How I Used CrossFit to Become a Better Runner
Greatist Journeys explore amazing stories from extraordinary people. This post is by guest contributor Jess Allen, an Omaha, NE, trainer and author of the fitness blog Blonde Ponytail. She stays active through running, CrossFit, teaching fitness classes, and taking daily walks with her golden retriever, Cooper. The views and opinions expressed herein are hers.
When I share with other runners that I’m actively participating in CrossFit, I get bewildered, almost concerned, stares. “Those workouts look crazy; like you’re going to die. You like that?”
Well, not dying. But, yes, I love testing my limits and being humbled (or flattened) by a new and growing sport. Simply put, CrossFit is a workout methodology using "Constantly varied, functional movements executed at high intensity." That sounds manageable, right? As a former collegiate athlete, I appreciate the desire to get better every day, seek new challenges, and be a part of team, something running couldn’t offer me entirely, even though I adore it.
But do you really have to choose between CrossFit and running?
Let’s back up a bit. A little over a year ago I labelled myself as a runner. My very first race was a full marathon, but I caught the racing bug and kept training. However, the beginning of plantar fasciitis reared its ugly head and I had to limit running. But, I still wanted — needed — to be active.
I began CrossFit on my own, modifying the prescribed WOD (Workout of the Day) using the equipment I had available. At first, I questioned whether I could get an effective workout in just 20 minutes when I would normally run more than 90 minutes at a time. However, during those 20 minutes, I was pushing myself outside my comfort zone, well outside. I was uncomfortable. Challenged.
Once I joined a CrossFit box (the local gym where workouts take place), I saw a higher level of intensity and experienced instruction. While the experience varies between boxes, for me, skilled coaches broke down movements from power lifts to pull-ups. They offered scalable modifications for a new participant like me to perform safely.
With CrossFit, new movements or intervals brought on a novel sort of discomfort. Strangely, I was hooked. I craved that uncomfortable state that tested my tolerance and limits. My body never adapted to a WOD like it had to 10 miles on the road at a steady pace. CrossFit never got easier because I had to continually push harder.
And I was seeing physical changes: more muscle definition, strength, improved flexibility. But I still loved running. There’s something peaceful about hitting autopilot for an early morning run on the open road. So I made a decision to do both.
I believe CrossFit compliments my running performance. Some of the most fundamental movements in CrossFit — like squats, kettlebell swings, pull-ups, and push-ups — are among my favorite exercises to improve running performance. And, I’m not alone in my quest to combine both CrossFit and running into one active lifestyle. CrossFit Endurance is a strength and conditioning program dedicated specifically for endurance athletes. While I don’t follow its training plan exactly, I think there is a lot to be said for their model of reducing running volume while increasing intensity — and becoming a stronger athlete and better runner in the process. For example, many CrossFit workouts incorporate sprints in addition to other movements, kind of like speed days within a 5k, 10k, or half marathon training cycle.
Here are a couple of examples from my own CrossFit box:
20 Minute AMRAP ("As Many Rounds As Possible" in 20 minutes)
- 10 dead lifts
- 10 pull-ups
- 800m run
WOD for time (meaning as fast as your tired body allows!)
- 10 power cleans
- 400m run
- 7 power cleans
- 400m run
- 5 power cleans
- 400m run
- 3 power cleans
- 400m run
Even before I had access to a CrossFit box, I created my own workouts that combined both running and strength training and could be performed anywhere. Below are two of my favorites:
5 Rounds for Time
- 200m sprint
- 15 burpees
- 15 plank jacks
- 15 hand release push-ups
- 15 overhead squats
6 Rounds for Time
- 800m run
- 10 push-ups
- 20 squats
- 30 full sit-ups
During WODs, I learned to run on tired legs, which is exactly what happens towards the end of a race, especially a hilly one! Most recently, I was able to cut 4 minutes off my 10k personal best time. I have this combination of training methodologies to thank.
My body is stronger overall and I have avoided injury since incorporating CrossFit. Running brings me joy on the open road and during a race, but CrossFit delivers variable, high intensity workouts that will always keep the athlete in me coming back for more.
Do you have thoughts on combining CrossFit with other training methodologies? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author @blondeponytail.
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I completely agree Jess! I've been running competitively for over 15 years, and since starting crossfit over a year and a half ago I've been able to run less when training for half marathons and still preform well at races. A lot of my running friends think it's crazy that I do crossfit, and a lot of my crossfit friends can't understand my love of running. I know that I feel stronger in many ways, and I recover much faster. I am curious about marathon training with CrossFit Endurance though. I just can't get behind or understand forgoing the 20 mile training run, that's why I still feel on the fence about CFE for anything over a half marathon. Do you have any sources of women who are sub 3:30 (an eventual goal of mine) and do CFE?
@meggayman thanks for your comment Meg! One of the runners I ran Hood to Coast with uses CFE...she is previously a 2:50 marathoner. Amazing I know. She is starting her series of races the fall with a 10k and finishing with a marathon, so I will keep you posted on the results she sees!
I love this, Jess! It's definitely motivating me to try out some WOD's and see how it helps with my race times. Learning how to run on tired legs is hard to do..I think I'll try one of your running/strength train WODs next week in prep for the RWhalf :) lets go sub 145, yeah?
@lschwech EXACTLY! I would love to go sub 1:45--stronger legs means we are ready for hills...right? I hope so! Would love to hear your feedback on teh running WODs!
thank you for posting this, I am trying to incorporate crossfit with running and i really needed to read this and get me back on full force..
I am glad you are able to combine the two. I tried Crossfit and running but found that I couldn't do both with my schedule for it to be beneficial. I do like incorporating WOD's into my own routine at the gym.
@Leonor It is a challenge and i have had to change my goals to do both, but I really don't want to give up either! ;)
Awesome Jess! #strongrunnergirl
Amen my strong sister!
Was wondering how you overcame the plantar fasciitis. I am a runner an have had to quit running for the past couple of months because of this injury. It's so frustrating because I want to be out running!
@Ktbug7550 Hi there! I took a break from running. The constant pounding continued to aggravate my plantar fascia. Then, I broke down my running technique, slowing down and working on mid foot strike with minimalist shoes. I currently run in a 4 mm heel drop shoe and that seems to help!
Was wondering how you overcame the plantar fasciitis? I'm a runner currently struggling with this injury. Have been resting it for 2 months now. It's so frustrating not being able to run!
I had PF and the best thing I did was buy HTTP heal pads. Look them up at healthatpain.com (I think or google it) plus they are available at Road Runner Sports. Both websites have testimonials and they help most people. I also did strectching and some yoga but the heal pads are what helped me the most. Good luck!
I started working out with something similar to the CrossFit , this past year at the age of 59. I ran 2 5ks and finished 2nd in both, I am also sidetracked with plantar fasciitis, Grrrrrr! Hopefully I will be able to get back in the groove soon! Since I have not been to the gym in a couple of months, I haven't had as much energy as when I was exercising.
Sorry! I forgot to add that I finished 2nd in my AGE group!