If you've ever injured yourself running (and if you're a runner, chances are you have), you've probably spent time trotting along the road nowhere.

Either you buckle on a foam waistband and "jog" in place while floating in a swimming pool or you strap on a harness that partially supports you so you can go for an "unweighted" run on a treadmill at a physical therapist's office. Both mimic the motion of running without the impact of striking the ground with the full force of your body weight.

But have you ever tried an running on an underwater treadmill? For the past two years, patients at Seton Southwest Sports Medicine Outpatient Rehabilitation Center in Oak Hill have been using one to rehabilitate everything from broken ankles to spinal injuries. It can even ease lower back pain, they say.

Now the center's operators are hoping they can use their two underwater treadmills to help athletes prevent injuries.

"What an incredible tool," said Mary Faria, chief administrator of Seton Southwest Healthcare Center and an accomplished age group runner.

The treadmills are situated inside two small, 6-foot deep pools. The force of water jets at the front of the pools can be adjusted, creating variable resistance. The floor of one of the treadmills can be raised or lowered to adjust the load on your body. And a pair of cameras provides an underwater view so coaches or doctors (or you) can review your body mechanics.

"It's almost like running up a hill," says physical therapist Josh Espinoza, who oversees use of the treadmills. "You're challenging your neuromuscular system with the turbulence of the water — it challenges the core more and works balance."

I tried it myself, stepping onto the treadmill and allowing Espinoza to lower me in to about shoulder depth. As he cranked up the jets, I ran into the current. Watching the monitors, I could clearly see that I pronate — meaning my feet tilt inward — when I run. Espinoza also ran me through a series of drills — jumping, backward running, side stepping and crossover steps.

Bottom line? A good workout, and a lot more comfortable than those harnesses that lift you partially off a land-based treadmill. My only complaint? The water temperature was in the mid-90s, not exactly conducive to heavy exertion. Espinoza said water temp can be lowered for athletes.

A group of coaches from Rogue Running stopped by the center to check out the treadmill recently. Farias says there's interest in having elite Austin runners use the treadmills for cross training.

Austin pro triathlete Amy Marsh, who just notched her fifth Ironman-distance triathlon win, is back in Switzerland training, her eyes now set on the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii this fall.

Marsh crossed the finish line at Ironman Brazil in Florianópolis last month in 9 hours, 9 minutes and 39 seconds. She adds that victory to wins in China; Lake Placid, N.Y.; Cedar Point, Ohio; and Wisconsin in the past two years.

She'll train in Switzerland all summer and race in Europe before heading back to Texas in August. "Kona is the main goal in October," she said by email.

An Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike followed by a 26.2-mile run.

Marsh, 33, a former University of Minnesota swimmer, said the swim was the roughest part of Ironman Brazil.

"Having a swimming background, it was quite frustrating to end up out of the water as far back as I did," she said. "It was a mass start with the age groupers and I just got trampled running into the water with the waves, etc. ... By the time I got into some clean water and found a rhythm, I had missed the first two swim packs and just never could catch back up."

She started the bike 3 minutes back but went to work. "I just put my head down and tried to catch everyone and anyone ahead of me. I felt strong on the bike and the course really suited my strengths," she said.

She battled gastrointestinal issues the first 10 miles of the run. "Once they subsided I was good and just tried to plug along at a steady pace all the way to the finish."

Marsh, who went pro as a triathlete in 2006, is married to another outstanding Austin triathlete, Brandon Marsh.

Now that it's officially hot, Austin runners are getting out earlier and earlier to log their miles.

We have to. Wait too long and the sun comes up, the pavement turns into a giant cast-iron frying pan and our muscles wilt along with our hairstyles.

Have you been out at 5 a.m. lately? On any given Saturday morning, you can find packs of runners tearing through neighborhoods.

Here's the thing: Sometimes, as runners, we forget where we are. We get caught up in our run — and the conversations we're having with our running buddies. Since we're awake, part of us automatically assumes that everyone else is, too.

We guffaw at something someone in the group said; we holler because we're so happy to be our moving our bodies. We talk loudly, we bellow, we yell at a driver who passes too close.

Sometimes, caught up in the zen of the moment, we fail to look both ways at an intersection, and charge right across, even if it's a red light.

I'm guilty of it too, sometimes. But I'm trying to pay attention and pipe down.

Let's all try to be a little more polite. Our neighbors would appreciate it.

Good luck to more than 1,000 student athletes ages 9 to 14 who will run, jump and throw at the Hershey's Track & Field Games this weekend in Round Rock.

They'll be vying for a chance to compete with athletes from around the country at the North American Final in Hershey, Pa., on Aug. 6.

The event, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Round Rock High School, 300 Lake Creek Drive in Round Rock, is free and open to the public. Local trainer Lisa Wolfe will be teaching Batuka dance, Brazil's answer to Zumba, that pumped-up salsa-flavored aerobics class. Two registered dietitians from Austin Nutrition Consultants in West Lake Hills will offer nutrition advice. Organizers will be collecting worn-out athletic shoes to donate to the Nike Reuse-A-Shoe program, which recycles them to create new playgrounds and recreational surfaces.

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994