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Running for CrossFit and for life


Running for CrossFit and for life

As I mentioned in a previous post, the running distances we train more than anything else in CrossFit
are anything under a mile. I will now put on my former-track-runner hat to discuss this.

Despite my background and continuing dabbling in competitive running,
I stopped identifying as a “runner” some time ago.
I am a CrossFitter and damn proud of it, and though I admit I’m biased by this,
being opinionated doesn’t make me any less right.
If your only goal is to improve at running at the expense of all else that’s entirely your problem.
While you MIGHT derive some useful information from my experience,
your time would be more efficiently spent elsewhere on the internet.
Also, your priorities are objectively wrong, but that’s a different rant entirely.

Let’s establish some basic logical premises in accordance with CrossFit’s empirical model:
All else held constant, a person that can run faster at a given distance is fitter.
Therefore, if the goal is to get fitter, one should seek to get faster.
Yes, I know it seems like common sense, but tell that to all the people who only pound the pavement
with slow easy jogs and call it a “workout.”
(Don’t feel bad, I used to do that too before I knew better. Remember, I ran cross-country for 6 years.)
Sadly, common sense ain’t so common.
I will say this: Long slow distance on flat ground is a goddamn waste of time.
If you’re going to run far, do it over varied terrain.

There are two important considerations when choosing distances to use in your training.
First you have real-life utility (more = good), which is inversely related to distance as I’ll explain later.
Second there’s what energy system you’re using, which is tied to distance as well.

Moving along, I break down distances a human might run into four categories:

1. All-out sprints (< 300m). Commonly encountered in this group are the 40-yard dash from the NFL Combine, along with the 100- and 200-meter events.
These are mind-bogglingly useful, but the only downside (apart from injury risk for unqualified trainees)
is they can be difficult to precisely measure.
I just hold a stopwatch and time myself. It’s not perfect, but it works.
This is a great way to train the anaerobic energy systems (short burst and long burst).

2. Middle-distance (300-1000m). This includes the 400- and 800-meter events.
We are oh so fond of these for a very simple reason:
The 400 is mostly anaerobic while the 800 feels about 50-50, and between these two—
by manipulating rest intervals—we can do a fantastic job of training either anaerobically or aerobically.

3. Long-distance (1km-10km). The most common long-distance events are the 1600m (1 mile), 5k, and 10k.
These are occasionally useful for their effects on muscular endurance and stamina,
but if you’re doing them more than once a week you’re not doing yourself any favors.
I prefer to do longer runs on off-road trails; I’ve found this to be an extraordinarily effective way
to become a better runner all-around without a whole lot of time input.
Long-distance runs are tremendously effective at building aerobic capacity,
especially if you have a lot of muscle on your frame (which you should).

4. Stupidly-long-distance (> 10km). This is also known as long-slow-distance or LSD.
Don’t do this crap unless you absolutely have to.
Legend has it that the first guy to run a marathon, Pheidippides, keeled over and died at the end.
He hasn’t been the last to do so. Take heed.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about real-life application.
Outside of competition, I can’t recall ever having to run farther than a half mile without stopping—
generally either to catch a ride on some form of public transit (planes, trains, buses) or in a foot chase—
and I know for damn sure that I’ve never been forced to run more than a mile straight.
The shorter the distance, the more likely you are to have to use it.
Additionally, to run faster at a given event you have to train at a higher speed and a shorter distance.
For some basic examples, see the table below.

If you want to run a faster… You should do…
100-meter Repeats of 100 meters or less
400-meter Repeats of 400 meters or less
800- or 1600-meter 400 meter repeats
5- or 10-km 400-, 800-, and 1600-meter repeats
Marathon A serious reevaluation of your life

[I’m kidding, sort of.]

Now why in hell would you want to run any farther in training than you might feasibly have to run in real life?
Well, CrossFit is designed to prepare you for the unknown and the unknowable.
For whatever reason you just might have to run several miles as hard as you can without stopping,
and if that happens (1) you’re clearly having a bad day and (2) you’d damn better be able to do it.
Think of a soldier behind enemy lines fleeing capture—he might have to run for miles
while loaded down with a substantial amount of gear.
Stands to reason that lots of military guys love CrossFit, and the “hero” WODs named
for our fallen soldiers tend to be long, heavy, and brutal.

Why do I seem to have such a vendetta against LSD running?
I’ll let Rippetoe say it: “The only time LSD is necessary is if you’re going to compete in a sport that requires it.
It is far inferior to CrossFit-type met-con for producing an increase in VO2 max,
it interferes with power and strength production, it can be quite catabolic and immune-suppressive in high doses,
it destroys muscle mass, and the people that do it usually wear silly clothes.”
Now to be fair, Rip does not have the build of a man who enjoys running, but he has a point.

A final word on the aesthetics of runners.
Do a Google image search on Haile Gebrselassie, the Ethiopian marathoner and current world-record holder,
and Tyson Gay, one of America’s top sprinters.
Fellas, look at these two and think about which one you’d rather look like from the neck down
(and ladies, do a search for “female sprinter” versus “female marathoner”).
I’m guessing if you’re still on this website you’d pick the one who could break the other in half.

[Afterword: This is not to mean any disrespect to marathoners as a group.
I do still enjoy running, after all.
But my priority is maximizing fitness across the board, and spending all your time
getting really good at only one thing runs directly counter to that.
Also, extreme-endurance athletes are statistically no healthier than sedentary folks,
so maybe that’s a sign that you should reevaluate things a bit.]

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