A Little Background:
By March of 2015 I had participated in 5-6 half marathons and 4 marathons. However, I couldn't keep up with anyone in my running clubs and I was consistently missing my sub 2 half marathon goal by minutes. I had ran a 2:05, a 2:03, and recently a 2:02. I was beyond frustrated. Everyone kept telling me "you have the fitness to run it, just do it!" But the problem was my body wouldn't let me. Once I got under a 9:15 minute per mile pace, I couldn't breathe. How can I run when I can't breathe?! After starting CrossFit, 3 month later, I placed in my age group running a 1:51 at a local Half Marathon. It was a hotter and harder course but yet, I took off more than 10 minutes off of my overall time. I didn't add more track workouts or sign up for a trainer. CrossFit was the only thing that I had changed in my training. Since then my times keep going down and running faster has become easier and easier. Running Boston and New York were things I used to laugh about. Now I have ran a Boston Qualifying time and placed in my age group in 2 Half Marathons and received 3rd Place Overall Female.
A few years ago I went to try a CrossFit for the first time. I had such a bad experience, I swore it off and quickly formed a negative opinion. That was that. Then a running friend of mine talked about how much they loved their gym. I declined invites to the class over and over but went to a yoga class the gym also taught. After about 3 weeks I finally mustered up the courage and went to my first class of CrossFit. My coaches were amazing. They were extremely patient, slow to instruct, and quick to correct form. After a week I signed up for the unlimited package and was a consistent 3-5 time a week participant.
What is CrossFit?
It's functional, every day movements performed at a high intensity that can be scaled to your fitness level. Every workout can be scaled to meet and challenge the level you are at to create a healthier and better version of yourself. It is for all ages. We have teenagers and retirees at my gym. Yelp CrossFit and I almost guarantee there is at least 1 gym in your town. They're popping up everywhere. I believe between where I live, and the next city over, I have 5-6 available to me. Even though they're all individually own, upon inspection they all look the same. They're housed in an industrial area, have tons of equipment, and they're all extremely intimidating.
What is a usual gym session like?
Most gyms have a prefabricated workout from either an instructor, website, or an outside CrossFit program. Most start with a gym/instructor specific warmup. It initiates some type of body warming effect (running/rowing/jump rope?) followed by light stretching or muscle mobility work.
Afterwards is the Weight/Strength Session. This usually is some type of lift or exercise that helps with form or strength in the workout.
Then last is the workout of the day (WOD). This is usually some type of endurance workout with multiple, multiple ranges and stages. What I LOVE about my gym is that there is a suggested workout for the heavy lifters, then 2 modified versions.There are modifications for every workout for every level.
What makes a good gym?
The first thing that makes a gym one worth going to are the instructor’s knowledge of lift technique and form. Obviously you want those that are certified CrossFit instructors as well as experienced fitness professionals. Most gyms I go to have their certificates on the wall, websites, and office. They can also demonstrate (to a certain level) the workout as well as modifications. Mostly they understand what you're supposed to do and how to do it in an effective and safe manner.
#2 They offer an introductory course/preview week/free day. The one thing that really scared me was the gym I went to first pretty much said "Ok, this is what we're doing...here is your weight...go" I couldn't bend over for 3 days. The gyms that seem the most inviting offer beginning classes or what my gym calls an "elements class" or even a boot camp. They teach the warmups that are standards, form for multiple lifts, and instruction on other elements performed in the class as well.
#3 The instructors are involved in the workout. This doesn't necessarily mean they do the work out their-selves but they are watching the members during the workout. They call out form cues, give motivation, and help with modifications and explanations to the workout.
Some others that are icing on the cake are:
Availability (multiple classes available for an nonpattern like work schedule)
Alternating workouts (legs On Monday, arms on Tuesday, cardio on Wednesday etc etc)
Extra classes (Yoga, lift technique classes, contest, Holiday get together etc )
ALSO, not all gyms that are good have these and vice versa. To me, finding a good gym is like finding a shoe. You go in knowing what you think you like, you try it on, and if it fits, you stick with it. If not, try another. Most gyms offer their first class for free and are more than happy to assist with anything regarding scheduling, fitness levels, and/or payment methods.
And Now. For the Scare factor...."CrossFit is scary and is only for serious weight lifters"
At least I thought so......
"I pick things up and put them DOWN"
A lot of people I know think CrossFit is scary or is for serious weight lifters only. One of the things I've loved about my two gyms is there are all sorts of people working out beside me. I've been in a class where the majority of the participants were in the senior citizen category. One lady did the same pull up strength as me every class. She put me to shame and I admire her greatly. CrossFit is for all types that are wanting a fitness change in their life.
How will CrossFit Impact my running?
3 major ways: Strength, Endurance, and Lung Capacity,
So let’s say you’re running a half marathon (or marathon). You get about 4-5 miles from the finish and your legs just start giving out. They’re just sore and tired and you can’t make them take another step. What did you do to train? “Well I ran.” Exactly. When you train your muscles over and over in the same direction they’re not going to be challenged. They won’t break down and they won’t regrow. That soreness you feel after a hard workout is the breaking down of your muscle fibers. When you give them ample time to recover our body’s mend them together much stronger. You’ve challenged them in a new way to exceed the expectations you’re going to give them later on down the road in that long run (of course with the partnered running plan as well). You’ll work your back muscles and core that gives you a more upright form that enables you to have proper breathing, as well as stronger arms you pump to pull you up those hills.
