One old-school runner shares his experience trying out a new approach.
A quick recap of why I got into CrossFit in the first place.
On paper, I felt like I should have been a beacon of super health. For nearly a year I’d been logging 40 to 50 miles per week, punctuated with tempo runs, long runs and interval workouts. I was practicing a vegan diet—fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, nuts, soy and tofu. Twice a week I was performing a set of core body strength exercises, on top of a basic stretching routine.
It was in October of last year that I crossed the finish line of the Rock and Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon that it started: a complete physical breakdown of my body. I’d walked 200 yards past the finish and I sat on a curb, gritting my teeth at how much my knees felt like they were on fire. I couldn’t put a stop to it. Two weeks after the race I developed a limp, a painful one, where every other step it felt like a knife had been jammed underneath my kneecap. For six weeks I couldn’t shake the limp. I was worried cartilage surgery was waiting for me on the horizon.
These frustrations were underscored by the fact that through the entire year preceding the half marathon my progress had been so meager—50 miles a week with speed training should have been yielding more results.
Not long after this I paid a visit to Nutrilite headquarters in Orange County where they gave me a battery of health and fitness tests. The blood workout showed that I had developed a high-level of insulin resistance, or hyperglycemia, a state that can also be described as being pre-diabetic.
Whatever I’d been doing had not been working out for me. This is when I tuned into the promise of CrossFit.
Anyone who watched the “CrossFit Games” coverage that was broadcast last week on ESPN 2 could see the all-around fitness—strength, stamina, power, speed and endurance¬—being displayed by elite CrossFitters. I’m sure most of these folks got into CrossFit blazing with enthusiasm and a desire to be super fit. When I decided to throw myself into CrossFit, I just wanted to be able to run again.
That was last November. Reading about CrossFit, talking to CrossFitters and followers of CrossFit Endurance, I knew it would be a slow and painful process. When I started I couldn’t perform five consecutive burpees—a CrossFit staple—or more than 3 pull-ups—another staple. My right thigh was atrophied, my left Achilles tendon was strained and my knees felt like I spent 10 minutes a day beating them with a hammer. Atrophied is a good word—mentally and physically I was a puddle.
It’s been 10 months since I started CrossFit. At the beginning it was a bit like opening up the hood on a Ford that’s been rusting on the driveway for years, the odometer reading 300,000 miles. I had no idea what the experience was going to be like. It’s been surprising. It took an adaptation to high-intensity work. It required humbling. But there’s no doubt about the working results—I turned 48 years old on Sunday. I can say that in many ways I am stronger and fitter than I have been since I was a teenager. My body fat percentage has dropped from around 20% to 13%. At the beginning I could not execute a single overhead squat with even a PVC pipe. Now, with knees that never required surgery, I can do them with 100 pounds, squatting to a 90-degree level, and sometimes even a bit below that. I’ve become a student of Brian MacKenzie (Endurance), Kelly Starrett (Mobility), Mike Burgener (Olympic Lifting), Carl Paoli (Gymnastics) and Dr. Barry Sears (the Zone diet). The coolest thing has been the coaching at my gym, CrossFit Elysium in San Diego, where I learn daily from coaches Paul Estrada, Leon Chang and Stacie Beal. Here’s something I never imagined would happen at a gym: at Elysium I’ve developed friendships with a bunch of terrific people and I enjoy one of the bonds that I believe is a core reason why CrossFit is booming in the country and around the world: a tightly knit, mutually supportive community of coaches and athletes from all walks of life.
When I’ve traveled I’ve dropped into other CrossFit boxes and have also found this quality of comradeship. CrossFit San Francisco, CrossFit Southie in Boston, Crossfit Marina in Orange County and Hoosier CrossFit in Bloomington, Indiana. I can’t imagine every using a hotel gym again.
With the rusted automobile image in mind, I still have months of work ahead of me before I believe I’ll be able to enjoy racing the way I’d like to. But since ESPN 2 is showing the CrossFit Games in September, I thought I’d share a bit about what I’ve experienced so that anyone who might be interested in trying CrossFit might have a better idea of what it’s all about, what’s it’s like and how to get the most out of it.