Sick of hearing I damaged my ankle? Well good news, I’m sick of writing it, so here, let’s draw a line under it…or at least we can shortly.
First I have to tell you about one of the most incredible running experiences I’ve had for ages. I’m lucky enough to be friendly with a few fitness professionals, and even my constant questions about training, fixing broken bits (yep, the ankle) and free sports massages hasn’t quite driven them all away yet. One of my friends, personal trainer Catherine Jasat, has access to an Alter-G treadmill, and when she offered me a go I leapt at the chance! This isn’t just any treadmill, it’s a space-age treadmill with extra buttons and technical bits, a sci-fi treadmill designed by NASA from the future, it’s every boy’s dream treadmill.
So what does the Alter-G do? Well essentially it defies gravity, makes the runner lighter, faster, more like the Bionic Man.
To start with I had to get in to some rather special shorts. First nice surprise is the mediums were to big for me, I was wedged in to a set of smalls which was a knock to the confidence for my thighs but a pat on the back for my waist, so I’m quite happy in the little lycra! These special shorts look like something Jacques Costeau would wear, lots of thick neoprene and zips to contend with, but it all made sense when I climbed in to the Alter-G, and climbing in it was. Once I’d clambered in to position Catherine bought a big skirt of metal frame and pvc up to my waist and zipped me and my special shorts in, creating a sealed enclosure from tummy down to treadmill. Next the machine weighed me, thankfully without announcing the results to anyone, and then the magic happened…
Suddenly the chamber I was stood in inflated. My special shorts created an airtight seal and I could feel them trying to lift me but I kept my heels down and waited for the influx of air to stop. In seconds the Alter-G had taken up 40% of my body weight (a rather embarrassing 6 stone) and although it was a little peculiar at first to be so light it soon felt completely natural.
What followed was one of the most ridiculous runs of my life. Under the watchful eye of Catherine I got my jog on, plodding along at a gentle 10min/km pace and getting used to my feet barely brushing the rolling road beneath me. To my amazement I watched as Catherine upped the pace, again and again, and although I got a sweat on and eventually got a little breathless before long I was bouncing along at 4min/km pace quite happily!
We only had access to the treadmill for a short while, it’s a popular bit of kit, but I banged out over 4km in a shade over 20 minutes and without any of the discomfort I’d normally get from a speed session.
So is the Alter-G just a cheats way of running faster? Well, essentially yes, but it offers much more than just bragging rights about running times. The benefits for rehab are obvious, by taking weight away runners can get the joints moving freely without the damage caused by repeated heavy impact. It certainly freed me up to really swing the legs without worrying about the effects on my ankle. That kind of stress free running would be great for anyone coming back from injury who wants to keep their mileage up, but it’s also a great place to start for people who consider running beyond them. There is anecdotal evidence in this month’s Ultra-fit magazine of a 26 stone gym goer climbing aboard and experiencing the joy of running for the first time. The Alter-G has helped this woman lose 8 stone already and she is now running 10km regularly. I’ll be watching out for her at races before long!
For me I think the biggest benefit would be for tempo sessions and speed work. I’ve done a few sessions on my own, but if I’m honest my speed work is still slow! There’s no getting away from the fact that my poor legs are trying to shift a reasonable bulk around and even when I really put the effort in I’m still not getting anywhere fast. With the Alter-G I can get my legs moving at speeds I could never manage alone, and hopefully soon I can carry some of that leg speed outdoors with me. It can also be a massive boost to my V02 Max as I push myself beyond my limits and force my cardiovascular system to work harder than my muscles could ever make them.
And above all those benefits, the one thing that will inspire me more than any other, is pulling on those special shorts in size “small”.
And so, as I look back on 3 months of slow rehab and forward to 3 months of hard work leading in to the Silverstone Half marathon I have the tools to cope, the expert support to help and I’m fresh out of excuses…I guess it’s time to draw that line and run…
I used the Alter-G at The Personal Training Studio in Cheltenham, owned by Dan Fivey. I was looked after by Catherine Jasat, PT and running trainer. I recommend both very highly if you have rehab requirements, training needs or just want a kick up the arse! Dan has recently opened a new gym in Cheltenham, a serious training space worthy of consideration if you want results rather than to watch Coronation Street while you sit on an exercise bike!