For 50 years, the world’s best runners have adhered to the Arthur Lydiard doctrine: the importance of a high-mileage base. Now, a skateboarding powerlifter turned endurance athlete is trashing tradition, claiming high-intensity, low-volume training is better. Runners have called Brian MacKenzie the antichrist. But could he be right?
This piece first appeared in the June 2011 issue of Competitor Magazine.
The headquarters for Crossfit Endurance is a two-bedroom house, just a few blocks off Interstate 405, in an Orange County suburb. Brian MacKenzie, the founder of Crossfit Endurance, lives and works here. There are whiteboards throughout his home and garage, and MacKenzie even uses the glass of his dining room table to scrawl notes, workouts and diagrams. A bike is set up on a stationary trainer in the family room, a treadmill resides in the living room, and his “office” is a broad desk piled with books, magazines and a desktop Macintosh. It is through this computer that he does the bulk of his communicating with what has become a loose-knit network of coaches and endurance athletes around the world.
The heart of MacKenzie’s laboratory is in the garage. The cardio gear includes a Versaclimber, a rowing machine, a watt-based bicycle ergometer and another treadmill. Against the rear wall is a squat rack with piles of barbell weights on either side. Kettlebells—including one in the shape of a skull—are scattered throughout. A pull-up bar hangs from the ceiling, as does a climbing rope.
When I visit MacKenzie, he is wearing board shorts, a black T-shirt and black leather Chuck Taylor high-tops. Built like an MMA fighter, the sinewy 190-pound MacKenzie is not your average ultrarunner. He stands in the center of the garage over a heavily plated barbell preparing to deadlift the weight from the floor to waist-level. He’s doing seven rounds of two repetitions, and to increase the resistance at the top phase of the lift, two green stretch bands are hooked to clips bolted into the cement floor. They are taut across the barbell at each end. MacKenzie’s posture is taut as well, like a fist. He reaches down with tattooed arms and hands, and the weights explode upward as he launches the lift.
Dynamic powerlifts like this are one of the core elements of his creation, a regimen that seems to have divided the runners and triathletes familiar with it into two camps: reverent followers on one side and on the other side, CFE skeptics, some of whom post on forums such as Letsrun.com and Slowtwitch.com, calling him a “tattooed snake-oil salesman” and “the antichrist.” So far, the dissenters haven’t been able to bring him down.