Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Water-Method Man ...

Back in my college days (ancient history, I know), I went through something of a John Irving jag. Started with the novelist's breakthrough hit, "The World According to Garp," and then went on to read some earlier works, like "The 158-pound Marriage," and later ones, like "Cider House Rules." But oddly, one of my favorites was his second, "The Water Method Man." Little did I realize then how much the title would ring true for me know, well into my 53rd year.

You see, I'm now The Water-Method Man. OK, the definitions are really worlds apart. Irving's protagonist, Fred Trumper, suffers from an unusually narrow urinary tract, and is forced to guzzle inordinate amounts of water to flush out any nasty germs, etc. My "water method" is something entirely different. It is, I hope, my road to recovery.

Six months out from hip surgery (a fluff and buff detailed in prior posts), I needed to get moving again. Not just for my body, which is sagging under the weight of 20 new-found pounds, but also for my sanity. Being active has always always been a coping mechanism of mine. And for the past six months, I've been as active as your typical garden slug. Probably less so.

So I've started running. In the water. In a pool. Now, I understand the benefits. Water's buoyancy will help support my 200-plus pound frame, reducing the stress on my post-op hip (and various other joints). And the natural resistance will help me regain some of the muscle mass that I've frittered away this past half-year. I get that. But, admittedly, it's hard not to be self-conscious running in a pool.

First of all, it just ain't natural. There are very good reasons why people a lot smarter than me have come up with a variety of swim strokes to help men and women carve their way through the water. Freestyle, butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke ... all make more sense than running. And that's pretty much what almost everyone else is doing each morning I get over to the Manchester Athletic Club (I'll address that "almost" part a little later). While all these dedicated swimmers are dutifully filling their lanes, I come in like an aircraft carrier, plodding along, creating a massive wake. I secretly say a word of thanks that everyone else is wearing swim goggles, so I can't see them rolling their eyes.

Second, it's boring. I mean, put-a-vise-on-my-head boring. I'm easily bored anyway (which is why I've always been drawn to sports that require chasing something), but running at a snail's pace in a pool feel's like, well, water torture. There's no Zen escape, no "quite mind, active body" release. It ... is ... drudgery.

To make things worse, the bottom of the pool is pretty slick, making foot placement a precarious proposition. It's one thing to be running in the pool; it's an entirely different matter to be flailing about like I'd scheduled my workouts right after a three-martini lunch. Occasionally, I'll stumble right into the path of an oncoming swimmer, and you can imagine just how well that goes over. Suffice to say that the sauna-quality atmosphere of the MAC pool can get pretty chilly pretty quickly.

Today I had the bright idea of wearing my old windsurfing slippers for a little added grip. The problem was that these Nike slippers were waaaay too old -- they hadn't seen any action in almost two decades -- and promptly disintegrated once I got to work.

On the plus side, I'm not the only person in the pool not swimming. There's actually a water aerobics/social hour session that started shortly after I started treading water. It was, in fact, fairly hilarious. The perky instructor -- who is not in the pool, but can only be described as buoyant herself -- didn't seem to mind one bit that most of the participants (ranging in age from 60 to 90, as best as I could tell) were more interested in catching up on local gossip than actually working out. And the music selection was priceless. Honestly, when was the last time you heard Michael Jackson's "Beat It!" ... ?

But more than anything else, seeing the old-timers' aerobics class was a terrific motivational tool. I know I'm no spring chicken. Not by a long shot. Especially where my hips are concerned. But with all due respect, I'm not ready for the MAC morning water aerobics sessions either. So I put my head down, and kept running against the tide.