The Crossfit brand has branched out to include the endurance sports community with Crossfit Endurance (CE). CE preaches a high intensity, low work (mileage) program that incorporates many lifting routines that Crossfit is known for. The focus on dynamic and explosive movement is new in the world of long distance training. This kind of work is more common for sprinters, jumpers, and athletes that need agility and strength to be successful.
I’m skeptical with CE’s training program to improving a person’s race time. I believe there are 3 keys to achieving marathon (and any other long distance) success:
1. Stay injury free.
2. Improve running economy.
3. Mentally prepared for long races.
There is greater chances for injury performing high intensity exercises. As distance runners our bodies need to be conditioned to handle work for the long haul. When we run slower paces, even hike, we work more muscles and move more joints in our bodies (developing new muscle fibers) then when we run fast. Our bodies work more efficiently when we sprint, so the only thing we gain is improved V02max performance (which is a waste of time since we use the bodies aerobic functions when we run long and not the bodies’ anaerobic capacities). As runners we need to focus our training to the energy mechanism that we plan racing in. CE’s inclusion of power lifts and gymnastic movements overwork the body and fatigue muscles to a point where duration and repetition of movements are shortened and injury more likely to happen.
One way to improve running economy is by improving those movements needed to be more efficient. Factors such as body weight, body composition, and biomechanics are all components that contribute to running economy. By lifting weights, a person increases their weight through muscle development – not a good thing when you’re a distance runner. Increased muscle size constricts movement and forces fatigue on joints because of the added weight. (Try running after doing shoulder presses and jump squats. The swollen muscles is what makes you run with higher arm carriage and shortened strides.) Muscles look good in Venice, not in Boston.
The half and full marathon is successfully raced if the person is mentally focused for the duration of the race itself. CE’s focus on high training intensity means a person can only sustain effort (concentration) for short periods. Even tempo runs of 6+ miles won’t help because that person will only be focused for the time needed to complete the task. In this case, time spent running is more important than effort. A buildup of miles is key in helping the person come to terms with the emotions and physical demands of being on their feet for 2.5+ hours.
I like CE’s idea of getting the most of doing less. I know the training plans I developed for Gritty City Track Club emphasizes quality over quantity (in terms of miles), but I developed it without excluding the long miles needed to develop the distance runners body and mental development. Our bodies can’t always operate at a “go all out” effort. Before introducing new stimuli and giving our bodies a chance to benefit from the work performed, we need to rest. Rest is included in the GCTC plan in the form of shortened recovery runs and recovery weeks. I believe high intensity workouts should only comprise a fraction of total miles per week. Emphasis needs to be on distance-over-time.