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How I Used CrossFit to Become a Better Runner

GUEST POST: Trainer Jess Allen talks about using CrossFit to improve her running performance, and how readers can apply the same lessons to their training.
How I Used CrossFit to Become a Better Runner
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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.

Enter CrossFit.

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

Final Takeaway
 

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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