Training through Injury: The Alter-G

It’s not that I’ve never used an Alter-G before. When I wrote this article about the Alter-G (anti-gravity treadmill), I tested one out. But, I’ve never really had occasion to use the Alter-G treadmill through an injury.

The verdict so far: this might be the panacea I’d been hoping for — or close, sorta.

See, that girl's smiling. It must be fun.
See, that girl’s smiling. It must be fun.

I don’t have a good history of training through injury, or, rather, not training and racing anyway and having it go badly. Anything that takes me out for more than five days has always sort of left me stumped. In college, I raced triathlon nationals my senior year despite not having run almost at all that entire spring. I talked a lot about water running, but I hated water running. (It turns out, using an aqua-jogging belt really helps with the whole feeling-like-you’re-drowning thing.) So, I started the run somewhere around 12th and then walked a good portion of it to end up 42nd. Note to the guy who kept yelling at me, “You didn’t come all the way here from California to walk” — I hate you, still.

Similar thing happen at Alcatraz 2010, which I did post-stress fracture (and stitches and hypothermia and all those other things that made that spring so much fun). Again, it went badly. And, a few months later, with different — but related — problems from my old, stupid crazy Blue bike that screwed up my whole left leg that year, I did my first half-Ironman. I, again, walked a large portion of it. Actually, at around mile 9 of that race, you looped past the finish and then had to go back out for the last four miles — and I remember standing there at the aid station and looking at the finish and looking at the food table and looking at the road headed back out for four more miles and sighing, ‘Well, I guess I’ll finish,’ and then I started shuffling again.

So, basically, when I inflamed the joint at the base of my big toe two weeks ago and it couldn’t handle any impact, I pretty much freaked out. Visions of walking the end of Boston (in 18 days!) started flashing through my mind.

I can run on it now, but not really. It gets sore and we want to be able to do the whole marathon in 18 days, so I’ve been having to do other workouts to keep the fitness sort of there. That’s meant water running, yes, but this time around I also have been able to Alter-G, which is great.

The Alter-G is a treadmill that allows you to run at a portion of your body weight, using reverse gravity (sort of), which allows an injured runner to get in workouts without the same impact as running. It also has all these other uses for physical therapy and shit, but injured runners!

Cons to the Alter-G

  • If you’re not a fan of running on treadmills, you really aren’t going to love running locked into a bubble on top of a treadmill.
  • It’s extra super sweaty, because you have these neoprene shorts on and are locked into this bubble that creates the anti-gravity effect and there’s no fan and, oh my god, did I mention it was sweaty.
  • That bubble also makes it hard to run with your arms hanging normally at your sides. Instead, you end up with them scrunched up above your waist, which is not super awesome.
  • If you’re at all paranoid about not being able to maintain a pace on the treadmill — which is totally why I never do intervals on the treadmill (well, and because doing intervals on the treadmill sounds terrible) — and are worried you’re going to just sort of fall off the back, then you’ll be even more worried on the Alter-G, because you’re like locked into this bubble. So if you’re concerned that can’t hit your 6:27 mile on your fifth mile repeat and the sweat is dripping into your face and you’re leaning a little heavily into the back of the bubble and you’re pretty sure things are getting sort of blurry, but you’re not sure what would happen if you couldn’t keep up the pace — would your legs just get pulled under the bubble — then, yeah, it’s not the best of times. Not that this happened to me this morning.
  • It’s not cheap. And you probably need to find an Alter-G by you and then drive there and then pay some stupid amount of money to rent it for an hour.
  • Did I mention it is hot and sweaty and hard?

Pros to the Alter-G

  • I did a mile repeat workout earlier today.
  • That’s really it. You can run. You can run hard, even being injured. And that is such a luxury and such a necessity going into a race. Water running is a pretty good substitute for running when injured, but it’s challenging to do hard workouts water running and it’s challenging to keep all of the run mechanics in the water. If Boston ends up going ok, I will likely credit the Alter-G at least partially.

Have you used the Alter-G during an injury?

10 thoughts on “Training through Injury: The Alter-G

  1. I used an Alter-G when I was coming back from Anterior Compartment Syndrome last summer and it was just amazing to be able to run again! I thought it was the weirdest sensation running, but not having to deal with your entire body weight… And boy was it depressing when you get off and feel so much heavier!

  2. The place where I did physical therapy a few years back has a few, and they do this thing where you can get a discounted price by buying “packages” of hours (ie, there’s a small discount for buying 5 hours at once, more of a discount for 10, etc.). I definitely thought about it when I was really slooooowly starting to be able to run again after my injury (all the PTs there raved about it), but it was still pretty pricey. (Also, you’ve just named like every single thing I hate about treadmill running… 😛 )

    1. Yeah, I didn’t buy a package because I’m being optimistic about how much I’ll need it. And I’m rationalizing the expense compared to how much doing Boston costs. Worth doing it right.

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