How I’m getting through my days as a fish out of water
When I got back in the pool a little over 2 years ago, one of the things I promised myself was that I’d never again try to be a runner. For years after I “retired” from swimming, I struggled to find a form of exercise that fit me. I would run, but my knees would lock. I’d bike, but my lower back would hurt. I tried app after app for at home workout programs, but I was too tired early in the morning before my day started or late at night after a long day at work/kid activities. Nothing stuck, my workouts were inconsistent and unsustainable. I never had that feeling I used to get when I climbed out of the pool after a swim workout and just felt like I used everything I had (and could also go eat a whole pizza myself). Apparently I can’t take a hint from my own body that it’s time to get back to what came natural – swimming.
For me, and I imagine for a lot of you swimmers out there, I can push myself harder in the water than any other form of exercise out there. You know that feeling you get in the middle of a hard set where your arms and chest start to burn and you think, “one more 50 and I may die” (much like the 3rd 50 of a 200 free, in my opinion), but then you get a second wind and finish the set? There’s no feeling of accomplishment like it. Unfortunately, that second wind just does not happen when I’m running. I get to a point where I am either going to throw up or sit down in the middle of the street, and I’m done. I always feel tired but never like I did any worthwhile work. Running gives me some complicated emotions.
Though I have never been good at running, I did have to “learn” to run in college so that I could take and pass Navy physical readiness tests. I’ll never forget showing up for the first time, being in peak swimming shape (sometimes totaling 10k yards daily between double practices), and literally dry heaving the entire time I tried to run a mile and a half. It was very humbling and very terrifying. Over the course of 4 years, I managed to get in good enough “land” shape to complete a 3-ish mile run without stopping. Did I ever once enjoy it? Aside from the picturesque backdrop of Annapolis, no – the exercise component of it was never fun for me.
So now we are in 2020, in the middle of a Pandemic and all the pools are closed. Once again, I find myself turning to running to get a cardio based workout in. I could row, or walk, (or roller blade, yes – that was a #pandemicpurchase), but I’m trying to find activities for my kids as well – both being swimmers and out of the water too. I am incorporating alternatives, but running is an obvious choice. So how am I coping with something I don’t enjoy? Well…
I’m getting help. A very good friend of mine is a runner and has advised me to use an app to help slowly build up strength and endurance. It’s been great advice, but also very hard for me because doing a 30 min walk/run cycle feels nothing like a 3 or 4 thousand yard workout in a pool. I finish and think, “I can do more”. I’m sure I can, but at what cost? Running makes me hurt all over, so over-doing it would just be shooting myself in the foot. I have been using an app called C25K (Couch to 5k), and the great part is that the earlier workouts are easy enough to bring my kids along. This one has been working for me (I’m on week 5/8), but there are plenty of others like it – another I’ve used in the past is Runkeeper. My advice: do not approach an exercise you haven’t done in awhile or aren’t particular gifted at with the same ferocity you would swimming, you will just get hurt.
I’m doing it with friends. Join a run community – you can easily do this virtually with one of the apps I mentioned above, or just start a group text with friends. I know we can’t physically go for a run together right now, but share your accomplishments as you go. Post on social media if that’s your thing, engage with other swimmers out there that know the run struggle is real. Right now there are friends and other swimmers out there with me trying to pass as runners, and it helps that I’m not alone.
I’m making it a family activity. Got kids? Take them along! Yes, you may have to supplement a more intense run the next day if you have littles like me that can’t go for more than a couple minutes at a time, but turns out having a 7 year old talk non stop about Hatchimals for 30 min makes sort of forget how much I dislike it… (I swear she gets as much exercise with her mouth as her legs!) Seriously though, who can talk and run at the same time??
I’m using visualization. This is going to sound weird, but something that really helps me when I start to feel that sick feeling during a run is visualization. I close my eyes (just for a few seconds so I don’t trip and eat pavement), and imagine myself in the water instead of on land. As I run, I move my arms as if I’m recovering on a freestyle stroke. I try to breath as if I’m in the pool. I honestly pretend I’m swimming. I know, it’s out there – but visualization is a really powerful tool and I’m telling you, it helps.
I’m focusing on the parts I like. Do I like running? No. Do I like being outside on a sunny day with blue skies and quiet streets with birds chirping? Yes. I focus on the positive aspects as much as I can to forget that really, deep down inside, I hate it. Just last week I was out for a run and the sky was so perfectly blue, not a cloud in sight. It reminded me of a trip my husband and I took to Vancouver a couple summers ago, it was our first ever without the kids along and we got 5 uninterrupted sunny, 70 degree days just like it. It was nice to think about some happy memories while I ran.
I’m trying not to overdo it. Listen – if you were swimming 5,6,7 days a week that doesn’t mean you have to run 5,6,7 days a week. You swim because you love swimming – if you don’t love running, 3 times a week is an accomplishment – take the win, stop telling yourself it’s not good enough, and let your body rest. Speaking of rest…
I’m taking rest and recovery days. This is probably the hardest thing for me to do – rest. I get antsy on recovery days, it makes me feel like I haven’t “put in the work”. But part of the work is letting your body heel, especially if you’re like me and running gives you sore hips, knees, back, and ankles. Also – we’re all locked up at home right now and SO BORED. There have definitely been days where I worked out just because I needed something to do. Do your best to take a day off, it’s not worth an injury that would put you totally out of commission.
If running is your thing, write and tell me what you love about it! I know there are plenty of people that feel the same way about swimming that I do about running. I would love to hear how everyone else is coping with “alternative exercises” during this downtime from the pool. Drop a note here or on IG and let me know your at home workout strategies!