Some workouts are what we call an AMRAP. This means As Many Reps As Possible. It usually also coincides with a time given. Meaning, guess what? If you have a Workout that has AMARAP Pushups for 7 minutes, you’re doing Pushups for 7 minutes. This may have you walking out of the gym before I even explained what it is. But guess what? What If I told you you can go as slow as you want AND use a band under your waist to help get you off the floor? BAM then anyone can do pushups for 7 minutes. You may only get 10 in but you can say I did it. This how CrossFit really opens up your endurance threshold. You work at a level you can safely achieve for that amount of time. Within the last minute of any workout you’re exhausted, you’re tired, but you know you only have 1 more minute. You can do ANYTHING for a minute, especially with a coach clapping and cheering you on. This is CrossFit. It gets you out of your comfort zone and into a zone you rarely push yourself too. As runners we can relate to it as your Anabolic Threshold aka. Red zone. The area where you’re at your max and you are running on fumes. Guess what? Just like a muscle, that too, with proper training and body awareness, can become stronger. When you’re running, when you have that last mile to go, you’re done, you’re spent, guess what, it’s just (*insert your minute per mile pace*) it’s just 10 more minutes for that last mile. You can run for 10 more minutes.
The threshold change also applies to your lung capacity. CrossFit changed my lung capacity all together. There have been many WOD’s where there was a 400-800m sprint then as soon as you entered the gym you had to go right to the next event whether it was weightlifting or a body strength element. Having the strength in the legs, and the endurance to start pushing farther, I was able to start running faster and breathing became easier. Constantly challenging my cardiovascular system made my lungs stronger. Before CrossFit, without even looking at my watch, I knew when I was running an 8:30 minute per mile pace because my breathing became more labored. After more than a year of CrossFit, an 8:30 pace is now my easy long distance pace. Your lungs are also like a muscle. When trained and worked, they too can become stronger.
Ok, I’m interested, but, how do I add CrossFit to my running program to make it effective?
As an endurance runner/triathlete you have to treat CrossFit as Cross training. It’s easy to get addicted into the hype but you must remember what is most important? Staying injury free. When I’m training for a long distance race I always use the same training format with the running along with my CrossFit. You build, build, and then taper.
So let’s say I have a marathon 2 months out, my running training plan is as follows:
- Sunday/Saturday (depending on my schedule) Long Runs
- 2-3 days a week alternating 5-6 miles (Treadmill or Outside Pace Runs)
- 1 semi long run (8-10 miles)
For CrossFit I follow a similar format:
- 1 day a week doing strictly weight lifting (3 , 3x5 70% max weight sets 2 lower body, 1 upper body, to retain muscle) This usually gets dropped the closer I get to higher mileage weeks.
- 2-3 days a week WOD (Workout of the Day) going for possible max weight prescribed with each weight.
- Thursday/Friday = Taper day, all-out effort/ less weight
Then 3 weeks out, you ideal taper time, I start tapering with CrossFit. This is either the weekend of your long run or you just finished your last long run. Your legs are going to be sore and you will need time to recover. I usually start dropping a class or go as frequently and start scaling back on weight.
2 weeks before the race I usually only go twice.
The week before a race, Tuesday is usually my last day. If I skipped Monday, I’ll go Tuesday, If I went Monday I’m done. The more rest, the better.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS take a day off if you’re sore, even if it means missing more than 2 days a week.
ALWAYS take the day off after your long run.
I also listen to my body, Sore vs Pain are 2 different things. You are GOING to be sore. CrossFit works different muscle every workout. There will be muscles that will be challenged that you’ve never used before, it’s to be almost expected. However, pain is not. If something feels off, go lighter or modify. There is no shame in modifying. I’ve had problems off and on with my knees. If my knee feels off from a run earlier that week I’ll go lighter on a movement that involves that particular area.
Ok, I’m intrigued, how do I start?
Most gyms have a mandatory introductory class and some have an open gym invitation. You can find out through either a Facebook page, yelp, or website. Feel free to email any of the coaches. They will be more than happy to answer your questions. When it comes to that actual workout this you don’t have to worry about. Most coaches are great about assessing your limitations and strengths and will be able to give you one on one advice and attention. They are great about explaining the flow of the workout as well as showing you modifications to make the workout easier or a bit more challenging. The people are also amazingly friendly. I’ve dropped in on quite a few gyms while traveling. I’ve always be met with welcome arms and very kind people. Don’t’ worry, you’ll soon become attached.
Roll the Credits:
So, I say all this prefacing that you may not get the same results, you may not like CrossFit as much. It just may not be your thing. I was once skeptical but after being persuaded I fell in love with it and my running has changed completely. If you're ready for something different, and you need more than just a regular gym membership, I urge you to give something a try. Maybe Zumba, aqua aerobics, yoga, or maybe even CrossFit.
I did. Everyone has been asking "where did you come from?!" I always smile and say CrossFit.