Super Running: Is Crossfit Endurance The New Way To Train?

"Crossfit was the missing piece," says Mackenzie. "It produces an athlete that doesn't break down." Photo: Chris Bishow

The Guinea Pig

MacKenzie, in response to an onslaught of overuse injuries that he developed while training for and racing Ironmans and ultramarathons, used himself as a guinea pig to create a drastically different way to train for endurance events. Crossfit Endurance, launched in 2007, is a strength, power and stamina regimen that combines fast running with the inferno-like workouts of Crossfit, an emerging new form of overall strength training that’s going viral. In 2011, more than 100 Crossfit Endurance programs have launched. The number of Crossfitting endurance athletes continues to grow as MacKenzie travels around the world conducting certification seminars on how to execute and teach a method that throws classic endurance training methods overboard, polarizing the running community.

MacKenzie is the flash point between two cult-like worlds: traditional distance athletes and the more recent phenomenon of Crossfit followers. MacKenzie’s approach to training disposes of two sacred cows of the endurance world—the long, slow, distance (LSD) approach to building an aerobic base, and periodization, a concept that says to achieve high performance an athlete must orchestrate a season-long build-up and peaking process.

In place of LSD workouts, MacKenzie uses Crossfit workouts—high-intensity combinations of exercises drawn from worlds foreign to most distance runners, such as basic gymnastic movements, powerlifting and Olympic-style lifts, including the “power clean” and the “snatch.” While an LSD run is typically at 70 percent effort or less exerted for a half-hour to more than two hours, a Crossfit metabolic-conditioning workout, or “met-con,” as Crossfitters say, goes full blast and is over in less than 20 minutes. MacKenzie is fervent in trying to make his case that CFE is superior in that its emphasis on technique, quality over quantity, strength, power and nutrition builds a better and healthier athlete.

At his seminars MacKenzie argues that while traditional high-mileage programs work for some athletes, for most high mileage is a one-way ticket to injury, plateaus, poor health, burnout and knee replacements. It’s a campaign he primarily fights through, where he posts daily workout plans for runners, triathletes and cyclists. Because of the ease with which MacKenzie can be contacted through e-mail and social networking, “haters,” as he calls them, have not held back. Give MacKenzie a spare moment and he’s typing responses on his iPhone at a ferocious speed.

After the deadlifts, MacKenzie takes a break in his garage before the next phase of his workout, a met-con comprised of spurts on the rowing machine, handstand pushups and swings with a 70-pound kettlebell. He sits on a weight bench and leans forward, staring into his phone. “I just got this e-mail from a girl asking me about the program,” he says. “She writes, ‘You can’t possibly mean that I’m supposed to stop easy running altogether in favor of Crossfit workouts?’” He smiles slightly and taps away at the screen. “This is what I’m writing back: ‘Yes, you got it. That’s it exactly.’”

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