If you follow this blog, you’ll know I’m just getting back into running again after the mother-of-all calf strains. I had quite the journey, including 22 weeks off of running. Luckily, I’m finally getting back to it a year after the initial injury, and I’m doing so with an amazing resource: the Alter-G.
For those unfamiliar, the Alter-G is an anti-gravity treadmill, or body weight support treadmill, that uses technology developed by NASA to off-load some of your body weight while allowing you to run as you would on a normal treadmill. You put on a funky pair of shorts, step into the device and zip in at hip level. Once you calibrate the treadmill, you can run at anything from 20 percent to 100% of your body weight.
When I first followed up with my orthopedic doctor in June, a month after I received an autologous blood injection, the doctor said I was clear to start running…but only on an Alter-G. Fortunately, a friend from my running team is a physical therapist in an office with two of them. And so, the Alter-G has been a key component of my return to running.
When I first started on this journey, I couldn’t find much information about how others who have used the Alter-G to build a base after injury, so today, I wanted to share with you my story. Every runner is unique, and will need to work with their physical therapist to determine what is right for them, but perhaps my build up can help others know what to expect.
The first thing to know is that when it comes to the Alter-G it’s all about that body weight. But don’t worry, you don’t have to step on a scale. The machine will do all the work of calibration for you.
While the Alter-G will show you your speed or pace, like any other treadmill, the key metric on the Alter-G will be the number between 20 and 100 that you choose to determine how much of your body weight you want to off load. That number stands for a percentage of your body weight. If you set it to 60 that means you will run at about equal to 60% of your body weight. If you weigh 100 lbs, that means it will feel like you weigh 60 lbs. If you weight 150 lbs, it will feel like you weigh 90 lbs.
For my first run on June 9, I ran for 20 minutes—15 minutes at 60% and 5 minutes at 65%. This run felt great! My heart rate was so low relative to the speed at which I was running. And that makes sense. After all, 60% of your body weight isn’t a lot. Running at this level was also fun. It is probably the closest I will ever get to moon walking!
Since the first run was a success, it was all systems go. Over the next week, I progressed to 25 minutes with as much as 15 minutes at 75% body weight. Trust me, there is nothing like increasing your body weight mid-run to make you appreciate the impact of an extra 6 or so pounds on your running.
In my second full week of running, my calf was feeling the increase in body weight and time, with some minor soreness a couple inches above my injury site. To play it safe, my physical therapist had me pull back on the body weight and to slow my progression, holding relatively steady for about a week, with small progressions.
Then, finally, after three weeks and 10 sessions on the Alter-G, I had my first run outside – 20 minutes nice and easy with the order to avoid any hilly terrain.
Once I got to running outside, you might think that was it for the Alter-G, but it wasn’t. Now, I am in the process of tapering off the Alter-G. That meant cutting back to two days a week of running on the Alter-G, before transitioning next week to just one day a week (with a workout!).
My physical therapist and I worked together to develop the one-day-a-week Alter-G plan. According to her, I could probably be outside all the time at this point. The thing is, she wants me to start workouts to start pushing myself, but that still makes me nervous. It was always speed work that did me in when I was running on an injured calf last year, so I’m afraid that speed will again undo my progress.
So we negotiated. I will continue to run one workout a week through the end of the month on the Alter-G. Then, I will be outside all the time. That is important to me, because early August will mark 12 weeks since my ABI injection. That is important because some research indicates that most muscle remodeling takes place within those first 12 weeks, though the remodeling phase can persist for years). I want to be sure that process is far enough along before stressing the tissue too much.
The good news is my first workout this week was a success. I did six repeats of 2 minutes at 8.5 mph on the Alter-G, roughly a 7:04 pace, followed by 2 minutes of recovery at 7.3 mph, or an 8:13 pace. Once upon a time, that was marathon pace, but who knows what pace that is now. My calf felt fine throughout the workout, and in the day since. I count that as a victory.
Stay tuned for more information on my build up! I’m hoping to pick my first race of the year soon.