Choosing the CrossFit Endurance Ultra Training Plan

Slack for iOS Upload-14It all started one fateful day last December. I was watching a rerun of the CrossFit Games and told the Saltines, mostly in jest, that I was going to try CrossFit. As usual, there were many jokes, but they were supportive in spite of seeming unsure if I was serious or not.

As I pursued my CrossFit dreams, my real-life running friends had some things to say:

“I hate CrossFit because my old running friends can never run with me – they are always rehabbing a CrossFit injury.”

“CrossFit is unsafe.”

“CrossFit is like a cult.”

This was, quite frankly, a little rich coming from ultrarunners who I’m pretty sure have been accused of similar or worse themselves.

This also explains my intrigue.

Aside from cults, which I am wholeheartedly against, I routinely do things that other people say are unsafe and sure to lead to injuries. I have, despite others’ assertions, remained injury-free (knock on wood, please don’t jinx me) and safe since I started training for ultras. That’s over three years of running (or hiking, whatever) up and down mountains and consistently running over 100 miles per week for almost a year. Therefore, logically, it was clear that CrossFit would be perfectly safe for me to try. In fact, the potential obstacles made it more alluring. But I didn’t want to give up my running goals. Enter the CrossFit Endurance training plan, which uses the principles of CrossFit to improve your running performance. Perfect! I had to try it. But should you?

Why CrossFit

Before I get to the nuts and bolts of why the CrossFit Endurance training plan might be a viable alternative to the traditional training plans, I should give a brief review of how I went from a CrossFit skeptic to a CrossFit believer. Initially, I found every book published and read them all, except any book that was less than $5 on Kindle because I am suspicious of books like that. Additionally I watched re-runs of past CrossFit Games. And something happened. If reading and watching were buying the Kool-Aid, I now really wanted to drink it too. Despite all of the warnings about CrossFit and, frankly, my own comments made several times over the past three years, I really liked what I was seeing and reading.

First, and foremost, I loved what I saw about women in CrossFit. Aside from the completely inappropriate and offensive practice of naming workouts after women, the women actually competing in the CrossFit Games are strong, powerful, awesome women. As someone who has struggled with feeling like I needed to be stick-thin, emaciated, and bony, seeing what these women could do helped me to think about my body and my view of an ideal body in a different way. As I watched and read, I found my view of my own body changing. When I felt my thighs touch, I wasn’t repulsed. I felt empowered because maybe this meant my squats and lunges were paying off. I stopped wanting to be tiny and started wanting to be strong. This is a big deal.

From there, I finally worked up the courage to try a CrossFit workout, which was admittedly something better done with parental supervision, but I was too excited to wait. I started with the workout where one does 100 squats while throwing a medicine ball up to bounce it off of a wall. I had to use the lightest medicine ball, of course, and the workout was really hard, but it didn’t kill me and I could still walk the next day. A few days later, again without parental supervision, I tried Murph. Heavily modified, as I can’t do a pull-up and there wasn’t a pull-up bar in my hotel gym anyway to embarrass myself on, this workout was so hard that I wanted to quit almost from the first pushup. But I didn’t because I didn’t want to be the runner who couldn’t finish the running-centric workout. It took me forever to complete, but I felt so amazing when I was done. It was incredible. And I was hooked.

What is the CrossFit Endurance Training Plan?

But what does this have to do with a CrossFit Endurance training plan? The CrossFit Endurance training plan is a performance-focused training plan for runners that mixes CrossFit, high interval training, and the Pose method of running form. Like the original CrossFit training plans, the workouts for the CrossFit Endurance training plan are posted each day here, not written down in rows on a spreadsheet like traditional running plans. According to the man behind the plan, Brian McKenzie, if you swap out a large portion of your mileage for CrossFit and HIIT workouts:

you will become faster, stronger, and more powerful training half the time you typically would for an endurance race. We can make and keep you healthy in a sustainable way.  You will decrease your training time while increasing the effectiveness of your training. It is our contention that limiting an endurance athlete’s exposure to constant LSD [long slow distance] training and emphasizing skill, power and speed will not only allow them to stay stronger and healthier, but also allow that same athlete to stay competitive while enjoying training for an endurance event in half the time.  

Sounds pretty good!

What Are the Benefits of the CrossFit Endurance Training Plan?

Great for the oft-injured runner: less wear and tear.

Since I am a self-proclaimed rarely injured runner, why would I and maybe you be interested in this? Here’s the deal: last year, I was so sick that I had to be hospitalized and they still don’t know what’s going on. Whatever was going on, the result is that my body won’t support the high mileage training I was doing anymore, but I don’t want to give up my ultra dreams. I love ultras and I love ultrarunners. The CrossFit Endurance method keeps my training hours manageable by replacing it with high-intensity intervals and strength training. If you don’t have the time or a body that can handle lots of running miles, CrossFit might be a viable alternative for you too.

