course, I was grateful my injuries weren’t worse, but within days I started getting restless.  In addition to all the things piling up undone around me, I was really getting discouraged about my prospects for running the Walt Disney World Princess Half Marathon on February 24th.  I had been training for it since November, and had gotten up to 10.5 miles just before the accident.  Now, here I was, stuck on the sofa.  Not a pretty picture. 

Everyone was offering suggestions (because, did I mention?  not a pretty picture!)   A friend sent links and videos of exercises I could do on crutches. The problem was, almost any alternate exercise would involve use of my upper body, and I couldn’t put any weight on my right arm.  My daughter mentioned swimming, but as swollen and sore as my foot was, I couldn’t imagine trying to kick.  My sweet sister typed up portions from a running book of hers with information on returning to training after an injury.  I found that just about every article related to running after an injury assumes your injury was caused by running, so the focus is on correcting what you were doing to cause the injury.  OK.  Quit running into moving vehicles.  Check.  (My witty daughter was quick to point out, “you were injured while you were running, so technically, it IS a running injury.”)   Somehow, as I was processing all of these possibilities, with the help of the miracle that is Google, I came across the term “pool running.”  I was intrigued…

To be honest, the first time I ran in the pool, it took me all day to work up the courage just to try it.  I was so afraid I might not be able to do it and that I’d just come home even more discouraged.  I read several articles online and watched videos on YouTube.  It turns out, this is a practice that was originally developed for injured horses, and someone brilliant said, “why not people?”  The basic idea is that you’re upright in water deep enough that you don’t touch bottom, and you basically run in place, holding your ankle in a neutral position.  Kind of like stomping grapes. 

Ideally, you really need one of these:

I’m lucky that they have them to borrow at my gym. 

Yes, it looks just about as ridiculous and awkward as it sounds, especially the first time when I was figuring things out.  There’s not a lot of interesting scenery, and I can’t have my playlist as a distraction.  

But I did it.   For 45 minutes. 

And it.  was.  AWESOME! 

The pool at my gym isn’t very deep, so I can only do about 1/3 of a lap before I have to turn around.  I did some laps with water weights, which allowed me to work in slightly shallower water (and do longer laps), helped to strengthen my injured right arm, and just broke the monotony a bit. I didn’t really count laps, just timed how long it took to complete one, and then tried to see if I could do the next one a little faster.  My half marathon training scheduled called for a 30-45 minute run twice a week, so I figured if I could run for 45-60 minutes in the pool, that would be a pretty good substitute.

I also found it helpful to "run in place."  I put my hands flat against the wall of the pool (also helpful in increasing range of motion in my injured wrist) and ran/stomped in place.  I found I could do this at a much faster cadence (since I didn’t have to worry about drifting into lane ropes) and it was much easier to maintain good form.  It was also very soothing to my knee, which had become sore from the unnatural motion of walking in an air cast.  It was really such a relief, like I could hear my knee saying, “Yes!  THIS is how I’m supposed to be moving!!”   At first, I could only do it for a minute to two, but worked up to 5-7 minutes.  It was kind of like doing intervals when I run.  I do about 10 minutes of “laps” which are less intense, and work my core and upper body.  Then I do about 5 minutes in place, alternating laps and running in place for about an hour. 

I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV (I know, that’s only funny if you’re older…)  I am in no way qualified to give medical advice, but if you are struggling with an interruption in your training due to an injury, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about exercises you can do in a pool.  I have been amazed at how many things I have been able to do in the water, comfortably and without risk of further injury.   In a pool, you’re only about 40% of your weight on land, which helped me to gently start putting weight on my injured foot (with the green light from my doctor!)  I could stretch and move my knee with a much move controlled and fluid motion than I could manage on dry land.  Even moving my arm was easier and less painful in the water, and working with the water weights helped me regain strength a little each day. 

Pool running is actually considered by many to be excellent cross training for runners (slightly different form if you’re not dealing with an injury) and for me, it was a huge boost for my mental state.  I had no idea how long it would be before I could get back to running outside, but running in the pool allowed me to get a good cardio workout, which I need just to keep myself balanced, and also kept me hopeful about maintaining my fitness level until I was ready to run.  I was able to get my foot,  ankle and toes moving much sooner in the water, and soon had the strength (and courage) to try a stationary bike, elliptical trainer and then a treadmill.  And, to be honest, it was just nice to be able to get back to my routine of going to the gym sooner rather than later.  Because anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a much saner person when I can work out.  

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