Swimming Pools – Not Just For Relaxing Poolside

I have always been a person who enjoys running. I haven’t always chosen to do it, but I never had anything against it. I have not, however, always been a person who enjoys swimming. For most of my life, I have actually hated it. Okay, maybe hate is a strong word, but as far as exercise oriented activities are concerned, swimming would have ranked pretty low.

I have always liked swimming pools for sitting next to while sipping a refreshing cocktail, but as a place to exercise? Forget it.

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The main reason I have generally despised swimming for exercise is that swimming for any sort of long distance is very difficult if you’re not doing it right. And it is hard to do it right if you are not fit enough, or don’t know what you’re doing. You find yourself struggling for breath and running out of strength to continue pretty darn quickly.

Running, in some ways, seems to be lot more forgiving of your cardio fitness than swimming is.

The last time I did any serious swimming I was training for a sprint triathlon, probably 10 or more years ago, and while the bike and run were fine, the swimming just about killed me every time I had to do it.

I am not even talking about the open water swimming (a blog post unto itself – because I freak out knowing THERE ARE THINGS, LIVING THINGS, IN THE WATER), I am talking about pool workouts.

30 minutes of running was not a problem. 30 minutes on the bike was a breeze. Put me in the pool to swim laps for 30 minutes, and I came apart like an ice cream cone in July.

I think the reason for this is, if you’re running or biking, you can breathe when you want, you can coast, or you can slow down. You can even cheat and turn off your GPS and gasp for air for a couple of minutes.

With swimming, even if you slow down, you’re still dealing with the fact that you’re underwater and can’t breathe when you want to. It will expose your weakness if you are not fit enough to have good breath control.

My husband is a former competitive swimmer, and he says it’s also because water is very unforgiving of bad form and wasted movement. If you push on it, it pushes back. You have to pull with just the right amount of power to move through the water. Pull too hard or not hard enough, and you might as well have a big bag of rocks tied around your neck.

You also need to be patient and calm – neither of which is my forte. You can’t flail and thrash around in an effort to go faster or you will be fighting the water the whole time. In running, moving legs faster means you go faster, even if your form sucks. You might not go as fast as your potential with bad form, but you will probably be moving somewhat faster than you did previously.

In swimming, you need to move arms and legs the right way, with the right amount of force, or you may in fact end up going slower than you would with a more relaxed stroke.

You also have to inhabit your own head more. There is nothing to look at in the pool other than the lane line at the bottom and the X at the end of the lane. No music, no grass, flowers or trees, and no running partner to talk to. No distractions. Just you, your strokes and your breathing.

So these are all the things I have generally held against swimming and why it’s always been pretty low on my list of things to do. I am happy that since I am now stuck in the pool for a while, that these things don’t seem to bother me so much.

I’m actually kind of enjoying it.

Maybe all that running made me a better swimmer?

Swimming pools – who knew they were not just for relaxing with a cocktail?

How about you? Do you like swimming or do you prefer a refreshing cocktail?
Do you incorporate swimming as cross training?
Has running made YOU a better swimmer, or vice versa?

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Eat and Swim Mom

I’m sitting here with sore shoulders right now, from doing one of the few forms of exercise that I can still do on my sore ankle. Non-weight bearing is pretty much where it’s at for me until further notice, so it looks like I will be doing quite a bit of swimming until this ankle situation gets sorted out. And spin classes (mostly sitting down). And whatever else I can come up with that does not involve standing or moving around upright.

Maybe I will have to change the name of the blog?

Here are some possibilities:
Eat and Swim Mom
Eat and Run in the Pool Mom
Eat and Stationary Bike Mom
Eat and Do A Lot of Knee Push-ups Mom
Eat and Pet the Cat Mom…

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That’s one vote for petting the cat.

And yes, in the absence of running posts, the Eat and Run Mom has been reduced to posting gratuitous cat pictures. That’s how far the mighty have fallen…

So okay, enough whining. Since I can’t run, today was a swim day. And you know what? Swimming is some hard damn work! I suspect that is why I have never particularly cared for it in the past. It’s probably more work than it should be since my stroke is not so great. Something to work on while swimming endless laps for the next few weeks I guess.

Running is so easy – at least, the way I do it, it is. Or was. Can’t say the same for swimming.

Another issue I have with swimming is that unlike running, it’s not just strap on shoes and go. There are two clothing changes involved – before and after.

