Who is Alison Staples?

Alison reminds us of just how important it is to appreciate your body for all the little things. As a physical therapy assistant who works with spinal injuries, she gets to see people going through really tough moments in their lives. But seeing patients work so hard to do things her body can do with ease, inspires her to push herself to be better too. 

Alison is also a crew leader at Riot Squad Running, a running ambassador with Under Armor, and a coach with Formula Running Center.

What was it like starting running age 30?

Alison started running aged 30 after being someone who never imagined being a runner. She didn’t now the distance around a track, but she did love the exhilarating feeling of running down the street and back. “Oh this is hard. I think I like it.” That’s how her love of running started. 

3 ways she went from “an elliptical person” to a runner

“I really wanted to run someday, but I didn’t understand how people liked it,” she shared. “I went to the gym three days a week. I had my elliptical routine, the 25 or 35 minutes. And then I just did, like some squats and stuff and that was it.”

  1. Her job. Alison works with patients who have spinal cord injuries. It was through her work that she helped put together a team for the Baltimore Running Festival and help raise funds for those who are injured and recovering.
  2. Friendships. “I had a girlfriend, a Black woman who I really admired, there aren’t a lot of Black therapists, so I looked up to her. And she loved running, and I didn’t see a lot of black women running at the time, so she was just like this magical unicorn. But I secretly admired her tenacity when it came to like running how dedicated she was. When this charity team came around, she was like, “You know what? I think this would be good for you to do. You can meet so many people like this. Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet your husband.” That’s how I met my husband. I’m, like, sign me up. So I was like, yeah, you know, whatever I’m doing 5k. And she told me I could not do a 5k. She wasn’t paying the race fee for 5k. We had to do a half [half marathon] and I was like, I don’t know what a half is, but it’s not full so fine, and that that is how I got coerced into my first race.”
  3. Get out out of your comfort zone. The more we push ourselves out to be uncomfortable, whether it is conversations, physically, or mentally, we can only grow when we do.

What would be your advice to someone listening, who has a friend in their life that they want to encourage to do something outside of the home?

“Yeah, I think you should always know how to push the people around you. So I need my friends to curse me out all the time, and I’m fine with it because that’s what’s going through my mind. But I think you really have to find a circle and trust people, too, you have to welcome people into your space.

There’s a certain amount of vulnerability that you have to have in order to let people, and you have to trust people with that space that you give them. So the first step is just to find someone that you really trust someone that you respect and someone that has your best intentions at heart.”

What has the pandemic taught you about running?

“I love how it’s gotten back to how simple it was before a training block. You know, you have this marathon, you have the 16 week training block day in, day out, it’s unforgiving. It’s time based. You have to hit these paces, and you know, you could certainly do that now. But for me, it’s like I love going without a watch, leaving my watch at home. I love going on a run and not even worrying about what my paces are. I love going on a run and not even posting about it. I love waking up like okay, today I want to do eight miles tomorrow. 12. That’s fine. This is what I feel like doing today. Maybe tomorrow It’s like a track workout. So I love the flexibility of just, like, kind of going along with the flow and really just enjoying the simpleness of running that I think sometimes training takes away for sure.”

You run with a metronome, why?

I used a metronome a lot in my clinic because a lot of my patients have gait deficit. So maybe one extremity is a little bit more effective than the other. And they just need timing as when to put that affected leg down. So for me my cadence has always been on the lower side, maybe like 164-166. And granted, I’m tall, but I’m not like, terribly tall. And it annoys me when I go out and run with my friends who take quicker steps, they always finish faster than me. It seems to be like less effort. So it’s like, you know what? I really have to try to get in the habit of turning my feet over, and I can’t do it on my own.

Like it just, it just never worked out for me. So a metronome, I use it a couple times a week, and it really helps me the run is just like it’s just less effort. I really don’t think about it. I’ve tried to listen to playlists of like 171-180. But then I get too caught up and singing and get too caught up in the words. Let me just put on some monotonous ping ping ping ping ping ping ping. So I know when I put my feet down and I’m sure the crazy run around the neighborhood with this loud pinging happening, but it’s therapeutic, it’s calming to me.

Why did you become a Physical therapist?

I was kind of floating around for about a year. I was bartending. And then I started volunteering at the hospital. Now I was volunteering in the kids department and then they had an opening in spinal cord injuries. And it was just amazing to me that no two injuries are the same. Everything is different, everybody presents differently and people who have spinal cord injuries, some of their injuries are traumatic, meaning like car accidents. Some of them have non traumatic meaning, maybe one day they just woke up feeling sick and then 12 hours later, they couldn’t walk. These were people who needed a lot of help, not just physically but emotionally. And I think that that is something that really resonated with me and why I chose to stay in it.

What would you like to remind able bodied runners?

“There’s no bad run. You’ve never had a bad run. And I can tell you this: I don’t know your pace, I don’t know your heart rate, your cadence, but you have never had a bad run. All runs are good when your body works the way it’s supposed to.

It’s just a blessing to be able to get up and leave the house and just have your body work the way it’s supposed to. So I really look at this running thing and just physical movement as a blessing in itself. You know, I’ve had patients just cry, you know, in front of me like, “Will I ever walk again?” And some of those moments are really hard hitting because it’s like, wow, like, you know, you really just don’t even know what people are going through. And you really just don’t appreciate how complex and how amazing it is that the body works the way it does. So you’ve never had a bad run to whoever thinks that they had one or it’s about to have one. You’ve never had a bad run.”

One final, fun question: You have an unhealthy emotional attachment to your camelback, tell us about that.

“I named my camelback and her name is Dora the Explorer. And I pack her with snacks and, you know, we go out and we have a good time. I never know what’s gonna happen with Dora, but she is like my best run friend. When all else fails, I have Dora. So it’s kind of ridiculous that I’ll take her on, like, even like a full mile run. I put like a whole bladder full of water I put a whole bunch of snacks and it’s just like it’s kind of like my weighted blanket like it’s just like a security. Like I’m fine. Whatever happens, I have my phone. I have my snacks. I have my water. All’s right with the world.”


Alison on Instagram

Implicit Bias Test

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Thank you to Alison, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.

ableism, comfort zone, compassion, therapist

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