Monday Runday: My Life as a Centaur

Several weeks ago I received this note via Facebook Messenger:

Hey MaryAnn, I have a question/offer for you. A while back I won 3 free sessions on an AlterG treadmill. I have been following the journey of your stress fracture healing and I want to give you the sessions.

This was from a member of Springfield Moms RUN This Town, someone I knew but not super well. (You can see why I still claim membership in that group, even though I moved from Springfield. They're a special bunch of ladies. Although I look forward to getting to know my local chapter too.)

I got this message on a day when I was feeling particularly low about my injury. So after I finished laughing and crying at the sweetness of this offer, we got the logistics worked out. I've now had one of the three sessions at Capitol Rehab in Annandale with Dr. Compas.

The AlterG is based on technology designed to help astronauts work out in zero gravity, but here on earth it works in reverse---you can adjust the treadmill so that the patient runs on a set percentage of their body weight. This is a great thing for people who are coming back from injury and are easing back into weight-bearing exercise. And, it's a total trip.

Basically you put on these super-tight bicycle shorts, with a zipper around the middle:


Then you step onto the treadmill and are zipped in. The bottom half of you and the treadmill belt are encased in a large bag that inflates and deflates based on the percentage you select. Last week I did most of my run at 50% of my body weight:


The title of this post comes from my friend Paurenia, who saw this picture and said I "looked like a sexy centaur." Ha!

I've been running on the roads a little bit, but it's been for very short distances and I've had to be very cautious about it. With the AlterG I was able to run for more than 30 minutes, pain free!

The sensation takes a little getting used to--you definitely feel lighter on your feet, though the zipper keeps you hemmed in so you can't really fall like on a regular treadmill. It's a great transition from pool running, in which you're completely buoyant, to road running, in which you're pounding pavement. And because you're running on less weight, you can go a lot faster than you normally do, which is a lot of fun.

I also want to say a good word for Dr. Compas and his staff at Capitol Rehab. He is an athlete himself and "gets it"; plus he's competent and compassionate. He helped me understand the source of my injury so I can avoid it next time. I haven't used him for chiropractic care but I have friends who have and they like him a lot.

Happy running/walking/living...

Monday Runday: You Can Do This Hard Thing

[Yes, I'm a day late posting this. But Tuesday Runday doesn't have the same poetry.] Back in May I attended a concert with one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Carrie Newcomer. She sang a new song that was inspired by her (now grown) daughter, who attended a Montessori school. When the children were getting ready to do something new that was going to be a stretch for them, the teachers would say, "You can do this hard thing." This phrase acknowledged both that the task was difficult and that everything they'd previously done had prepared them for it.

I shared this phrase with my Moms RUN This Town group after the concert, and I've been happy to see it take on a life of its own. As group members set goals, run marathons and come back from injury, people are now reminding one another "you can do this hard thing."

Here's a video of the song. It's not a pump-you-up running tune, but the message is still there.

Tomorrow morning I will run 1/2 mile, the longest distance I've run in 12 weeks. If all goes well, I'll continue running that short distance every other day, then gradually, oh so gradually, increase the distance. (If it doesn't go well, we're gonna need to go on MaryAnn Mental Health Watch, because enough already.)

It will be a hard thing. But I can do it. And let's face it, there are harder things out there, which is important perspective too.

I loved this story from this weekend's New York City Marathon:

Kyle and Brent Pease have completed two 140.6-mile Ironman events together, so they felt more than ready for the New York City Marathon on Nov. 1. Of course, this was before the right rear wheel on Kyle’s wheelchair broke into pieces after the 12-mile mark.

Kyle Pease has cerebral palsy, and the brothers have been competing in racing events for several years now.

Brent carried Kyle for about a half mile before he realized that wasn't going to work. Then the NYPD escorted them to a nearby bike shop, but they weren't able to come up with a good solution. And then:

A fellow runner named Amy noticed the brothers struggling with steering, so she joined Brent’s side and steadied the chair as he pushed it forward. Shortly after that another runner named Cameron joined the team and helped stabilize the other side of the chair.

Image courtesy of Amanda Gordon / The Kyle Pease Foundation

“The three of us shouldered the weight and helped cover the remaining miles together,” Brent said.


To find out more about their foundation, click here. And go do a hard thing today.

Monday Runday: How to Run in the Pool

I've been doing a lot of pool running during my injury rehab. Pool running is a non-weight bearing exercise that's safe for almost any kind of injury. It's also an incredible cardio workout if you do it right. It looks ridiculous, though. You can be pumping your legs quite quickly under the surface, but you move forward really slowly:

I have griped and complained plenty these last couple months about having to cross train instead of run. But the truth is, I'm a pool running convert. Whenever I get back in the saddle, I still plan to spend 1-2 days a week in the pool.

All you need is a floatation belt and a deep enough pool that your feet don't touch the bottom when you're floating at chest level. Here's what the belt looks like:


Local folks: the Fairfax County RECenter pools are deep enough for pool running, and they have a supply of floatation belts available on-site. Look on the website of each individual center for their lane schedule. It's best to schedule your workout around the other FCPA classes, because you can't use the shallow lanes. There are a variety of admission options, but the one I use is a 25-visit pass. You can use them anytime over the next 2 years.


