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As someone who has ran a marathon or two I know firsthand the pain that is training for and finishing 26.2 miles. With that, recently, I have had a few athletes at the gym run a marathon or half marathon so my curiosity too over. Can you train for a marathon solely using CrossFit training as the preparation parameter?
Traditional Model vs. CrossFit GPP
Before I dive into any of this, its important to understand what “traditional” means. This is what most runners model their training program off of which is call the “LSD” model, also known as Long, Slow, Distance training. It revolves primarily around volume. You are preparing to run a marathon by logging in miles at a lower, aerobic based attack (around 70% of your max heart rate). A sample of this is running 4 days a week slowly then adding volume each week, ultimately building to a total weekly mileage of 40+ miles. This emphasizes the development of the “long run” which helps build up to being able to run 20+ miles, unbroken.
Here is a sample:
Tuesday: 6 miles easy
Wednesday: Cross-training, i.e. elliptical training, cycling.
Thursday: 10 miles easy
Saturday: 4 miles easy
Sunday: 20 miles easy
Contrary to this model of just doing volume to gain endurance, CrossFit focuses on three main aspects. Constant variance, functional movements at a high intensity (CVFMHI). The idea is that when structured properly, anaerobic based workouts can be used to develop a significant amount of aerobic capacity while not letting your muscles waste away with high volume, aerobic work.
So instead of building to a 20 mile long run at an easy pace, your long run might top at 13 miles. It would be at a faster “race” pace and the focus would be on improving mechanics, being consistent and intense versus “volume, volume, volume”. This allows you to recover better and less injuries due to overuse from high mileage running.
Mechanics is the key!
For the sake of brevity, Ill keep this plain and simple and won’t go too deep into the weeds of different running techniques. The main takeaway to this is the adoption of a mid-foot landing versus heel strike.
When using the mid-foot landing technique, the joints and muscles act as a natural shock absorber. With the heel strike, all the impact is jarred through your joints and puts additional stress on your body, which creates nagging, crappy injuries. Imagine dropping into a new box and the WOD consists of running and squat cleans. If you were to start cleaning the bar with a rounded back, receiving the bar with elbows down and zero midline stability, any coach worth a shit is going to immediately step in and correct your form so that you don’t hurt myself. If your running form were equally as bad, how many coaches would step in and correct you? Not many.
Yes, running is a movement that comes naturally to humans so it’s kind of assumed that you know how to do it. An air squat also comes naturally to humans too, just watch any two year old squat and you’ll know what I mean, but like running, it gets lost as we age, sit and start buying ultra-cushioned sneakers. Long story short, we should be treating running as a skill just like cleans, squats or kipping pull-ups.
Using Constantly Varied, Functional Movements with High Intensity
Now that we know the differences between traditional and CVFMHI, how do we implement what for the next race? If you have a certain time goal or want to set a new record then there is no getting around the fact that you’ll be doing some race specific training. Yes, high intensity anaerobic training will improve your aerobic capacity to a degree. If your goal is to maintain an 7:00 minute mile, then in addition to high intensity intervals at faster than 7:00 mile you also need to train long runs at that pace.
Volume is essential to prepare your muscles to withstand the pounding of a long distance run. How much should you run in preparation for a race? It’s really up to you and your personal goals. As little as 5 miles is good if you simply want to finish. Race distance, current fitness level and goals will dictate how much you should run. The good news is, if you’re already following a balanced CrossFit programming 4-5 days a week then you only need to supplement with a few additional aerobic capacity specific workouts a week.
Here is a sample:
Monday: CrossFit WOD + Strength
Tuesday: AM: CrossFit WOD, PM: Aerobic Capacity work, with 1:1 rest intervals
Wednesday: CrossFit WOD
Thursday: Rest and Recovery
Friday: CrossFit WOD + Strength
Saturday: Aerobic Capacity work only
Sunday: Rest and Relax
As Greg Glassman said, “The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind.” Volume against intensity is not the subject line here. When it comes to endurance training, I do feel that a lower volume CrossFit program is the best approach for recreational runners and something that all runners can benefit from by incorporating functional movements into their training. If you’re not sure how to correctly implement drills to improve your form I highly recommend talking to one of the coaches or me and we can program accordingly.
You know the inch I’m talking about. The inch between squatting just above or just below parallel. The inch between getting your chin to the pull-up bar or just over it. The inch between slightly bent elbows and a full lock out in your handstand pushup. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whiteboard and “out performing” a friend who’s close to you in ability. Each time you count a rep that doesn’t meet the movement standards Crossfit and your box have established, you’re not only claiming something you didn’t earn, but you’re also cheating yourself out of good movement and improvement.
Now I’m not talking about unintentional slips during the WOD. We ALL need reminders to open our hips all the way at the top of the box jump or stand all the way up in the push jerk before resetting. We ALL lose count mid set and take our best guess at which rep we’re on. Those things happen. When you maintain high intensity long enough, things begin to slip. That’s why we have coaches! But there’s a big difference between that and counting a rep you didn’t quite complete.
There is a reason for the movement standards our box maintains, and everyone is held to that same standard! You should never be ashamed of not being able to hit that Rx button if you did YOUR best and moved correctly through the WOD. Rx gives us a goal to aim for! If you fudge a couple pounds on your barbell or a couple reps in that AMRAP, where is that satisfaction in clicking the Rx button or putting in your time? Not only is it a lie, but it is also robbing you of satisfaction later down the road when you DO lift the Rx weight.
Don’t find the feeling of satisfaction from the whiteboard, but find it in the sense of accomplishment after the WOD and that exhaustion that comes from pushing your body to the next level. Maybe that level isn’t where your best friend is or where the “superstars” at the gym are… Who cares?! Should we always have a goal of where we want to go? YES! Of course! But don’t be so focused on that goal that you forget the critical steps along the way. Embrace each WOD and give it your best shot. The satisfaction in that is enough.
Keep pushing, Habu athletes!! Whether you are at the top of the whiteboard or at the bottom, your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed! Each day, week, and month you are becoming better than the one before, and in that, you should be very proud.
Inspired by “An Open Letter to Cheaters” and general observation in the box.
ME HS Hold
Have you ever found yourself drinking coffee after a hard training session? Do you find yourself having a hard time recovering? We all want to find ways to help us recover, especially in the CrossFit world. Did you know that drinking coffee after a workout can be that mistake that you are making when it comes to recovery?
When you workout, cortisol is released to help mitigate the stresses from that workout. This is all normal during training so don’t fret. One of those negatives from cortisol released is catabolism. All that cortisol released puts your body in a catabolic state. At the same time, the body is producing testosterone, which when measured against cortisol equally, is very important towards your recovery process. Immediately after training, the priority should be to lower those cortisol levels so we can create an optimal testosterone to cortisol ratio, for recovery. This is why a post workout shake is important. Feeding your body properly takes your body out of the catabolic state to an anabolic state. So where does coffee come into play?
Well, coffee creates an opposite effect from that “post workout shake”. It keeps your body in a catabolic state. Remember that coffee is essentially a “pick me up”. When you drink coffee, the adrenals produce cortisol. Also remember, cortisol is a good hormone, a catabolic hormone, but a good one. In times of stress, it is our friend. Cortisol is the hormone that breaks down protein for energy, ideal before a heavy lifting session. Just remember when you drink coffee after training, you are prolonging the catabolic state.