The Come Back

come back

As some of you know, I fractured my foot at the end of November 2015 and I have been working my way back into running since then. It’s now a little less than three weeks until the Buffalo 100 mile endurance race. Coming back from an injury is a huge challenge for most runners. Especially, one which is going to keep you from the sport you love for months.

You don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to a fracture either. You can choose to continue to run on it and hope that it heals (very very slowly) rather than completely fracture and require surgery. Or you can choose to follow your doctor’s instructions and live to run another day.

I’ve never been one to follow my doctor’s instructions about taking time off running. I’ve pulled and sprained all kinds of things. I’ve run through shin splints, ITBand syndrome, plantar fasciitis, sprained ankles, and pulled pretty much everything.

In fact, I find doctors who are endurance athletes and then as soon as they walk into the room I tell them, “I’m not going to stop running, so we are going to have to do what we can with me running.”

Some of them are not very happy about it, but are glad I’m up front about it. The one thing I don’t mess around with is a bone injury. My goal is to run until I’m 100 years old and not taking care of a bone injury will compromise my goal (yes, I know other injuries can too).

So how’s the stress fracture in my foot? I ran 20 miles on my full body weight last weekend without any pain. It has taken me fifteen weeks (almost four months!!) to get back to running at my full body weight.

And I’m so glad I took my doctor’s advice building up my miles and tolerance for impact slowly. If I hadn’t I would not be planning on running the Buffalo 100 on March 18th.

How did I do it?  I started with running in the swimming pool, swimming laps, and riding a bike as much as I could while my foot was in that acute phase where it hurt to even walk on it. Then I maintained my aerobic fitness by using the stair climber, elliptical, and other machines at the gym as soon as they didn’t cause any pain to use. I maintained my same schedule, so if I was supposed to run for 2 hours, I did aerobics for two hours or three hours or four hours.

The other thing I did was add in a lot of functional strength training, an hour and a half, three days a week. Since my muscles and bones were going to lose their impact conditioning I had to make sure they stayed strong in another way. Strength training was the only way I could do this without causing more injury to my foot.

Once I had the all clear from my doctor, I began using the anti-gravity treadmill. This allowed me to run at only 40% of my body weight. I started by running an hour every other day and increased that to five days a week. Once I was running five days a week to keep my miles up, I increased the weight on my foot by 5% each week. It was very slow and sometimes I increased the weight on my foot to quickly and would have to back up because it hurt my foot.

Running is my go to coping mechanism, but what do you do when your go to is broken? So the other essential component of my treatment was the support of my friends and family. There were many days were I would be near tears because I had to go backward or because it was beautiful outside and all I wanted was to feel the ground under my feet. Seeing other’s running made my heart ache.

Alright and I have a little bit of determination, stubbornness, and ambition.

Anti-Gravity Treadmill

Alter-G

Stress fractures can put full out stop on running, which is a problem if you like to run a lot. It also makes training for a one hundred mile race very challenging. The anti-gravity treadmill is the solution to this dilemma.

An anti-gravity treadmill lifts a portion of your body weight off your feet. How does it do this? You wear a pair of skintight neoprene shorts, which zip into an inner tube. It’s a little like being in a swimming pool. The “inner tube” fills with air and calibrates your weight. Once it’s done you choose how much of your body weight to take off your feet in percentages. The technology was developed for the use on space shuttles.

The anti-gravity treadmill allows you to continue to actually run, unlike the elliptical or other machines you find at the gym. It also maintains better running form than you can in a swimming pool and continues to condition your body to the impact of running although at a lesser degree. The anti-gravity treadmill allows you to maintain your aerobic fitness.

Not only has the anti-gravity treadmill made it possible for injured runners to maintain fitness, but many elite athletes are using the anti-gravity treadmills in their weekly training. It allows them to increase their miles while reducing the impact on their muscles, joints, and tendons. The treadmill is also being used to encourage overweight individuals to start running. It reduces the impact on their bodies as they begin a training program. It also gives them an idea of what it feels like to run without all the extra weight.

Anti-gravity treadmills range in cost from $75,000 to 25,000 depending on the model you choose. This, of course, limits those who have access to them, let alone own one.  It’s much like a typical car loan with payment of about $550 a month for five years.

The downside, other than the cost, is it’s a treadmill. If you run outdoors all the time or in the mountains, running on a treadmill is a huge challenge. It’s boring, although slightly less boring than running in the swimming pool.

Audiobooks, story apps, and/or music are essential (at least for me), on any treadmill and this one is no different.  I do have to say, after not being able to run at all for four weeks, the anti-gravity treadmill is a little piece of heaven.