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Water running for triathlon

Way back in 2003 I remember watching Wazza, one of the guys in my triathlon training squad in Brisbane, put on his run shoes, promptly jump in the pool and start running up and down the lane.

'Crikes, that’s a bit weird’ was my initial reaction. I had only ever previously seen water running in deep water, sometimes with a floatation belt; the ‘tea-bag’ water run appeared to be more popular amongst age-groupers with injuries.

Over the years on the rare occasions I did resort to water running, I always ran in deep water and did always struggle with it. I found I had to lean forwards at such an angle to stay afloat that it didn’t even slightly resemble running. I also had to use a somewhat sculling motion with my arms. I didn’t own a floatation belt, and it was labelled ‘cheating’ and out-of-the question by my triathlon squad at the time!

At the completion of my ‘run’, I didn’t feel at all that I had simulated a run workout... often leaving the pool feeling dissatisfied and that the whole exercise had been a waste of time.

Since coming on board at, I have become reacquainted with Wazza’s water running style. Now after trying it myself, I can see and feel the benefits.

Firstly, we can more readily simulate our normal running position in the water. Running in waist deep water (with maximum depth being chest deep) we still make contact with the ground but unlike ‘tea- bagging’, we keep some loading on the leg muscles and tendons. Not too much though as the water takes some of the weight; a somewhat cheaper version of running on an alter-g treadmill! When running we adopt very short strides with fast cadence.

After the completion of the workout, I actually feel I have completed a run.

It is important to wear shoes. Old (clean!) running shoes or shoes which still have a reasonable grip to ensure we do not slip when our foot hits the pool floor, therefore avoiding foot related injuries.

Whilst most of us tend to associate water running as a substitute workout when injured, we also use it for injury prevention and additionally for easing an athlete back into their run program after injury.

It is an effective way to extend our long run without putting as much strain on our body, even more so for larger athletes. Splitting the long run in half as land run first immediately followed by water run, recovery is enhanced, enabling us to back up and train again the next day.

Does it work?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In Cozumel in 2013 I observed with interest as Mary Beth Ellis completed all her running workouts for 4 weeks straight in the swimming pool. Up and down, up and down... She was on a mission!

After just a couple of runs on the land, she went straight to a 70.3 in Florida where she won the race, followed by Ironman Nice where she broke the course record.

Yes it works. Water running is a useful, yet often overlooked, training tool to help us achieve our goals.

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