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Pilk’s Points: Submerging Into Recovery

Caitlyn Pilkington re-discovers the benefits of swimming when a running injury forced her off her feet.

Caitlyn Pilkington re-discovers the benefits of swimming when a running injury forced her off her feet.

When I was a youngster, my mom dubbed me the “family mermaid.” First in the water, last one out — always. Despite my then-lack of actual swim technique, I was always a creature of the sea, one that would rather go deep-sea Scuba diving than jump out of an airplane (never!).

So when my pesky foot injury halted all running for nearly two months, I channeled my inner Flounder and took to the lanes … in the pool. Surprisingly, I found some real clarity and cross-training benefits in between strokes and carefully timed breaths (or rather, desperate inhales). Here are some lessons learned for a runner who sometimes pretends to be a swimmer:

1. Swimming Is Good For Core Strength … And The Hammies … And The Back

And pretty much everything. Muscle memory failed me during my first attempts at pool swimming, and I felt like an amateur attempting to stroke and kick in a straight line. Everything burned, head to toe, and there was zero syncing of stroke, breathe, stroke. But as I fell into a rhythm and grew accustomed to the 4:45 a.m., avoid-the-crowd wake-up call, the burning ceased and muscle activation (and memory) returned. My core hoisted me up enough to float, my hammies did work during aqua-jogging breaks and my back went from sore to stronger. (Someone actually said I looked “jacked” up top, which seems a little extreme, but I will take it.)

2. Swimming Gives You Superhero Lungs

Even though my runner legs screamed with confusion during my first jaunt after a six-week hiatus, my lungs felt fabulous. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that it was even more rhythmic, perfectly timed with every stride across the dirt. It’s amazing how happy your breathers feel when they don’t have to pause underwater. Case and point: I ran my third-fastest half marathon in the middle of triathlon training, missing my then-PR by less than a minute.

RELATED: Swimming For Runners

3. Swimming Clears Your Mind

I never appreciated the mental difference between exercising in water versus on land until two weeks ago, when I realized I had swam an entire hour without thinking about anything. Whereas running is a space for me to process outstanding thoughts, anxieties, questions or just the day’s curveballs, swimming was the exact opposite: it cleared my thinker out. I got out of the pool with a renewed view on the day, without the clutter of yesterday stirring up trouble.

4. Swimming Gives You Those Sculpted Arms You’ve Always Wanted

Let’s be vain for a second — every woman desires those lean-muscle arms, enough to show shape but not enough to be a body builder. My advice: Find a coach that knows the proper stroke technique (I am by NO means an expert; I just do what the coach instructs me to do) and remember that the initially awkward movement will pay off in the end. Hello, summer-ready upper stems!

5. Aqua Jogging Isn’t Just For High School Or Retired Athletes

Although, it was a nice escape from 95-degree practice afternoons. If you’re injured — namely from an overuse injury, like, say a stress reaction in your fourth metatarsal — but cleared for no-impact exercise, aqua jogging is a great replacement. It mimics those runner movements that other sports, such as biking or swimming, can’t imitate — and depending on how rigorous you want to get, you will feel a glorious burn when you’re done. Plus it’s a great mid-workout break from the repetitious laps. (Note: Be careful when moving quickly between horizontal and vertical postures.)

6. You Can Learn From Your Neighbor

Please don’t be creepy when noticing how your neighbor follows through on his or her stroke. Considering your face will spend the majority of the session underwater, take a glance at the person next to you and note arm turnover and straight-leg kicking. This often keeps me in a quick check when I let my own form fall through the cracks.

7. Freestyle Is A Great Post-Weight Training Stretch

At first I thought I was crazy to chase weight training with an hour in the pool. But it only took 10 minutes of warm-up to realize that my arms were smiling and thanking me for stretching out. I guess it rivals that dreaded shake-out 5K that follows a hard Sunday race.

RELATED: Recover Faster By Swimming

8. Not Everyone Wants To Share

Be sure to follow proper swim etiquette when sharing lanes with another athlete. First rule: Choose an open lane before crashing an occupied one. There’s plenty of water to go around, people!

Am I still a runner at heart? Absolutely. That runner’s high doesn’t come easy in the pool. But it there potentially a “swimmer’s high?” Maybe. Check out the pool sometime and let me know what you think — or what you don’t think.

Just keep swimmin’, just keep swimmin’ — and just keep Tweetin’ @caitpilk with your swimmer stories!