A skeptical triathlete takes his first Endless Pool dip
Steve Harad -- he of Steve's Multisport in former times -- called me several weeks back and announced that Endless Pools intended to advertise on SlowTwitch (a triathlon Web site that I publish). As is always the case in these situations, I informed him that we had to have The Talk.
It isn't that we're not greedy. It's just that when it comes to technical products, we find it very hard not to tell the truth. If we think your product sucks, we just don't have the willpower to keep such opinions a secret.
So, anyway, I had my talk with Steve, and he said, "Why don't you just shut up and go swim in the darn thing?" So I did.
You can't predict what it's going to be like to swim in an Endless Pool. Well, you can predict the feeling, more or less, but not the entire range of sensations. The first thing I noticed about the pool that I swam in, for example, was a mirror on the bottom. For the first time, I could actually see my own stroke at work. Forget the underwater camera. This not only replaces the camera, it's real time, so I can make changes to my stroke and immediately experience the results.
One big difference about this versus a standard pool is that everything occurs against the backdrop of time and pace, not of distance -- unless you purchase the company's optional Digital Swim Meter. According to their literature, it is "designed to provide serious swimmers a means of measuring distance swum in meters or miles, speed or pace in meters per second or miles per hour, and the total distance traveled in 25 or 50 meter lap lengths."
There was no Digital Swim Meter in the pool that I tried. So, if I wanted to swim intervals without the flow meter, then I might just swim for 80 seconds, let us say, and go again on the 1:30. As is the case with a regular pool, there's nothing stopping you from putting a pool clock next to an Endless Pool, and if I owned one, that's the first thing I'd do.
If I was doing 100-meter repeats, I'd apportion my effort during the 100 meters however I thought proper. In reality, I suppose I swim particularly fast in the first 25 meters. I say this because when you start swimming in an Endless Pool, you find it very easy, and then it gets much tougher as the minutes roll by.
You quickly learn that you can't swim via perceived exertion in this thing, you're forced to swim a constant pace. If I was to swim a straight 500 meters in a standard pool, I'd get feedback every 50 yards or 100 meters, depending on the pool and its lane configuration, because that's the interval in which I'd get to once again see the clock. In the Endless Pool if your pace starts to fall, it's quickly apparent.
You don't have to stop the pool when you rest. Sitting or standing in an Endless Pool between swim sessions is like being in a spa. Lots of water rushes around you, but you're not getting sucked or moved around. When you want to swim again, you just start swimming.
It's plenty big enough. It's quite wide, and I understand that there are actually two-person models, with side-by-side propulsion units that can be set at different speeds, so the husband can swim alongside his wife even though he can't normally go as fast. As for length, there are several feet fore and aft of you, so if you slow down or speed up, you've got some room before you bump up against anything.
How fast will this pool go? The max pressure on the five-year-old Endless Pool in which I swam was 1500psi. The fellow who kindly showed me his pool in Pacific Beach had it cranked to 1400psi, and I was still able to keep pace. A good swimmer could out-sprint this pool. But were I to do an entire workout at 1400psi, it wouldn't last very long. Endless Pools says that its "propulsion system will generate a current which will produce a 68-second, 100-yard swim for the swimmer who can keep up with the current."
The water is about as turbulent as swimming in a pace line through a calm lake. What would be especially nice is to have the water be as calm as being the lead swimmer in a calm lake. Not quite so in an Endless Pool. But it's calmer than swimming in the ocean on most days. The reason I'm using open-water metaphors is that swimming in an Endless Pool is more akin to swimming in open water than in a pool. This is because of the water's relative calmness and the fact that you just keep going--no flip turns, no wall.
Let's say you decide to get one of these. They come in a variety of depths, up to 6 feet. I demo'd a fairly deep pool. I'd get a deep one, myself, because my wife and I both find the need for water therapy from time to time--running in the pool without touching the bottom, like with an AquaJogger or similar device.
Kenny Glah and Jan Wanklyn have one of these pools. They've got a StarTrac treadmill and a Computrainer as well -- all down in their basement. They can do an Ironman down there. Longtime triathletes hate racing Glah in the early season. He emerges from his stealth basement like an axe murderer--not having been seen by any living soul (save his family) for three months--fit as a fiddle and ornery from cabin fever. I mention this only because it ought not be assumed that stationary training is second-class training.
One thing about an Endless Pool: As opposed to open-water swimming or cycling, it's probably not appreciably more or less boring than its "real world" analog. Let's face it: Whether you're swimming in a standard pool or an Endless Pool, there's not a lot to look at down there. At least in an Endless Pool, you can look at your stroke if you want.