Cross-Training Chronicles: Defying Gravity and Beyond

I can’t predict what the next few weeks (or even the next few days) will bring, but I’m still hoping to run most of my spring marathons. I realize how completely crazy this sounds given my current diagnosis.  This is largely dependent on what the doctor says later this morning. I have a second opinion appointment at the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia. Right now, I can do everything except actually go outside for a run. I am, however, cleared to run on an anti-gravity treadmill and aqua jog until my fingers shrivel up like prunes. I can also swim, get on my yoga mat, and ride my bike as much as I’d like. Besides focusing on rehabilitation, my secondary concern is that I won’t be training on any hills going forward unless Rothman clears me to run outdoors. Luckily, I have a solid foundation from the past year of training, and I’m taking my current doctors adviceand embracing cross training keep me strong and fit.

One of my doctor’s recommendations was to use an AlterG machine, which is an anti-gravity treadmill. I’m permitted to use it up to three times per week, with no time limit for each session. For the first two weeks, I’m only permitted to use 50% of my body weight. After that period, I can adjust accordingly. Monday was my first session using the AlterG, and it was an interesting experience. Before stepping on the treadmill I was handed an odd looking pair of shorts, made with neoprene and adorned with what looks like a deflated inner tube around the waist. The shorts have a zipper around the outside of the “inner tube” that attaches to the special treadmill. This allows the chamber around your lower body to inflate and stay airtight to control the air pressure for partial weight-bearing activity. The machine takes a moment to calibrate to your weight and then you set the desired percentage of your body weight that you are comfortable using. Once the weight is set you can adjust the incline and the pace the same way you would on a normal treadmill.

I began at a walking pace, and the first few steps I took felt really strange. I didn’t think I was going to like it and began to think of what I could do in place of the AlterG. The best way to describe how it feels to use a machine like this is to hop onto a regular treadmill, hold on to the side bars, and lift some of your weight off as you run. I began at an easy pace, around an 8:30/mile and increased the incline a little (okay, a lot) to make it more challenging. I realized that I could go much faster and push the pace on this machine with ease, likely because I was carrying so little weight. When I was done, my legs felt similar to how they would feel following a run at a fairly decent pace on a normal treadmill, but not quite as tired or sore.I ran eight miles at around a 7:45 overall pace and felt great. It was much too easy with only 50% of my weight and I was really tempted to add more. The little blue button was so inviting, and I had to cover it with my towel as I ran so I didn’t just hit it “just to see” how it felt.It’s certainly not as effective as going out for a real run, but it’s a useful tool to aid recovery and remind my muscles what the act of running feels like. It will also prevent me from going completely insane until I’m healed.

I’ve been on my bike and in the pool to aqua jog briefly, but the activity I’m enjoying most is swimming. Since I haven’t gotten in the pool for some time, I forgot how much I love it. I’m not a terrible swimmer since I had a brief swimming career from 7-9th grade. I’m not fast, but my muscles seem to remember enough of the form to enable me to use swimming as an effective cross training method for times like these. In the past two years, the only swimming I’ve done was floating around the pool in my backyard. I’ve been swimming twice since I was told not to run and swam about 2500 meters each time (about a mile and a half). It feels great, and it would be even better if I could somehow fit it into my schedule on a more consistant basis.

Since Boston, I’ve been struggling with my yoga practice. I’d been gravitating towards the postures in the primary series, so I’d start with the intention of getting through that each time. I would get on my mat and go through the motions, but I wasn’t present or enjoying my practice. I still don’t know why. After swimming yesterday, I half-heartedly unrolled my yoga mat but decided to give second series a shot instead. It was exactly what I needed and felt fresh, new, and comforting. At the end of my practice, I tacked on a few third series postures. They actually felt pretty good, but I kept that portion of my practice to a minimum to ease my body back into it. Whatever “yoga” block I’m having, I need to work through it by not overwhelming myself with an overwhelming practice.

The events in Boston and being injured are two emotional situations, and I guess the way I needed to process it all was to take a breather before I could move on.I’m not sure why second series felt better than primary series, but I’m going to go with it. Maybe there’s something about that sequence that my body needs to heal itself, both physically and emotionally. To successfully rehabilitate my injury and make progress on my yoga mat, I need to listen to what my body needs each day. Maybe I was overwhelmed with the marathon and the injury, and jumping back into a six day a week practice with advanced postures was adding to the stress. Maybe doing a half-assed version of primary series made me feel like I was “slacking off” and regressing in my practice. Maybe I needed to try second series to reassure myself that I was making the right decision to practice yoga. Whatever it was, I hope I’m in the process of working through it. I’ll keep getting on my mat everyday with the intention of doing what feels best, whether it’s primary series, second series, or just a few sun salutations. My body is healing, and I’m just along for the ride.

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