Anti-gravity treadmill, committed trainer buoy hope for GR Marathoner

Mary Free Bed

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Liz Fanco is getting ready to train.

She’s competing in Sunday’s Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon, running the half.

Like she has three days a week for the last 10 months, Fanco steps into a pair of wetsuit-like shorts. She climbs onto the treadmill and zips the shorts into place. Now centered inside of a plastic bubble, Fanco lifts a blue metal frame and locks it loudly into place. Her trainer Todd Buckingham looks and her and says, “now let’s calibrate and get ready to go.”

With the touch of a button, the plastic bubble Fanco is zipped into fills to the seams and her feet rise lightly as the weight is taken off of her lower body. The belt on the treadmill begins to pick up speed. For the next 30 minutes, Fanco body will train below her actual body weight, thanks to the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill.

“I wouldn’t have believed that I could enjoy running without the AlterG,” Fanco said. “I had to feel what it was like to run at 100 pounds less than my current weight to believe that running would be enjoyable.”

Fanco wasn’t a runner for the first 38 years of her life. She said she had been considered obese or morbidly obese since high school. When she decided three years ago to start running with her family, it was to support World Vision and the cause of expanding access to clean water to everyone in the world.

“I think the global water crisis can and will be solved in my lifetime,” Fanco said. “I’ve committed to running with World Vision as long as my feet function.”

Her feet were functioning and moving forward, logging thousands of training miles, 5K after 5K, 10Ks and half-marathons in those three years. The issue was that nothing was changing. She couldn’t breathe any better. She still couldn’t run a mile without stopping. She wasn’t getting any faster. She wasn’t losing any weight. And running was no less unenjoyable for her than when she started.

Liz Fanco before getting help from the Mary Free Bed Sports Performance Lab to run well and lose weight. (Courtesy)

That’s when she sought out the Mary Free Bed Sports Performance Lab at the SpartanNash YMCA in Wyoming.

“Running was so frustrating for me. And I wanted to just see what it would feel like to run weighing like 100 pounds less than I did,” Fanco said. “If I weighed what I did in high school, would I actually enjoy running?”

After the start of the pandemic broke up her determination to use the MFB lab, Fanco came back in January of this year. She and Buckingham, her trainer, discussed her goals. One of them was a full marathon on Nov. 7 in New York City with more than 150 members of Team World Vision. They got to work right away.

“She is one of the most determined people I’ve ever met,” Buckingham said. “And to be determined is to see it through, and Liz was going to do this marathon with or without me. So I was like, you know, let’s at least make it enjoyable for you and get you to the point where you can run the whole thing.”

Immediately, Buckingham helped Fanco make positive strides. Within the first three minutes of their first training, he pointed out that she ran improperly — she was moving the same arm and foot forward together when proper form is to alternate.

“I knew that Liz was going to make these huge improvements because just from where she started, she had a lot of room to improve,” Buckingham said. “I didn’t know that it was going to be this much.”

In March, Fanco and Buckingham ran a 5K together. In all her running, she had never broken 45 minutes on a 5K. That day, she finished around 41 minutes. From there, it was a race to the next barrier they could tackle together.

“It was faster than I’d ever been able to do a 5K before and to me. That was huge because it meant that the time that I’d put in here was actually translating to time on my feet,” Fanco said. “And that meant that there was actual concrete, measurable improvement that was happening, and that really gave me hope.”

Liz Fanco celebrates finishing a race. (Courtesy)

It wasn’t just hope in running that was pushing her. Fanco is also a mother of 8, lives on a farm with her husband and has so much going on between soccer practices, her side job and taking care of the animals that she nearly always came last on her own list.

“We have so many balls in the air all the time and the self-care ball for me has been like, not even dropped, it’s dropped, rolled away and it’s under a bed somewhere,” Fanco said. “Self-care was never in the picture.”

Though she admits it started with a bit of guilt, Fanco prioritizing her own health has worked its way through her family.

“It’s amazing. The change that’s happening for our kids because I prioritized my health, because I’ve made changes and my kids have picked up on the changes that I made in the example that I’m setting, that’s changing the trajectory potentially of all of these little people who are watching what I’m doing and how cool is that,” Fanco asked.

Liz Fanco and her family. (Courtesy)

While she is able to give herself the credit of putting in the work and acknowledges she wouldn’t be where she is now — 10 months later and 100 pounds lighter — without the AlterG machine, she said it was the commitment of a new friend that has pushed her closer to the finish line.

“Todd and I were texting back and forth and joking about something and I was teasing about all the national and world championships he has,” Fanco said of Buckingham, a world champion triathlete. “I’m like, I feel like you’ve kind of conquered everything, what’s your next big challenge? And he said, ‘I think you’re my next big challenge. Like, you know, you’ve put in so much time and effort, I think it’s time that someone puts time and effort into you.’

“I kept that screenshot on my phone kind of as my motivator,” Fanco continued between tears. “Because when you decide to make a change for yourself, if you don’t succeed, you’re like, I put in my best effort and it didn’t work and you’re just letting yourself down. It’s different when somebody makes the decision to put time and effort into you and they’re investing in you.”

Liz Fanco and her trainer Todd Buckingham. (Courtesy)

The return on that investment will be measured by embrace Sunday when Fanco hopes to knock more than an hour off her half-marathon time and again on Nov. 7 at the New York City Marathon when she accomplishes a goal that 10 months ago seemed like someone else’s dream.

“Running was something I never thought I would do. It wasn’t even a bucket list item. A half-marathon was so far beyond a bucket list item that wasn’t fathomable. And up until I started training here with Todd, 26 miles seemed impossible,” Fanco said with a smile. “So I’m kind of excited to see what other impossible things he can get me through.”

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