Is CrossFit For Runners?

CrossFit For Runner

Every runner has heard that it’s important to incorporate strength training and core work into their weekly routine, and for good reason. Running is a high-impact, repetitive movement that can be hard on the body. But runners like to run, and a lot of the time runners don’t like much else. Once I fell in love with running, I also fell into the trap of being singularly focused on it. Luckily, a friend talked me into buying a Groupon for a local CrossFit box in 2010. While running will always be my first love, I’ve come to know there’s only one answer to the question, “Is CrossFit for runners?”

Is CrossFit For Runners? Absolutely

Here’s why.

CrossFit Increases Confidence Outside the Box

Running long distances has done so much for my mental health. It keeps me from setting fires on really tough days, and it’s given me long periods of time to process difficult things. Few things in life make me feel the way that crossing a finish line does. And honestly, running is one of the few exercises that has helped me manage my anxiety. But CrossFit offers something different, emotionally.

CrossFit makes me feel strong.  Even when I’m only lifting baby weights, there’s just something about holding a barbell in your hand that makes you feel like a badass.  Running taught me to keep pushing after what I want, but CrossFit has taught me to approach life like the force I am.  It’s given me the space to realize that I am a powerful person, and I am forever grateful.

Knowing the depths of my own drive and strength has given me the confidence to own my voice in my very corporate job.  It helped me walk away from relationships that were unhealthy for me without fear.  And it allows me to role model steadfast security in the face of uncertainty for my son.

CrossFit For Runners - Deadlift
Just picking up something heavy

It’s also given me the confidence to know that I can keep pushing when I feel like my body has nothing to give. Before CrossFit, when I started to hit the dreaded marathon wall, I would slow down, knowing I had endurance as long as I managed my pace. Once I started CrossFitting, I learned that even when I feel like my lungs are going to burst and my legs might collapse, I can still keep fighting.

Knowing how to not just keep moving forward, but how to move forward with strength has been an invaluable lesson for me as a runner.

CrossFit Focuses On Community

Running is, primarily, a solo sport.  Sure there are lots of running clubs and groups, and I think they’re great.  But finding a running buddy who has the same endurance, pacing, and time availability to train with is no easy feat.  In my ten years of running, I can count on one hand the number of friends I have regularly run with.

All friends (and clients) I met through CrossFit

I don’t mind slowing down or speeding up or meeting someone mid-run every now and again, but there are very few people I run with routinely.  It’s just tricky.  CrossFit is different.  I have been in CrossFit workouts sandwiched between a professional softball player and someone who started working out 3 weeks before.

It’s a whole lot easier to create friendships when you’re all dying together in one room at the same time, as opposed to checking each other’s Strava and sending text message encouragement. And ya’ll, the CrossFit community is SERIOUS. I have made friends through CrossFit who have watched my kid when he was a toddler so that I could finish a WOD. I’ve made friends who helped show my husband how to rehab his back just because they had some free time. And CrossFit is incredibly family friendly.

CrossFit for Runners - CrossFit kids - family friendly CrossFit
Just hanging around the box

CrossFit has a reputation for being a sort of elitist fitness cult.  But in all my experiences of moving and dropping into boxes while traveling, I’ve never been anything other than welcomed.  Which is uncomfortable for me, because I am skilled at being awkward and weird around large groups of people I don’t know.  But none the less, I do appreciate the efforts at hospitality.

Related Post: Why Running Buddies Are The Best

CrossFit Workouts Offer Variety

Variety is the spice of life.  Unless you’re a runner.  There’s really only one way to run.  Left foot, right foot, repeat for five or six miles.  I know that the stability and consistency of running is something I like.  Yes, there are various ways to adjust and manipulate pacing and surface, but generally running is fairly predictable.

CrossFit is the exact opposite. It’s known for being random. One day you are doing plyometrics and gymnastics movements, the next you’re doing an unintelligent volume of olympic lifts. CrossFit is always different, and it’s incredibly different from running.

Loving two sports that are on such opposite ends of the spectrum probably seems a little strange. But humans are wired to enjoy some amount of variety. It’s why we like some salt with our sweet, or why we create 78 Spotify channels. CrossFit gives runners a workout routine that is unpredictable and highly varied. It’s exciting the same way running a new trail up a mountain can be.

CrossFit For Runners - CrossFit Competition
That one time I did a CrossFit competition

CrossFit breaks up the routine, and it gives you different metrics to focus on. Constantly trying to run faster or further can make a person weary after several years. With CrossFit, there’s a thousand lifts to PR. There’s new skills to learn. And there’s always Hero WODs to add a new level of hard.

The variety isn’t only great for morale and maintaining motivation, it can also improve running performance. A recent article published by Fleet Feet, Improve Your Running Economy With Strength Training, found that heavy weight lifting resulted in improved running economy and a decrease in fatigue onset.

Strength Training Can Reduce Injury

Here’s the obvious benefit of CrossFit for runners.  If you were to randomly poll 100 runners and ask them how they feel about their strength training routine, I’d bet a lot of money I don’t have that the majority would respond in one of two ways.  1) what strength routine? Does one trip grocery bag carrying count? Or 2) It’s not my favorite, but I do it anyways.

Now I don’t want to make a blanket statement that no runner enjoys hitting the gym.  I’m sure there’s a few oddballs out there that love their time at Golds.  But for most of us, it’s a cursory activity, if we do it at all.  But CrossFit has a way of making it fun.

Only people who think waking up at 5am on a Saturday to run 13 miles is a good time would understand that it is fun to work hard physically.  That sometimes the things that give us the most joy are the things that feel like swift death in the moment.  CrossFit workouts are brutal.  I cuss through 95% of them.  But despite my complaints, there’s a part of me that loves them.

CrossFit for Runners - wallball workout
Death by wall balls

I would not get to the gym to lift the random dumbbell on my own, regularly.  I have no issue going to CrossFit, though, 3-4 times a week.  And my body has benefitted from this.  In a decade of running, I have had one significant injury.  And it happened after I tried to do a tempo run the day after I twisted my ankle.  At a water park.  In a toob.  That’s another blog post, though.

Related Post: Lessons Learned From Working Out Consistently

I run hard, and I run a lot. Currently, I’m doing my second round of Hansons training, which means I’ll be running 50-60 miles very soon. A lot of runners struggle with high mileage, and I think a big part of it is the lack of strength training. Running 50 miles is a lot to ask of ligaments that are attached to weak muscles.

CrossFit has made me strong in ways I probably don’t have words to describe.  It’s kept me healthy and balanced, and the result is not having to take time to rehab an overuse injury.  That’s not to say that I think I’m invincible, but I do think CrossFitting regularly has prevented a lot of potential injuries. 

Every runner should try CrossFit, because they just might find that they love the feeling of hitting a deadlift PR almost as much as shaving 6 minutes off a marathon time. They might also find that similar to running, some of the most significant benefits of CrossFit have very little to do with the physical impacts.

BONUS BENEFIT: You’ll feel like a rockstar anytime there’s a WOD with more than a cumulative 1600m of running programmed. Because in the CrossFit world, “mile” is usually considered a four letter word. 😉

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