By CrossFit DC member Anna M.
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Last fall (2015) I signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon and a multi-leg relay running race. I simultaneously decided to all but stop running.
A Little Background
I have been running and swimming competitively since I was 12. The years between my first track meet in 1989 and now, featured countless triathlons and running events of all distances.
More recent years, however, have also involved giving birth to three children, raising them, and keeping a personal training business afloat.
While racing, particularly triathlons, gradually went by the wayside as I entered motherhood, I think I
have done a good job maintaining my overall fitness, and even squeezed in a few half marathon’s while pregnant (you know, just for fun). The prospect of training for a race, even an Ironman, has never seemed daunting. That is, until last Fall.
In a rush of caffeine-induced spontaneity I signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon,
and around the same time, in a rush of wine-induced spontaneity, I agreed to be part of
a Ragnar relay team (run 200+ miles in rotation with 11 others? Sure!). As these events
began to loom on the horizon unfamiliar feelings of dread creeped in. I needed to start
training. But follow yet another 4-5 day per week running plan? Um, no thank you.
Around the same time all this race registration insanity occurred, I had also begun dabbling in the world of CrossFit.
Many of you reading this will know exactly what CrossFit entails, but for the few of you who might not know, the simplest way I can think to describe it is high-intensity interval training combined with strength training. In other words, pretty much the exact opposite of a traditional marathon training program that emphasizes plodding along at a manageable pace for prescribed distances.
The thing is, I was really enjoying my CrossFit experience and didn’t want to give up those sessions. I was motivated by learning new movements and downright impressed with the progress I was seeing in such a short amount of time. And, I liked the people. I had found a new community.
A little bird *Ahem, Chris Sheppard* put an idea in my head: use CrossFit as an add-on training tool for my goal races. His suggestion was to run less and use the CrossFit classes as a supplement (not replacement).
The concept of cross-training wasn’t new to me; as a trainer and longtime triathlete and runner, I know how strength training can up your game in a race setting.
At the same time, I also know that you can’t aim to be competitive in a discipline without actually spending some quality time training in that discipline. But since my goal was to participate in these races, rather than compete, I wasn’t worried about reducing my run mileage as much as I was worried about the intensity of the CrossFit classes.
CrossFit, as I found, is no joke — the classes are often punishing and leave you with muscles so sore you find it difficult to sleep peacefully at night. Since I couldn’t fathom how to find the time (or energy for that matter) to squeeze in runs in addition to a couple of swims, a bike ride AND go to all the CrossFit classes I wanted to, I decided to take it one step further: I eliminated almost all running and set my sights on five to six CrossFit classes per week, two swims and one bike ride.
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IS the answer more #squats ? I'm about to find out. Less than 48 hours before I start my first leg of @ragnarrelay and I've only logged about 50 miles – total – in run training, but many hours doing #hiit + #strengthtraining. #lessrunningmoresquats ? #moxiefitdc #fitnessexperiment #crossfitendurance #crossfit
Bearing in mind that I went into this with somewhat of a running base – as in, I could still quite comfortably run a 10K – I was (am) still shocked at the outcome.
Not only did I record perfectly respectable run times (7:50-10m/m, depending on the difficulty of the
terrain), I wasn’t completely wasted afterward. One of my relay run legs was a super tough 7.9 miler, with ~1100 feet of elevation gain. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed that run, but it wasn’t terrible either. Think about it: 7.9 miles, more than half of which was up a steep, winding hill, and I was able to complete it ahead of many people who started before me.
The other thing that blew me away? The day after we returned from our 36 hours running (and riding around in a van, not sleeping), I felt good. Actually not just good, I felt great. Hardly any soreness. I could have happily run a 10k that day.
If you are training just to be fit, and you like the idea of being able to spontaneously jump into a 10K or even a half marathon, and finish, then using CrossFit or HIIT-style training will absolutely accomplish that goal. I found that the time spent in CrossFit classes training my anaerobic engine, which utilizes fast-twitch muscle fibers, created a base level of fitness that translated to an ability to sustain running for relatively long periods of time, and perhaps most importantly, enable a quick recovery.
It is important to note though that if your goal is to run competitively, then you need to incorporate running in your training, some portion of which should be fast running. CrossFit, or HIIT-style training, can still be used as a supplement to some running, but not as a replacement.
For me, high mileage running has been synonymous with leg injuries – strained muscles, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, to name a few from my past. When I began dabbling in CrossFit, I found that the periods of high-intensity training created a metabolic demand that proved very effective for overall conditioning.
So, as I head into my 40th year (!), what seems to make sense is to continue using CrossFit as the core of my fitness regimen, and if the idea of being competitive again tickles my fancy at some point, I will cut down on the number of CrossFit classes and incorporate sport-specific training as well. And while I still miss the camaraderie of my track, swimming and triathlon teams, I have found in the friendly, team-like atmosphere at CrossFit my new community.
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