Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why every distance runner should CrossFit and why every CrossFitter should distance run.

I'll start by asking, am I an expert on either of these topics? Absolutely NOT. All I know is what I experience...and I do realize my experiences aren't that of anyone else's. We all have a mind of our own and get through things the way we know how. That said:



Mostly because YOU ALREADY HAVE IT IN YOU. But I'll get back to that later.

Distance running is tough. It wears down your muscles. It requires a ton of training. It is a big commitment; a lifestyle almost.

The first few years I was "distance running" (training for half-marathons and full marathons), basically all I did was run. I definitely had the mental toughness for it but I only got better (read: faster) veeeery slowly. When I first started, I was about a 10 minute/mile pace. After a few years of training, I had only dropped that pace down to about 9:30/mile. Maybe on a really good day 9:15/mile...but that was me really pushing it.

At some point I decided to switch up my training and start some personal training at my gym. I started working with a really awesome trainer. I didn't do this for the sake of my running, I simply did it because I was getting bored and needed a change. Little did I know how much strength training would improve my running! Very quickly my pace started getting faster....and faster....and faster. I went from a 2:04 (9:28 pace) half marathon to a 1:49 half (8:19 pace). For all you math whizzes out there, that's more than a minute per mile drop! That is huge in a considerably short period of time. I also went from a 27:30 5K (8:51 pace - and that was bookin' it for me) to a 22:10 5K (7:08 pace!) That is HUGE!

Of course I am not sharing all this information to gloat...only pointing out that improvement was solely adding strength training to my regimen. Getting stronger so my legs could carry me faster and my endurance could improve.

My trainer did mostly CrossFit (*CF) style workouts. Since that time, I have left that gym and joined a CrossFit gym. CF is UNBELIEVABLE for your strength and endurance. CrossFit, according to Wikipedia, is:

a strength and conditioning brand that combines weightlifting, sprinting, gymnastics, powerlifting, kettlebell training, plyometrics, rowing, and medicine ball training.[1] CrossFit contends that a healthy, fit person requires proficiency in each of ten general physical skills: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and accuracy.[2] It defines fitness as increased work capacity across all these domains and says its program achieves this by provoking neurologic and hormonal adaptations across all metabolic pathways.

After taking more than a year break from running and very recently starting again, not only have I have not lost any speed, but running has come very easy. The speed, the strength and stamina to climb hills; this is all part of a CF workout on an everyday basis.

Now let's get back to the statement above; "YOU ALREADY HAVE IT IN YOU". Any distance runner knows that AT LEAST 50% of it is mental (probably even more than this). Your body is capable of so much more than you realize. In my opinion, what separates a good runner from a great runner is simply belief in oneself; an inner strength inside the soul. It is mental strength, determination, will, perseverance and simply just the belief of "DON'T GIVE UP!". There is a word for all of these traits that someone shared with me long ago and I recite it in my head every time I need an extra push (which is practically every day. CrossFit ain't easy y'all).

If you have this mental capacity (and you know deep down whether you do or you don't) it makes you a better runner. And an awesome CrossFitter, because you have the ability to push yourself beyond what others will do. CrossFit is such an AMAZING cross training, but not everyone has it in them. It is very competitive and very tough. But if you have this "push" within you for running, you are already ahead of the CrossFit 'game' even if you haven't started.

CrossFit will be so good for your running and will help coordinate your body in ways that you can't believe. You will be a SO MUCH BETTER runner for it.

Now, let's talk about the flip side:


I know every person who is really into CF is either a)seriously rolling their eyes right now OR b)thinking, "this chic has no clue what she is talking about!" People who CF think "CROSSFIT IS THE ONLY WAY!" "Every other workout is a total waste of time!".

While I do agree that CF is the best thing I have ever done (body wise), you really can't compare it at all to running. They are two totally different animals. I run to hear the gravel crunch under my shoes; to feel the wind on my face. I run for the birds, the trees, the smell of nature. I run to give myself a quiet minute to think about things that have been on my mind. Running is for the soul! Before I loved running I thought the idea of running for enjoyment was crazy! It was clearly only for people who were deranged enough to have convinced themselves that they actually enjoyed running. Sort of a coping mechanism for exercise, if you will. Now I know this isn't true at all. There is more joy to find in running than you could ever imagine. The peace and tranquility; never mind the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a long run.

CrossFitters are now thinking..."OK, but I can find peace and tranquility at the spa, so why 'damage' my body with a long run?"

That's easy.

First of all, it wont damage your body. If you hydrate, fuel and listen to your body, you are golden. Especially if you have built up the muscles to support your body during a run. This is hogwash.

But mostly because, YOU ALREADY HAVE IT IN YOU! You have no idea how many times I have been in the middle of a WOD (WOD = Workout Of the Day) and felt like I didn't have anything left. Then I would think to myself "OK, remember such-and-such race at mile 10 how terrible I felt....but I finished. If I finished then I can finish now!" Or I'll think..."I only have one round left. That's about 5 minutes. If I can run for 5 hours I can do ANYTHING for 5 minutes!" I pull mental strength from my running experiences AT LEAST once a day while I am working out. Running has benefited me so immensely at CF that I honestly can't imagine what it would be like without having experienced pushing through MAJOR body fatigue.

Although I am no CF superstar (yet :) ), I have found that having been a runner puts me a step ahead of the game.

So the point of all of this? Nothing really, just to share. Having been on both sides I can appreciate both of them and how they can help you become a really, really great athlete. Facing adversity during long runs will make you a MUCH better CrossFitter and CrossFit strength and endurance training will make you a WAYY better runner. Try and and see for yourself. I dare you. :)


Candie said...

I appreciate the info and I'm "filing it" for 6 weeks after baby girl is here. :)

MommaCakes said...

I totally agree...I kept with the cross training and dropped the running, but when I picked up the running again it came very easily. After not running for months I still managed to run a 24min 5k. For me, that's huge, considering when I started running years ago it took me 30min to run my first 5k.

Kiran said...

Great blog Jessica. Thanks! I am a runner and looking to add crossfit into my routine. I went for a couple of free crossfit sessions and thought it would benefit my running, so good to hear what you have to say. Wondering if you typically follow any training plan for half / full marathons? I am currently training for a hilly half and following Hal Higdons advanced training plan, but might have to change it up depending on how exhausted i get after crossfit. How often do you include crossfit in your running routine?