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  • Writer's pictureThomas Alexander

Project #RunH2O

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

Why am I here?

2022 is a year where I plan to build on what I learned last year and continue to find new ways of enjoying running and staying motivated whilst helping others to find the same release, fun and freedom that I obtain through putting one foot infront of the other over and over again.

My goal for the year is to have no regrets, only successes, lessons and opportunities.

As luck would have it, fate gave me the perfect chance to test this out in the first week of the year when I developed what I’ve diagnosed as a ‘stress injury’ near the top of my left tibia.

Did I get this seen to? No, I did not. For the reason that I the doctor will send me for an x-ray, that will not show anything, they will umm and ahh, and eventually send me for an MRI (read: expensive) which may or may not show either a minor stress fracture or nothing. The doctor will then advise me to rest for up to 6 weeks from running, and to look at activities which don’t put any stress through the bone. So….. I skipped those steps and went straight to the recommendation thus, earning myself an honorary sports physician title – I might have to print myself a certificate from the internet.

Based on similar previous issues, the sports doctor I saw at the time recommended deep-water running. For those not familiar, picture the most un-cool looking thing on earth, running almost on the spot in the pool, with a sexy flotation belt on and bingo, welcome to my world. I have read a fair amount of literature on the subject and most indicate that for up to 6 weeks, it is possible to maintain, or lose only a very small amount of, running fitness by replacing road running with the pool. Stating that:

"water running equals dry land running in its effect on maintenance of maximum VO2 when training intensities and frequencies are matched for training periods of up to 6 weeks, currently the longest published training studies"

Influence of water run training on the maintenance of aerobi... : Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (

The benefits are obviously that there is zero impact, that in 40 degrees it’s much cooler, it’s a perfect opportunity to listen to podcasts and that you become ridiculously attractive and cool to everyone that is lucky enough to catch a glimpse of what I’ve been told looks like poetry in motion. The negatives are, running on the spot in the pool does somewhat limit the scenic aspect of running and it’s also not the most social pursuit – try convincing friends to join in and you’ll see what I mean. But, a small price to pay for keeping fit whilst not turning a minor niggle into a full blown injury through stubbornness.

What does training look like now?

Deepwater running is what it says on the box. Running in water where you can't touch the ground, basically replicating normal running action against the resistance of the water and making very slow progress forward or staying pretty much on the spot. You can do this without any aids, but this does then tend to change your form as your adjust it to provide enough 'lift' to maintain your position in the water. For that reason, it's easier to use a flotation belt which enables you to really focus on the perfect running form in the water.

My last road run was on the 5 January, and my next race (a marathon of course) is on 12 February – can anyone say ideal timing to not be running? So my approach has been to simply replicate all of my road workouts into the pool. If it was an easy 13km on the road, that’s an hour or so in the pool, if it’s intervals, then it’s intervals in the pool, using perceived effort as a gauge.

Now running in the water is similar in terms of form, BUT with the water pressure and temperature, my heart rate for equivalent efforts is 15-20bpm lower. What does happen though, as you up the intensity is that the water resistance builds – for anyone with a bike, it’s a bit similar to the concept of a fluid trainer, albeit they use oil. So not only is it a lower body workout, but it actually helps the upper body, chest and shoulders too.

It has been a little challenging to move a 35km road run into the pool as that’s almost 3 hours, but thankfully with some good podcast playlists, time hasn’t gone as slowly as I thought it might, and I’m still getting it done albeit, limited by the pool opening times which makes starting super early harder.

I’m two weeks in to this program now, and the temptation to “test” the leg by running is almost overwhelming as I’m sure anyone who has had time off before knows. However, older, wiser me, knows that this could potentially reset the clock and start the 6 week rehabilitation all over again so….

Project #RunH2O

This has led me to the decision to revisit my goal, and use this minor injury as an opportunity, to selflessly donate my body to running science and to give it a name which sounds cooler than, ‘yeah, I do all my running in the pool’, and so, project Run H2O is born.

What I’ve decided to do is to continue to run in the pool up until race week and yes, that is ALL of my training will be running in the pool with no road running. This is probably the only way I’ll really know what the impact of this training has in the ‘real world’ and I thought it would be fun to share this with everyone else as I’m sure I’m not the only one who would find it useful.

In terms of a baseline, I ran two marathons last year mid 2:50s and was building towards similar form. How much slower I’ll be in February, assuming I’m fully recovered and able to run, will be really interesting and will likely shape what my future training looks like.

I ran over 12 hours in the pool last week and this week is similar, so hopefully I don’t keep my run fitness only to be sectioned under the mental health act but still feeling relatively sane so far!

Regardless of the outcome, I’ve already decided that I’m probably going to do either one longer run each week or my recovery day in the pool so that I can up the kilometres which decreasing the actual stress and impact that the body experiences, and in days where I’d shorten a run due to the heat… yep, back to the pool again.

So there are already benefits but I know not everyone is easily convinced, even by the opportunity to spend countless hours with the Golden Girls in the walking lane, so the proof (or lack thereof) will be in the pudding, and we all love pudding

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