Plus, the whole showering up afterwards thing is a pain. I can run around town all day long in my sweaty workout clothes if I want to, and nobody looks at me funny. They might not want to stand too close to me, but otherwise it’s not a problem. Can’t walk around town in a wet swimsuit though, or you get refused service in public places.

Also, if I swim, I have to wash my hair more often than twice a week. Those are precious minutes I am never getting back. Actually come to think of it, that part is kind of nice – for me and everyone else.

Showering in peace. Just one more thing I’ve missed since I had kids!

So anyway, I swam laps for about 30 minutes while my youngest monkey was in a swim lesson. I definitely felt it a lot in my butt, lower abdominals, lats and shoulders. Felt like a good workout, and it hurt less than I remember.

If I could work up to an hour at a time a few days a week, I’d definitely feel like I accomplished something.

Okay – now it’s your turn.

If you couldn’t run, what kind of exercise would you do?

How do you feel about swimming? Love it, hate it, or neutral about it?

How To Get Faster

One of the things that is coming out of my PT sessions is that the old adage about having to choose speed or distance and that it’s really hard to work on both is really true. I tried doing both and screwed up my ankle.

For right now, it is looking like I am going to have to choose speed, since my ankle can’t handle the stress of doing a lot of long runs right now. So my plan is to focus on speed at the shorter distances.

But, how does one get faster, anyway? Obviously, running lots of miles doesn’t make you fast, so what does?

Run Eat Repeat just posted a vlog about this topic, 5 Tips to Run FASTER.

In a nutshell, her advice is to:

1) Do speedwork. Duh. A lot of people try to get faster by just running more miles. This was basically my plan in 2013. It works a little bit just through an increase in fitness, but you will reach a point of diminishing returns pretty quickly. And then you injure yourself…

There are a lot of different kinds of speedwork. Some people do 800s, 400s, tempo runs, sprints, strides. I couldn’t tell you pros and cons of any of them, but the point is you need to do some kind of speedwork in order to actually get faster. (I.e., go faster to get faster).

Since I am going to focus on shorter distances, and I lost a lot of fitness with surgery and injury, I am starting out with 400 repeats. When my endurance improves I’ll probably go to 800s. But for now 400s is good. On Thursday, I did 5×400 repeats for a total workout of about 2.5 miles. It was actually supposed to be 6×400, but I was so tired after 4 that I backed way off on the 5th repeat and gave up entirely on the 6th. Gotta start somewhere though.

The repeats were run at 9:15, 8:45, 8:15, 7:45, and 8:45. Next time I probably won’t make that jump to 7:45 until the last repeat, but I just wanted to see if I could do it. Since the answer is just barely, I will have to save it for the end next time.

2) Speed up your cadence – Again, go faster to get faster. This is actually a form issue that I’ve been working on for a while. The ideal running cadence is supposed to be somewhere around 180 steps per minute. Mine tends to be slower, so I downloaded an app for my phone called Metronome Beats to use when I run. There is a little ball that bounces back and forth and I try to match up my footfalls.

3) Run with someone faster – this is one I probably won’t be doing very often since most of the runners I know who are faster are running the longer distances.

4) Maintain an optimal running weight – better known to most people as losing some weight. I suspect this is an item I need to consider. I am not overweight in a general sense, but what is optimal for running faster is not necessarily the same as your weight that would otherwise be considered normal or ideal. Gravity sucks for runners, even more than for the average person. I know this because I ran on an “antigravity treadmill” this week and noticed that with 25% of my weight removed I was suddenly considerably faster and had a lot less ankle pain than I normally do. So I think it is something I need to look at.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be ridiculous about this. It’s important to maintain perspective, after all. Also, running is not an excuse to be anorexic – So how do you figure out what is a healthy, optimal running weight? I’m not sure, so I’ll have to look into it and write a post just on this topic. I think 10% of my body weight would probably be a doable number, though, and a healthy one that at one point I have weighed and maintained during my adult life.

5) Form – this is one I’ve been working on for a long time. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things going on, so I just pick one thing at a time to focus on. A big one has been pushing off vs. reaching forward, not crossing the midline and staying quiet in the upper body. I’ve been able to improve some areas of my form but it is an area I really need to work on. Again, probably worthy of a separate post just on this topic.

In addition to these areas, there are a couple of other things I can do to get faster.

