CrossFit For The Endurance Athlete


Now that the temperatures are getting warmer and the days longer, a lot of people will begin to migrate from the indoors to the outdoors, particularly those who build their fitness regimens around long runs or bike rides. Among these endurance athletes are those who feel the additional rush to get out and hit pavement because they are training for a 10k, a marathon, or the like. For these individuals who have the label of “runners”, it might make sense for them to stick to an endurance-training regimen because they have to improve their fitness level to be ready to compete or just to feel like they’re getting the most out of their recreational runs. Under this line of thinking, improving their fitness means improving their endurance; and improving their endurance means training themselves to be able to run longer; and the way to get better at running longer is to run a lot and push yourself as far as you can go. CrossFit combines two words, cross and fit(ness). CrossFit is designed to train individuals across different facets of fitness. Endurance athletes can be seen as a rare breed of athlete because their sport is deemed to stay in a singular facet of fitness, endurance. Other facets, such as strength and power for example, could be deemed harmful to their productivity. However, cross training into other facets of fitness should be seen as supplementing a particular focus (in this case endurance). By incorporating CrossFit and higher intensity training into their regimen, an endurance athlete can gain strength, improve body mechanics, and develop a higher threshold of stamina and at the same time not sacrifice their competitiveness as an endurance athlete.

CrossFit for Strength and Conditioning

Craig McDonald is a 44-year old endurance athlete (competing for 15 years who participates in at least one ultra event in once a year) and co-owner of Always Forward CrossFit in Granville, Ohio. Craig got into CrossFit eight years ago after the urging of a friend and has since used it as an important part of his strength and conditioning training.

“CrossFit provides an excellent base that I temper with some sport-specific training depending on the season/goal/training focus.”

So for more than half of Craig’s competitive career he has used CrossFit to supplement his training. The base that Craig references is an important factor to consider because CrossFit is designed to incorporate higher intensity workouts coupled with interval training to improve a person’s physical work capacity (or how much can you do in a certain amount of time).

CrossFit for Strength, Stamina, and Mobility

Deb Boiarsky Runner

Deborah Boiarsky, a proud member of CrossFit Clintonville, is a great example of how building a base of strength, stamina, and increased mobility can crossover for endurance athletes. Deborah, a 41 year old attorney and former collegiate soccer player, joined CrossFit Clintonville less than two years ago after already being a regular competitor in mid-endurance events (5/10/15 Ks) and half-marathons.

“When I started CrossFit generally, I wanted to improve my fitness and get stronger and leaner…I wanted to build and maintain a solid overall fitness foundation so that I could remain active and prevent future injuries.”

Deborah’s experience after starting CrossFit should give other endurance athletes encouragement to be open minded about the benefits it can offer them.

When I started CrossFit in general, I did notice changes in not only my performance, but also in my recovery …I would notice that my endurance in short to medium distance runs was improving, as were my times.  Just as important, I noticed less discomfort in recovery from runs.  In particular, when I ran prior to starting CrossFit, I would have lingering soreness in the knee on which I had multiple surgeries within the last 4 years. After starting CrossFit and noticing not only strength but stability gains in my core and legs, that knee soreness dissipated to the point that I would not think about it or feel it after long runs.”

Deb Boiarsky Marine Corp MarathonThis past fall Deborah ran her first full marathon in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. Deborah continued to supplement her endurance training with CrossFit, under proper supervision with our staff to make sure she was properly balancing the CrossFit workouts with her marathon training.

“I sat down with Patrick [Woods, co-founder and coach at CrossFit Clintonville] and came up with a training plan that would prepare me for a marathon and allow me to keep doing CrossFit workouts 1-2x per week.  His experience as a collegiate and competitive decathlete and as a CrossFit trainer was invaluable.”

Throughout the first half of her marathon training, Deborah was training with CrossFit 2 times per week and running 4 times a week with 1 day of rest. Mid-way, Deborah substituted one CrossFit workout for an additional day of rest as the mileage of her runs increased. Looking back on it, Deborah gives credit to supplementing her long runs with cross training for her progression.

“Then, when I started marathon training and began increasing weekly mileage, my knee - which was my biggest concern entering training - was a non-issue.  I attribute that in large part to the strength developed through CrossFit.  As my training progressed, I noticed better endurance and better paces in my runs, and, importantly, I didn't notice any drop-off in my CrossFit workouts.”

An endurance athlete doesn’t need to feel they need to abandon entirely their preferred modes of training and exercise, but they also shouldn’t feel that they should be prisoners to one method of training and not supplement it with cross training into other facets, as Deborah proved.

CrossFit Offering Relief From Long Runs

Taking a break from the road also provides endurance athletes with just that- a break. It can be physically and mentally draining running dozens of miles at a pop. Jason Tomlinson is a 40-year-old CrossFit coach who has been competing in ultra marathons for nearly four years. For Jason, his CrossFit workouts offer him a relief from long, grueling runs.

“I always feel refreshed when doing a CrossFit workout while I am training for an ultra. It always meant my training day was gonna be short and sweet. You see when you train for an ultra your typical training runs could be anywhere from 10-50 miles. Throwing the short and intense in there is a good distraction.”

An endurance athlete can still be put through the paces in a considerably shorter amount of time by supplementing their training with CrossFit, allowing flexibility in their schedule and avoiding burnout. Physical recover can also be a beneficial aspect for an endurance athlete considering incorporating cross training into their regimen. According to Deborah, during her experience training for her marathon

“Going into marathon training, I had been worried that I would be too tired to do CrossFit workouts, and that I might be too sore or tired from a CrossFit workout to complete a tempo training run or long run.  Quite the opposite was true.  Runs turned out to be a recovery tool for muscle soreness and CrossFit workouts became a true cross-training tool after and between runs.”

Craig’s experience with training with CrossFit while training for endurance events is very similar:

“The most profound changes were in recovery (faster) and base performance without specific training (higher in all sports).”

There’s no doubt that CrossFit is rigorous, but it can serve as an ideal complementary tool for endurance athletes looking to rejuvenate their mental and physical approach to training.

An endurance athlete should not feel as though they are now forced to immediately get involved in CrossFit training; that is their own personal decision. What we hope they feel is comfortable knowing that by using CrossFit as a supplemental tool, that they aren’t giving up the conditioning they’ve worked hard to develop but instead building up other facets of their fitness that can greatly aid them in their main endeavor. Everyone reaches a plateau in their training, regardless of sport, and sometimes needs to look for ways that can reinvigorate it. What CrossFit can offer endurance athletes is an outlet that will certainly condition themselves to thrive during their competitions as well as strengthen them in areas that don’t get a lot of focus by solely running or during other prolonged activities.

If you are interested in participating in a 5k with CrossFit Clintonville - Stay tuned for information on the Susan G. Komen 5k!