Betty Says: Like Running on the Moon

Running on an Alter-G Treadmill

Astronaut John Young bouncing on the moon. (Compliments of Wikipedia.)

Dear Betty,

You ran on an Alter-G? That sounds so cool. Tell me more!

– King of the ‘Mill

Let me start by saying that if you ever have the chance to run in one, DO IT!

On Monday, the day after I ran/walked the B.A.A. 10k in Boston, I went to my regularly scheduled physical therapy appointment to deal with my IT band, weak glute and tight hip issues. My PT decided that he wanted to see my running gait in action, but didn’t want to overwork my tired legs.

And then I saw him write down the magic words on my chart: Alter-G.

Most runners probably know that an Alter-G treadmill allows you to run at only a fraction of your body weight. This is good for allowing injured runners to keep training, but without the pounding on their joints. Olympic athletes use this thing as they come back from injuries. And now I could, too!

We entered the room with the ‘mill. It looks sort of like a regular treadmill wrapped in a black tarp. This, I knew, was the part that was going to inflate to lift my weight off the treadmill belt.

What I didn’t count on were the funny shorts.

You see, in order to use the treadmill, you have to be attached to it. And the way they attach you is by having you step into a big ol’ pair of neoprene shorts with what feels like a giant hoop around the waist (like a hoop skirt in reverse). The hoop has a zipper, and that’s where they zip you into the black tarp.

And then they inflate it.


Up, up I went! It felt strangely floaty even before I had to run in it. And then the treadmill started.

I was at 70% of body weight and chugging along. You can’t fall in this thing — my greatest treadmill fear eliminated! — so you can just kind of plow ahead without worry. And being closer to weightlessness is a blast. No wonder the astronauts bounced around on the moon like they were in a jumpy house. Whee! To hell with the science of it: it’s fun!

There are windows in the front and on the sides. According to my PT, my stride looks good,* but I have a tendency to run on a very narrow plane. In other words, if I was running along the line at a track, both of my feet would be running along that midline rather than being distinctly separate on either side of the line. This puts a lot of strain on my IT band, but we don’t know for sure if this is the cause of or a symptom of my IT band problems. At any rate, it’s good to know.

I felt like I could have run for miles in that contraption. I’m wondering if there’s any way to rig one up so I can drag it with me when I run on the streets….

Have you ever run in an Alter-G?

* You may remember my trip to the Human Performance Clinic where I learned that I was the world’s worst, unbalanced heel-striking runner ever. Now I’m wondering if half of what they saw was my complete awkward discomfort with treadmills in general. Something to think about….

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