Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pool reviews (mostly Washington DC specific)

Using just one pool for pool-running is not unlike running the same route each run.  As I've noted before, one of the tricks to pool-running consistently is to swap between different pools - this is especially key if you're doing high volume in the pool, which I define as more than about 8 hours a week.

I'm pretty fortunate, in that I've got a wide selection of pools in the DC area to pick from.  I've described them below (plus one extra).

Pool: Woodrow Wilson Aquatic Center
Location:  4551 Fort Drive NW, Tenleytown, DC (right by the Red Line metro stop, and across the street from Whole Foods)
Hours: 6 am - 9 pm on weekdays, 9 am to 5 pm on weekends
Cost: Free for DC residents, $7 for others.
Pool-running area: Wide lane, 50m long, set aside for pool-running and "leisure swimming".
Equipment: yes - Kiefer aqua jogging belts, and plenty of them.
Other notes: 

I start with the pool-running promised land.  The Wilson pool has a 50m lane set aside for pool-running and "leisure swimming" (and the life-guards do pull people who don't comply).  It takes me approximately 10 minutes to complete one loop, meaning that Wilson is a great place to do a long pool run.  The facility also has a wading pool and a whirlpool, as well as a suit spinner in the women's locker room.  It's a fantastic place.

I will caution that there have apparently been issues with theft at this facility in the past; if you don't have a lock for your locker, you should bring your stuff with you to the deck.  Keep in mind that they will NOT let you in if you don't have your drivers license or other photo ID.  Absolutely no exceptions.

Another nice feature is the digital timers (two of them) marking down minutes and seconds - great for those doing interval workouts without a watch.  Another plus is the super friendly guards and fellow inhabitants, who will sometimes cheer you on as you do your hard workouts.  The one caveat is that sometimes the wading pool is closed, in which case the kiddies are relegated to the pool-running lane, creating a manageable level of chaos and confusion.

For those of you combining pool-running and land-running, there is a track adjacent to the pool (be warned, it is not 400m.  I'm guessing it's 320m, but can't be sure).

Parking is doable, but can be tight.  Be aware that on weekdays there is no parking on Nebraska Avenue, reducing the # of available spaces by about 35.

Pool: Rumsey Aquatic Center
Location:  635 North Carolina Avenue SE, Capitol Hill, DC (right by Eastern Market)

Hours: Weekdays are from 6:30 am to 10 am (9 am on T/Th), noon to 5 pm, and 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm; on Saturday it's open from 1 pm - 5 pm; Sundays are 10 am to 5 pm.
Cost: Free for DC residents, $7 for non-residents.
Pool-running area: They've set aside an area for aqua-exercise that is essentially three 20 yard lanes combined.
Equipment: Belts provided -- they only have medium and large sizes; as a petite female, the medium size is just barely small enough.
Other notes:

Nice enough, though it's seen better days (the fact that they have to buzz you in through a security gate is a nice reminder that you are in the Nation's Capital).  The locker room is pretty run down, and the lockers are coin operated.  I've always brought my equipment to the deck.  Make sure you bring a picture ID, or they won't let you in (they also make you sign in on a paper log).  The lifeguards tend to be very aggressive about enforcing the rules regarding no street shoes on the deck. 

Temperature is sometimes an issue here -- this past winter the deck was fairly cold (below 60 degrees air temp).  On the other hand, the pool is consistently very warm, perhaps a concession to the large elderly population here.  Unlike other pools, this one has a radio continually playing (generally R&B or adult contemporary).

There are exercise balls strewn along the deck, if you want to get some core exercises in following your pool-run.

It's Capitol Hill, so parking can be challenging.  Arriving at 6:30-7:30 on weekday mornings, I've never failed to grab a street parking space, but sometimes I've grabbed the last one.

Pool:  Marie Reed
Location:  Hidden!  This is in Adams Morgan, with the address being 2200 Champlain St, NW.  It's pretty hard to find if you don't know where to look, though.  To get there, I suggest that you start at the intersection of 18th and U Streets and Florida Avenue, NW.  Walk north along Florida Avenue, and then bear left onto Champlain Street (continuing to walk on the edge of the softball field).  The pool entrance is to your left just as you're walking under a building breezeway.  It's helpfully marked by a small stenciled sign: "pool".   The door is often shut; you may need to pull on it hard to open. 
Hours:  Very limited.  6 am - 9 am on weekday mornings and 3 pm to 8 pm on weekday evenings (until 9 pm on Tuesday and Friday).  Closed on weekends.
Cost:  Technically free for DC residents, $7 for others.  But I've never seen anyone charged.
Pool-running area: Reserved 25m lane, and the guards do enforce it.
Equipment:  They provide the same belts as Rumsey, and again only in medium and large sizes.
Other notes: 

The secret pool -- I know people who have lived in the neighborhood for years, and have no idea it's there.  It's nice enough for a small pool, and I love having it nearby.

The locker rooms (at least the female one) have seen better days -- the floors lack drains, the lockers are from the 1970s, and there is a single community shower.  Bathrooms often times lack handsoap. Those with injuries should be warned that the locker rooms are only accessible by steep slippery stairs that are treacherous even when uninjured.  Most people leave their stuff (including bicycles) on the narrow deck.