Bored no more! Mix it up! 

Second, if I’m being honest, training had really started to get boring. I don’t know how I used to spend so many hours on a treadmill, but those days are gone. My weekend trail long runs were amazing, but they happened only once a week and I really hated the monotony of training. I’d be fine at the beginning of a training plan, but then I start to get bored and want to experiment with other sports and do different things, like triathlons. Traditional training plans don’t exactly work for me because I get bored and end up not following them.

CrossFit Endurance helps me with this for a few reasons: for one, I never know what to expect when I show up for my CrossFit workout and the CrossFIt Endurance website posts the running workouts every day or week, depending on the workout.  Because of that, I have no idea what is coming … and I love it. I like the variety, the surprise, and the complete lack of monotony. Plus, it’s fun to know that people everywhere are doing the exact same workouts as I am. Training solidarity!

imageGet strong

Finally, I’m choosing CrossFit Endurance for the reasons that I liked CrossFit in the first place. I want to be strong, not tiny. And frankly, if that was the only reason I had? It’d be enough.

Caveats

The CrossFit Endurance plan is not without controversy. Most important, CrossFit, in general, should begin at a CrossFit gym with a good staff that will train you in the appropriate ways to train without injury. I’ve since joined a CrossFit gym where they kick my butt four to five days a week without mercy and they teach me the correct form for each workout. Anything new, especially when weights are involved, requires careful attention to form. And you have to start slow. I’m treating this season as a rebuilding year, which I’m willing to do if it means I can run that much longer in the future. But it’s worth it for me to keep running.

What do you think about CrossFit? CrossFit Endurance? Have you ever given them a try? If not, are you tempted now?

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021 to raise money for Girls on the Run. Next challenge: Pinhoti FKT. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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8 comments

  1. Thanks so much for this post! CrossFitter/Runner here also, and my running has improved a ton from me adding in those workouts. My RHR is lower than ever, and all my training paces are faster. It has been weird to bring up my “crosstraining” to my runner friends because I’m afraid they will think all the things you brought up in your article: “She’s drank the koolaid”, or worse..”She’s not one of us anymore”. But I’ve seen too much progress to let that get to me and I’m having too much fun with it. Keep it up! I’m sure you will cross those ultra finish lines feeling much stronger than most.

    1. I’m so glad to find a fellow crossfitter! I’m glad it has helped you too. I think, for me, one thing I really appreciate is feeling like I am more fit overall, not just as a runner.

  2. One of my best friends and running teammates from college got into Cross Fit a few years ago, and loves it so much she opened her own gym. She is in awesome shape and looks amazing, and still runs even though it’s not her main form of exercise. While I’ve never tried it, and do think that people become a little obsessed, ultimately, if you find a workout for you that is exciting and motivating, then it definitely makes sense to go for it!

    1. I think that’s why I am doing it (and want others to as well). This made me excited about running and training again (and helped me feel good about my body). That’s a huge win for me!

  3. Hmm. I’m skeptical, certainly, of any plan I can’t read all the way through. I don’t like that they post this stuff online day of. I need the security of knowing ahead of time so I can swap things around if I need to. That said, I think it’s cool to introduce a lot more strength training into your routine. I’m not sure I’d want to indulge in the CrossFit culture, but it’s great that it gets you moving in more ways than just running.

    Still… half the time? Come on. That sounds like quackery.

    1. I totally understand what you are saying – but, that’s the appeal for me. I love that I schedule Tuesday thru Thursday for CrossFit endurance workouts and don’t know exactly what they are going to be until that week. It makes it just interesting enough (and each workout is wicked hard) that I stay engaged. It totally works for me right now. That being said, it probably wouldn’t work for many, especially those used to the traditional ways of training. Remember, too, that the other CrossFit works have cardio, it’s just not running cardio. So fitness is still, ostensible, improving, and the time is replaced by intensity. But I get you. I get you.

    1. Absolutely! And actually, my training plans for the past few weeks have been using the plan. Basically, I do the three key crossfit works during the week, usually on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Friday is off (although I usually cross train in the fat burn zone for stress relief). Saturday, I do a long run in fat burn zone. Sunday and Monday, I can do whatever running I want as long as it’s in fat burn zone. I do CrossFit three to four days a week in the afternoon.

      So, for example, since I’m traveling this weekend, I did my CrossFit endurance workouts Monday-Wednesday. Today is a rest day. Tomorrow I’ll do a 16 mile run and Sunday and Monday, I’ll run however much I want to as long as I stay in fat burning HR zone. I did CrossFit Sunday-Tuesday and will fit another one or two sessions in this weekend.