Balancing Running and CrossFit

Over the past several months, I have heard the excuse, “I want to do Crossfit, but I have a race coming up in a few months and so I think I should wait until after it to start.” I also heard this one last night, “I want to run a marathon again, but I just signed up for Crossfit so I’ll wait until next year to do one. I can’t do both.” In addition to both those comments, I have received emails from other runner/crossfiters wondering how I am able to do both.

Running and crossfit can be done, they just been to be balanced out with each other. I don’t train perfectly by any means, but I think I have started to get a lot better at balancing out the two over the past year. Please bear with me while I try and explain how I have been gone about trying to figure this out!

When I first got into crossfit early in 2010, I was running a decent amount of miles. I had been training for the Costal Challenge stage race, running around 60-80 miles a week I think and then the race itself was around 100 Costa Rican miles over 6 days. I say Costa Rican miles because first of all they are miles ran in pretty gnarly terrain. Also because 100 Costa Rican miles is more like around 100 miles, but most likely more than 100 miles. Its just a rough estimate. Regardless, it was a lot of running. Shortly after Coastal, I got the opportunity to go down to Mexico and do the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon.. you know the one in the book Born to Run? Which was quite the adventure to say the least. We spent almost 2 weeks traveling down in Mexico and ran or hiked almost every day. My point of all this is, that starting off doing crossfit when all this epic running was going on probably wasn’t the smartest idea. I was worked. I remember how hard it was for me to run. My legs were dead and I could barely move on some runs. It is completely normal to be sore after your first few weeks at CF, but most people don’t go off running in foreign countries when they first get started too. So I’m pretty sure I was over training myself.

After a month or two into doing Crossfit, I started talking to one of our gym’s coaches at the time, who was also an ultramarathoner. He had come up with this training ideology called, Crossfit Endurance. At the time I had just started my training for the Western States 100 and talking to him, this training program seemed legit and so I asked him if he would help coach me for my race and he agreed. If you have not heard of CF endurance, it basically consists of low mileage running, biking or swimming (whichever event you are training for). The longest run it gets you up to is around 13 miles, but every run is HARD. It will either consist or short, medium or long intervals, hill repeats, tempo runs or time trials. No recovery runs or LSD runs. To make up for the long mileage, Crossfit workouts are supplemented into training about 5 times a week. CFE believes that long, slow distance runs just wear down the body too much and are unnecessary and that they body doesn’t really get much benefit after running over 13 miles. Adding strength into the routine will do a much better job at strengthening all the muscles, tendons, and ligaments needed during running distance.

At first, I loved the program. I wasn’t spending hours and hours training, but the workouts were difficult enough that I was definitely worn out after them. A lot of them were even harder than going out for a long run! However, after about a month or two into the program I started to miss going out for long runs on the weekend, especially since it was right in the middle of spring time when the weather was gorgeous! One weekend, I just couldn’t take it anymore and I decided to go do a long run with some friends out in our backyard mountains. What I thought would be a fun run though, turned out to be the run from hell. I felt like I had never ran in my life. I had to periodically sit down on the trail because I felt dizzy and out of breath. I ended up telling my coach what happened. Other than that run, I had been sticking to the schedule to a “T.” However, rather than providing an explanation, I just got scolded for deviating from the plan. If I wanted to be coached, then I had to stick to the plan. Ok, fair enough.

In May before Western States, I ended up running the Wild Wild West 50k, which was approved. I was excited for the race and felt ready. I had been sticking to CFE and felt that I was in really good shape to run and had hoped to do well. Again though, I struggled. Along with the 50k, there is a 10 mile and a marathon and I really considered dropping to the 10 mile. I just was not having fun. But I decided that would be super lame and would make me a huge baby and so I made myself keep going. About 10 miles into the race on an out and back section when I was really having a low moment, I saw Mark running side by side with a female runner friend of his and looking as if they were having the best time ever. Then as they passed by, she explained, “We’re winning!” This totally defeated me. I waited for them to pass and be out of sight and I sat down and cried. It was bad enough to be sucking but then to see my boyfriend and another chick winning the race together just was the icing on the cake. I was probably being a really poor sport about the whole thing, but sometimes when you’re tired, little things can just set you off and this definitely did. I eventually got up off my butt though and finished the race. I told coach that again I felt like crap when I ran, but he said it was probably due to my nutrition…

Clearly, I was having a hard time with this new training program. Fortunately I ended up making it to Western States and actually finished, but with literally 5 minutes to spare. That was the hardest finish of my life. Imagine being tired beyond belief and everything in your body hurts and then having aid station volunteers yelling at you at every aid station for the last 10 miles that you cant stop even for a second or else you won’t make the cut off and you will be pulled from the race… after 90 miles! But if you really like living on the edge, then go ahead and try this.