1) Strength train – I have a home exercise program from my PT sessions that I am doing, which is working on some of the weak areas in my “drive train.” My ankle injury occurred due to weakness in the hips and possibly lack of mobility in the big toe, which the exercises are supposed to address. An added benefit of improving strength and mobility in those areas should be an increase in speed.

2) Cross training – running is the best exercise for runners, but it is very hard to improve quickly when you’re coming back from an injury or a surgery by just running more miles. The body can’t take it. To improve cardio fitness without injuring myself, I need to do some other type of low impact cardio activity. So for now, I’m going to be running 2 – 3 times a week as long as my ankle doesn’t hurt, doing spin class a couple of times a week and using the elliptical and the Adaptive Motion Trainer the rest of the time. Plus strength training / rehab exercises pretty much every day.

That’s how I plan to get faster. Is getting faster something you’re working on? Tell me your plan in the comments!

I’m a Naughty Little Cheater

I did a potentially bad thing that turned out okay today – I actually ran a little. Just a little. And it didn’t hurt one bit. Well, the ankles got a bit sore but nothing in the abdomen gave me any trouble.

I feel like a bit of a cheater though, because technically I really shouldn’t start running at all until the 6th week is complete, and today is just the beginning of the 6th week so one might say it’s a bit soon. However, I think I am basically healed up. I haven’t even seen so much as a drop of blood in almost 3 weeks, and never anything more than transient pain (gas, I think) for about as long, so I can only think I’m probably close enough to where it’s probably okay.

I started my treadmill workout with 5 minutes of brisk walking, then ran 1 minute, very slowly. No abdominal pain and no ankle pain either. So I walked 4 minutes then ran 2. Still no problems. Then I ran a bit faster for 3 minutes and walked 3. No problems with the abdominal area but the ankle started feeling sore, so I just did it one more time, for a total of just over 12 minutes. I think the running averaged about a 12 minute pace, so if I had to guess, I’d say I probably ran about a mile. Then I walked for the remainder of my workout for a total of about 3 miles.

Depending on how I feel, I may or may not try this same workout again later this week. I have a PT appointment for my ankle on Wednesday – I might try it again that day and Friday. I just have to take it day by day and see how I feel.

Oh, and by the way this is not even the dumbest thing I did in the last few days. I went with my husband and kids to the baseball diamond where he was going to work with them on some batting skills, and we all basically forgot that I had even had the surgery. I swung at a couple of balls and had no problems. It was on the 4th swing that I realized what I was doing was probably not all that smart, and on the 5th swing I realized it was in fact downright stupid. My body, in particular my belly button, gave me a heads up that I was being an idiot. So I went and laid down on the bench while the boys finished up. No problems since then – woke up feeling great today. Thus my decision to give running a go. If I was gonna tear a hole in myself, seems like it would have happened yesterday. This is what they call justification.

So yeah – I’m a cheating cheater who cheats. In my defense I do feel that recovery from this surgery is highly individual and I think I must be on the faster end of the spectrum. Probably because I was in good shape going into it – I really feel like I have bounced back pretty well. It didn’t feel like it for the first couple of weeks, but once things started to turn for the better, they really turned around quickly.

But anyway, all in all I feel like my recovery is going very well, and it continues to appear that the limiting factor in my return to running isn’t the surgery at all, but the ankle injury. Which it’s probably good I have that ankle injury or who knows what stupid thing I would try to do to myself next!

Better Every Day

Every time someone asks me how I am feeling since my surgery, I tell them I feel better every day. It wasn’t true at first, but it has been true for the last couple of weeks since I started back to walking at the gym. I am at 5 weeks today and am really feeling strong now. I occasionally have odd twinges of soreness, but for the most part my surgical stuff is not causing me any pain.

If only based on my recovery from surgery, I think I would be getting back to running pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the tendinitis I developed back in January is still bothering me.

Since I’ve already tried giving it a couple of months of rest and doing some rehab exercises I found on the Internet – a course of action that hasn’t quite worked- I decided to stop futzing around and actually go see a doctor about it today. He basically agreed with my Internet diagnosis of posterior tibial tendonitis, and recommended 2 more weeks of high dose Ibuprofen three times daily, some PT and some orthotics, and then see where we are. He also said I need to go back to Brooks when I go back to running as the Asics I switched to are probably not a stable enough shoe for me. Honestly, I can feel the squishyness of them so I definitely think it could be the shoes are at least partially responsible.

Anyway, If there’s no improvement in a couple of weeks, then we will do an MRI and possibly refer me to a podiatrist.