Unlike other DC pools where IDs are stringently checked, Marie Reed relies on an honor system, where residents sign in on a paper log by the entrance. 

They tend to keep the pool water temperatures pretty toasty here -- pleasant for getting in, but definitely uncomfortable when doing hard workouts.

No timers whatsoever here (well there is one, but it's broken and has been for as long as I've been using the pool).  If you're going to do intervals, bring a timer; there is a clock, but it's analog and tiny -- sufficient to let you know whether it's 6:30 or 6:35, but not whether it's 6:30 or 6:31.

As for parking, this is Adams Morgan.  If you come at 6 or 6:30, you should be able to find something; at all other times, just plan on using a nearby paid lot ($10 or so).  It's about a 12 minute walk from the Dupont Circle metro.

Pool: Washington-Lee Swimming Pool
Location: 1300 North Quincy Street, Arlington, VA (Ballston).  About a 10 minute walk from the Ballston metro.
Hours: Weekdays are 5:30 am to 9:30 am, 11:30 am to 2 pm, and 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm (8:30 pm on Fridays).  Saturdays are 6 am to 7 pm; Sundays are 12 pm to 6 pm.
Cost: $5 for residents of Arlington, VA; $7 for others.
Pool-running area:  Depends -- No area is explicitly reserved.  Usually we're relegated to the diving well, which is roughly 12m square.  At certain times, the well is reserved; usually the lifeguards take pity and give us a lane in that case.
Equipment: Plenty of belts of various sizes.  Some are in better shape than others.
Other notes:

On paper, it doesn't look so great.  But very friendly and accomodating lifeguards, plus the high probability of finding another recovering runner to chat with, make this a favorite.  The well is where people generally pool-run, but sometimes we're kicked out for other activities (from 8:30 am - 10:30 am on Saturday for aqua aerobics; and after 2:30 pm on Sunday for synchronized swimming.  The guards are very nice, however, and really bend over backwards to find us a place.

The locker room is nice, if a bit chilly (you need to bring your own lock).  Many people leave their possessions in an unlocked locker without issue, though I do not.   The pool itself ranges significantly in temperature; some days it's quite chilly, other days it's toasty.

Unlike DC pools, this pool has a reserved parking lot, though it does fill at peak hours.

Conveniently, this pool is right next to the Washington-Lee track, which is one of the nicest and most popular tracks in the DC area..  I always bring my bathing suit with me when I go to track practice so that I can hop in for 20 minutes post-workout (or alternately, sub in a pool workout for a land one, per coach's orders).

Pool: Spring Hill RECenter pool
Location:1239 Spring Hill Road, McLain, VA (just off of the Dulles Toll Road).
Hours: Weekdays are 6:30 am to 9:30 pm (8 pm on Friday).  Weekends are 9 am to 6 pm.
Cost: $7.40 for Fairfax County residents; $9.90 for others (no idea why the weird pricing).
Pool-running area: Nothing explicit, but I've never had a problem grabbing a 25 yard lane the two times I was there, which were Thanksgiving Day and New Years Day.
Equipment:  Three belts total; you probably want to bring your own.
Other notes:

I don't use this one regularly, but it has been my fallback during major holidays -- it was open on both Thanksgiving and New Years day, when all others were closed.  It's nice enough, though the pool was quite cold both days.  The locker room is nice and a match to many private gyms.

Parking was easy and the pool near empty on the days I used it, both of which are likely due to the days I visited.

The admission price also grants you access to the decent gym facility on site.

Pool: Doral-Arrowwood Resort pool 
Location: The Doral-Arrowwood Resort, Rye, NY (near the NY/CT border)

Hours: Weekdays are 5:30 am to 9:30 pm; Saturday is 7 am to 9:30 pm, Sunday is 7 am to 9 pm

Cost: The resort's pretty costly, something like $200 a night (I stayed there for a work retreat)
Pool-running area: The whole pool (a weird trapezoid that's roughly 25 yards by 15 yards)

Equipment:  Yup, they got belts.

Other notes:

I note this pool for one reason only: 
Yup - pool running classes.  Truly a resort that's on the cutting edge


  1. I think you've pretty much hit them all. Wakefield is another Arlington County pool. MUCH less crowded, same basic hours and $$ as W-L, 25 yard 6 lane pool.

  2. I wish I was closer to check some of the others out. Spring Hill might be an option. Adding a review of cub run: no area set aside for pool running. There is a shallow area where some people do shallow water running, usually over the age of 70. I need a new bathing suit every 4-6 weeks, and a woman at a swim store told me that's the worst pool in the area for suit life because of the acid levels. And they just raised their prices to be about the same as Spring Hill.

    Thanks for the reviews!

  3. I should have known you had a pool review post! I am going to Wilson for the first time tomorrow and was a little nervous about what to expect. I googled, "Wilson Aquatic Center Pool Running" and this post came up! Ha. You are such a good resource. Now I know exactly what to expect!