Training minus the miles
Can you train for endurance events, such as a marathon or triathlon, without logging major miles?
The guys at Lowcountry CrossFit think so.
They have been attracting runners and triathletes into their warehouse gym -- a signature of the CrossFit franchise -- for months, assuring them that they can be race-ready not only without the aches and pains of pounding the pavement, but more.
"We want to keep strength, power, speed, flexibility, balance and agility," says Jake Kilbride, the CrossFit Endurance coach and a firefighter and EMT on the Isle of Palms. "If you strictly train to be an endurance athlete and you're running all the time, you're going to start losing power, speed and flexibility."
For those unfamiliar with CrossFit, it's a strength-and-conditioning system based on varied, functional movements executed in rapid repetition. It's intense. Usually, the entire workout is completed in 20 minutes or less. CrossFit prescribes a "WOD" or "Workout of the Day" online and on-site.
While being found across the country, CrossFit remains a bit underground and edgy.
Recognizing the increasing interest in endurance events, CrossFit has tailored a "supplemental" endurance workout. The idea is that runners, cyclists, swimmers and triathletes still do their three to four CrossFit WODs every week and fill in with two or three endurance workouts, usually sprint interval sessions.
Citing a study in the Nov. 8, 2007, edition of The Journal of Physiology, CrossFit's theory is that anaerobic training encapsulates the Adenosine triphosphate/phosphocreatine system, the lactic acid system and the aerobic system through various methods that stress one system, two systems or multiple systems.
The length of time of the individual efforts combined with the rest periods between efforts determines the systems stressed.
By training all three anaerobic systems, an individual "simultaneously trains your aerobic engine."
Kilbride says some of his clients trained for the Disney Marathon while running "no more than seven miles a week" and vows to create a triathlon team to compete in this summer's Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series.
So I had to check it out.
I asked Allison Benn, a CrossFit member who ran Disney, how she did in the race.
"I did awful," admits the 28-year-old Benn. "I hurt my knee."
Benn started out with plans to train with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training, but found putting in the mileage monotonous: "I was bored and I wasn't doing it." She heard about the CrossFit Endurance program and liked it.
For Benn, though, marathons are a matter of "Been there, done that." She's not interested in any more, though she's interested in a sprint triathlon.
Like Benn, 24-year-old Jeffrey Metzler ran his first marathon last March by using the traditional LSD (long, slow, distance training), but he didn't like the fatigue, had "a lot of IT (iliotibial band, or thigh) problems," and didn't like losing muscle mass.
Since doing CrossFit Endurance, he's shaved a minute off his 5K time, most recently clocking in at 20:30.
Metzler, an electrical engineer with SCE&G, likes the CrossFit Endurance program so much he plans to compete in a sprint triathlon this summer and even get certified to be a coach.
Betsy Turk, 40, of Mount Pleasant has seen bigger improvements, going from a two-hour, 24-minute half-marathon to 2:09 and shaving five minutes off her Race for the Cure time. As a stay-at-home mom, she likes that the workouts are short and intense. And she's looking forward to the Save the Light Half Marathon on Feb. 6 on Folly Beach.
As a runner of 34 years and a triathlete of six years, I walked away from CrossFit unswayed.
Training for marathons and triathlons isn't for everyone.
As I have said in the space before, we're all different in our backgrounds, priorities and schedules. I enjoy putting in limited miles -- anywhere from 25 to 55 per week. And, knock on wood, I've been virtually injury-free for most of those decades of running.
I worry that people who may rush into a marathon or triathlon may be ripe for the notion of being able to do it without putting in the miles that not only prepare your cardiovascular fitness, but your orthopedic and psychology fitness for such events.
I'm not sure why anyone who doesn't like running, or biking, or triathlon would then want to participate in a race, but I'm for whatever it takes to get America -- and South Carolina -- moving.
Reach David Quick at firstname.lastname@example.org.