The good news for now is that he felt that I didn’t seem to be in enough pain for a stress fracture to be very likely, and that tendonitis was very consistent with what I told him about my training. A lot of mileage added quickly is a pretty textbook way to give yourself tendinitis, which I knew. What I didn’t know was how fast it would go from “no problem” to “big problem”. At the time I knew I was adding miles pretty quickly but had just hoped to get by with it for a few weeks. Obviously, I miscalculated. Lesson learned, I guess.

Where was I?

Well when last we left off I wasn’t feeling very well and was fighting a case of what seemed like bronchitis. I finally decided to go to the doctor when it got to the point that I couldn’t sleep, and was coughing so long and so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath. Oddly, I was fine when running, I just coughed all the time when I wasn’t. Which eventually made me so tired I didn’t want to run anyway.

What it turns out I had was some sort of virus that triggered a case of reactive airways, which is essentially like asthma without the wheezing. The doctor says that the fact I could run meant it wasn’t bronchitis and that it is typical if reactive airways to have improved breathing during exercise because the adrenaline opens the airways (when they close again, the coughing resumes).

So I didn’t get antibiotics again (which is good because I basically told the doctor that I had taken too many rounds already this year and so I didn’t want to take them anymore unless I had to), but I did get Flonase and two different kinds of inhalable steroids. They have mostly helped me keep the coughing fits under control and I seem to be on the mend, though my airways do seem to still be a little bit sensitive at night.

I’m back to running again. I ran 7.6 miles on Sunday, which felt fine, and I ran 4.5 miles today. My plan is to run a 12k race in December and possibly a half marathon at the end of January so I feel like if things keep going like they are, both of those should be manageable. Still trying to be careful and take it kind of slow as far as adding miles.

I do have another new thing I am doing on non running days: PiYo. That’s a combination of Pilates and Yoga which provides a lot of strengthening and core work, along with flexibility which I can always use more of, especially in the hips and hamstrings where I am always sort of tight. There’s also a fair amount of upper body strengthening including boy push-ups which I pretty much can’t do. I can do a ton of girlie ones with the bent knee but basically can’t do ANY with straight legs. So that is something to strive for I guess: I would like to be able to do boy style push-ups and I’m sure if I stick with this class I will eventually be able to.

Because I Like It?

Why DO I do this, anyway?

Running is kind of a weird sport, because it really seems to bring out strong reactions in other people. Tell somebody you’re a runner, and prepare for the onslaught of reasons why that person doesn’t run, or a spate of questions about why you do.

Other sports don’t seem to have this effect. Tell someone you like to play softball, and they are likely to say, “good for you,” “that’s cool,” or possibly, “I was thinking about doing that. Where do you play?”

But running seems to bring out a need in people to explain why they don’t. Maybe it’s the fact that literally everyone can do it but most choose not to. At any rate, among the population at large, people who LIKE to run are a minority.

Non-runners think that those of us who do it must be genetically gifted but from what I have seen, that’s not the case. Go to a running event and you will see all types there, from the truly athletic Boston qualifiers to those who normally only run for beer.

I enjoy running, I work at it, but I also accept that on some level I will always be working with my own particular limitations. I’m a middle of the pack runner, and with a lot of hard work I can probably move forward to the front end of the middle of the pack, and maybe even place top 5 in my age group – perhaps better in an uncompetitive field. This may not sound exciting to anyone else, but to me it’s a goal that inspires me to get out 4 or 5 days a week and see what I can do. What’s the best I can do, working with what I have – to wit: knock knees, fallen arches, and a sort of paddling gait?

That’s the question I want to answer.

I don’t do it because I want to win races. I don’t do it because I want to have a perfect body. I do it because it feels good to move my body and be the fittest me I can be. I do it because every day I get a chance to measure myself and try to be just a little better than I was yesterday. Even on bad days, I can look back and see that I’ve come a long way in just 9 months. Who knows how far I might go in another year?

So that is why this blog is not so much about running or food, it’s really about feeling good, enjoying life, and moving forward – which I think is is achievable for everybody.

Maybe I’ll never run an 8 minute mile again. Maybe I’ll never place 1st in my age group in a race. Then again, maybe I will. Who knows?

That’s one of the things I think is great about running – you never know what you might achieve if you work hard enough. Doing the work is actually the fun part.

So the answer is, I do it because I like to. I do it because I can.