After Western States, I gave myself time to recover and then maybe a month or two later, decided to start training for Javelina 100 in October. I still decided to stick with CFE during my training and again felt good during those training runs. I even ran the Big Sur Trail marathon about a month before Javelina and did well, placing second female on a tough course. During Javelina though, I fell apart big time. During the first 15 mile loop my left glute felt so tight. I had to step to the side of the trail constantly to stretch. It kept getting worse and worse and worse and was started causing shooting pain down my whole entire leg. After 4 loops (62 miles) I decided to call it a day. My legs were just in no condition to run 100 miles.

After my attempt at Javelina, I was actually injured from running for the next few months. It wasn’t until the following March that I was able to finally run with no pain. During those months I was out and couldn’t run, I still kept up with crossfit 5-6 days a week. When I started running again though, I didn’t jump right back into CFE. I started running moderate distance, and then incorporated about 2 days a week of CFE into my running. When my miles started to ramp up a bit, I then cut back on crossfit to only 2-3 days a week. In just a few short months after I had started running again, I ran the Mohican 100 mile run, and what do you know.. I won! I went into the run relaxed, not cocky, just ran my own race and it payed off.

Sorry for all this rambling! But just wanted to explain my deal with CFE. All in all, I don’t think that CFE is at all a bad program. I think for someone training for a half marathon or under, this program is great. I am sure there are even a lot of marathoners or ultra marathoners who this program works great for, I just don’t think it necessarily works for me. However, I still have taken a lot away from the program. I try and incorporate 2 days a week of CFE workouts into my training program. Usually I will do one interval workout and one tempo run a week. During my off season from 100 mile training, I will up my actual CF workouts to 4-5x a week and during in season, I will cut back to about 2x a week. Also, on days that I do CF, I will make sure my run is a bit shorter. Or if my run happens to be longer than I will do a short CF WOD, maybe just some strength or a short met con. I feel training this way works best for me.

Here would be what a sample workout week would be for me:

Monday: OFF
Tuesday: shorter run (tempo or interval) + CF
Wednesday: medium long run
Thursday: shorter run + CF (maybe)
Friday: CF (if I didnt do day before, or if Im feeling good that week)
Saturday: Long run
Sunday: medium-long run

Hope this maybe helps explain how I balance out the two. What works for me though, may not work for someone else. People just need to figure out what works for themself. But both can be done and CF is a great supplement to running.



10 thoughts on “Balancing Running and CrossFit

  1. Great post Alexa! Thanks again for answering my 372934 questions! Vitargo is working wonders for me. Where I used to bonk on the Dipsea Trail, I’m now finding some unexplained spurts of energy to power through the hills.

  2. This is exactly the real-life info I’ve been looking for. I’m doing a fall marathon, and my wife got me a 20-punch card for Crossfit, and I’d been wondering how (and even if) to combine the two. This gives me some better insight. I’m probably avoiding CFE as well just because like you, I actually like my long runs. They’re one of my favorite parts of training. Amazing work at Badwater, btw (which was how I found you!)

  3. Thanks Reid! I strongly believe that Crossfit does help with running and endurance events. If you ever have any questions about incorporating the two, don’t hesitate to ask!

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  5. I’m a CrossFitter and a runner and I love it. I’m sure that it’s helped my times and definitely building strength in my quads to support my knees!

  6. I was runner before finding crossfit, and I found Crossfit in the middle of my best running year yet; qualified for Boston and was stoked to start CFE. Followed the program to a “T” just like you, and eight weeks later attempted another marathon in Nebraska, and came in THIRTY MINUTES SLOWER. My legs felt like they forgot how to work after mile 13. It was miserable, and thus, turned me off to running. After two years of competitive crossfitting, I’m taking a LOA from competing to pursue running again, but trying to maintain my strength and the social aspect of WOD’ing at our box. Should be interesting, glad (ish) to know I’m not the only one who didn’t particularly LOVE CFE.

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  10. Hi! I’m so excited to have found your post! I’m a new ultra-runner but I haven’t wanted to give up doing strength training and this gives me some confidence back. When you’re training for your 100’s what is the longest run you would do? So far the longest race I’ve done is a 50k and I’m feeling a little stuck about how to keep going.

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