In desperate need of getting my miles in, but still struggling with pain in my foot from planter fasciitis, I decided to try “deep water running” this week. Imagine this:

You get up earlier than you like, and you quietly sneak out of the house in your swimming suit. Your dog thinks she is going to grandma’s house because you have a bag of clothes sitting by the front door, and so she climbs into her crate in preparation for the car ride and you have to explain to her that she isn’t going anywhere and that mommy will be back in a couple of hours. Then you drive to the pool. You’ve never been there, but you’ve recruited your friend (let’s say her name is Julie) to join you and show you the ropes.

In the locker room, you shove your bag of clothes into a cramped locker, and Julie leads you over to the diving/deep water pool and instructs you to place a flotation device around your waist and pull it tight. Then she grabs a pair of barbells made of foam and shoves them into your hands. “Come on,” she says, “just jump in and get it over with.” She does so. Just jumps in. You, never a big swimming pool fan, step carefully down the ladder and let one portion of your body adjust to the temperature of the water before lowering the next part in. The water isn’t cold, thank goodness, because the only thing worse than worrying about drowning is being cold while worrying about drowning.

Julie, always a little too cheerful for early mornings, prods you on: “Come on, you can do it.” You know you can, you just aren’t sure you want to. But finally you’re in, treading water, looking around at the other women who’ve shown up for the deep water running class. No one is under 70. That’s good, you think, hoping that in their mature states, these women won’t judge you for your ineptitude.

Then the instructor shows up. She’s a twenty-something blond woman with a stopwatch. She turns on some rousing ‘50s music and starts shouting orders. “Run at 70 percent!” she demands.

“What does that mean?” you ask.

“It means run as hard as you can and then cut back to 70 percent of that. You’ll do it for 30 seconds.”

You say, “But I’ve never done this before. How do I know what 70 percent of my capacity is?”

She shrugs. Meanwhile, Julie has closed her eyes tightly and puckered up her face. She’s pumping her arms and legs for all she’s worth, bobbing her head to the left and right as she “runs” at 70 percent. You look around at the other women. They are chatting amongst themselves. You overhear one conversation about how “those fellows on the Fox Network are the only commentators you can trust these days,” and you decide to close your eyes and pucker your face like Julie and really go after it.

Thirty seconds pass.

“Cross country skiing,” the instructor commands. Then she looks at you, having already figured out that you’re going to need extra remediation, and demonstrates the motion she wants. It’s a back and forth motion with arms and legs straightened, going in opposite directions. You try it, but it doesn’t feel natural, so you go back to running at 70 percent.

After 40 minutes of various “running” motions (high knees, knees wide, the “frog,” jumping jacks), the class moves on to crunches, arm-strengthening activities and stretching. Finally, the hour is over. You climb out of the pool exhausted, wrinkled around the toes and fingers, and not at all sure you’ve had a workout. But at least your foot isn’t bothering you as much as usual.

If you can imagine the above, you’ve got the gist of my morning last Thursday. After washing the chlorine out of my hair, I went to see Jason (physical therapist and really great runner). As he massaged, applied ultra sound to and iced the bottom of my foot, he commended me for giving the deep water thing a try, but fortunately never suggested I give up running on solid ground in exchange for “running at 70 percent” in the community pool.

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