I'm not a trainer, just someone who's been doing pool running a couple times a week for the last nine weeks. But here are a few tips:

  • Lean slightly forward, but not too far. You want to run, not doggie paddle. Keep your body straight.
  • The motion is a cross between a bicycling motion and a high-knees motion.
  • Move your arms back and forth just like you're running. Because you are.

Here's a post from Runners Connect that describes the proper form. And a video that shows what to do:



The easiest thing is to get in and start running. But that's kinda boring, and it's easy to slack off in the pool and convince yourself you're getting a good workout without necessarily doing so. I see a lot of people moving their legs languidly in the water, which may be what they want to do, but if you're wanting something higher impact, you need to be intentional about it.

This article has a few workout options--the group I run with has done them all. The goal is to hit ~180 strides per minute during the hard effort, which is not as easy as it sounds!

Here are a few other workouts I haven't tried yet, but they look good. From Runners Connect:

  1. 10 min easy w/u, 1:00 hard, 30 sec easy, 1:30 hard, 30 sec easy, 2:00 hard, 30 sec easy (continue building up until 5:00, and then come back down by 30 second intervals) 10 min easy c/d
  2. 10 min easy w/u, 1min medium, 1 min sprint, 30 sec hands in air (keep moving your legs in the running motion, but put your hand above your head), 1 min rest – repeat 10-15 times. 10 min easy c/d
  3. 10 min easy w/u, 30sec sprint, 30sec medium, 30sec sprint, 30sec medium – 30 rest, Repeat 12-15 times, 10 min easy c/d
  4. 10 min easy w/u, 10 sec medium, 10 second sprint, 10 second easy, 20 sec medium, 20 sec sprint, 20 sec easy, 30 sec medium, 30 sec sprint, 30 sec easy, repeat up to 70 seconds and the back down, 10 min easy c/d

Good luck!

Monday Runday: Healing is Hidden.

limping-and-physiotherapy Do what the doctor says. Make good choices. Treat your body well. Follow the rules. Do these things, and your body will be healthy.

I've been a pastor and a human being long enough to know that's not always true. People get lung cancer having never smoked a day in their lives. Car accidents wreak havoc even when the seatbelt is securely fastened. The heart defect hides in the genetic code, only to strike a seemingly healthy young person on the soccer field.

Some people are able to skip right over "why me?" and accept that life is unpredictable, that we are not wholly in control of our fates. But as a pastor I walked with lots of people who felt like they kept up their end of the bargain and didn't understand why tragedy struck them anyway... and passed over others who seemed much more cavalier with their health, or who were mean and selfish people who deserved a nice thick calamity! We know the world doesn't work so logically, but in in the throes of a crisis, we often revert to our four year old selves: It's not fair.  

I've got 3 1/2 weeks left until my 12 week recovery is complete for my stress fracture. People ask how my leg is doing, but the only honest answer is I don't know.

I'm doing everything I'm supposed to do: resting, minimizing walking and weight-bearing activity, cross-training with swimming and biking, and taking calcium and iron (I was deficient in the latter, it turns out).

But I won't know whether it's healed until I run on it, and it's either pain-free or pain-full. There's no way for me to discern whether healing is happening or not. Well, there are two ways: I could run on it now. Or I could do the hop test. I would learn something by doing these things, but I would also aggravate the injury. I would be trading knowledge for healing. It's not a good trade.

But oh, the waiting, and the not knowing. No... this process is hidden to me.

But it's not silent. The injury speaks to me, a weird Morse code of sensations I'm still learning how to interpret.The doctor said I could resume running when I've had two weeks without pain, leaving me with the impression that healing is a linear process, from pain to less pain to no pain. But it hasn't been that way for me, nor does it seem to be that way for most folks. I've gone from pain, to no pain, to big pain but only at night, to a little ache, to no pain once more.

Sometimes the healing comes, but phantom pains linger, whether real or imagined. Once we have been broken, we may get put back together, but we are not the same.

And no, I'm not just talking about running anymore. (I never was.) Jacob wrestled with the angel until the angel cried "Uncle," but he got in a parting shot, such that every step reminded Jacob that even blessing comes with a twinge to it.

It's easy for me to interpret the instant throb when I do the "courtesy jog" across a busy intersection. That's a big STOP sign.

But then there's the deep-down itch I felt a week after the diagnosis, which I decided was the bone starting to re-knit itself. (Why not? Growth can be an itchy process.)

Now I'm at the point where scar tissue is starting to form around the fracture site, as I understand it. The surrounding areas get a little inflamed from the calcification. And the bone remodeling can take up to a year. This is a long process.

Most runners I know went through a period of denial about the pain, myself included. But sooner or later, we have to dig into it, otherwise we're missing important information. We have to inquire about the pain. Be curious about it. Name it and categorize it.

And when possible, make friends with it. I had lots of aching the other week when we were getting deluged with rain. Who knows, I may get a weather-shin out of all this.


Image came up when I searched for the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel.