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Perspective: CFD Endurance Athlete Erin McGee on Crossfit based Endurance training

March 25, 2013
By Erin McGee
Taking advantage of the fervor at CFD these days thanks to recent Paleo success stories and the Crossfit Open–not to mention the awesome vibe in a place where overachievers gather to reach their goals, I want to remind you that spring is near, and CFD’s Endurance program is about to fire up once again. Take a minute if you will, ‘cuz I’m about to tell you how every person at CFD is primed to be an Endurance athlete, whether you like it or not. 
First, the backstory:  I came across a podcast recently featuring Ultradistance Triathlete, Rich Roll, and Brian Mackenzie, who is commonly described as “the controversial founder of Crossfit Endurance,” and who I will refer to as B.Mack. Rich and B.Mack are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what it takes to prepare for an endurance event whether it be a marathon, ultramarathon, or a triathlon. Rich is a long, slow distance guy and, B.Mack, well, he’s the founder of Crossfit Endurance. It was B.Mack’s kind of training that helped Kelly Starrett run a marathon while never running farther than 5 kilometers in preparation for it. And now I’m thinking you’re interested . . .
Anyway, listening to B.Mack reminded me of one the key elements of Crossfit Endurance:  in order to do any serious training, you need “good suspension.” And how can one acquire good suspension, you ask? You get it through mobility and strength training, and by “strength training” I mean building strength through functional movements like the squat, deadlift, snatch, clean, etc. Runners, welcome to Olympic lifting class. Olympic lifting junkies, you’ve got something what we want! 
Running far isn’t about lung capacity, it’s about form and efficiency. Six marathons later, I can tell you this–I don’t need Michael Phelps’s lungs to run 26.2 miles; what I need is a strong back to keep my chest up and my shoulders back for 4 hours. I need the core strength that we get from full body exercises like the snatch and the overhead squat to keep my midsection engaged for 4 hours. I need all of the Oly exercises to give me the strength to maintain the running technique that will carry me forward. I’ve never failed because I’m out of breath. Failure begins when form falls apart. 
Olympic lifters, be advised, you can be great runners by combining the suspension system you’ve built with some running technique. There’s this notion that you must choose between Endurance and Oly. This is false, just ask Coach Mark: “The two goals, strength and endurance, are not at odds with one another–they support each other wonderfully.” Like strength, speed and endurance are developed over time and with practice. In the same way that we drill snatch or clean technique, running technique can be drilled and improved, little by little–and it’s just as rewarding to run 400m with rhythm as it is to finally feel the barbell fly weightless into the air and be caught a mere fraction of a second later an arm’s length overhead. Pure joy.
I’m guessing there are Oly fanatics that have no interest in running more than a 5k, but you should know that the better you perform in Oly class, and the more time you’ve invested in that type of training, the better your chances of being a good runner–assuming that you run efficiently. This year, I’m looking for the sweet spot–the place where I’m strong enough to maintain good running technique throughout a 4-8 hour running event while at the same time feeling light on my feet. This spring, I vote we focus on creating “hybrids”–athletes who balance both strength and endurance, athletes who know the lakefront path as well as they know the “high hang” position.
For now, I’d encourage you to check out the Crossfit Endurance website (B.Mack’s site) which has tons of running drills. For practice at home, I’m a big fan of the metronome. Download the free Backbeat App to your smart phone. Set the tempo to 150-180. It’s such a great way to remove thinking from the running technique equation:  run in place while watching TV, you’ll have no choice but to adopt a more efficient gait in order to keep up with the metronome cadence. Looking forward to seeing you all out on the lakefront!
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