By T.J. Murphy
In response to my post about the values of CFE, Kevin Flowers—a far more accomplished triathlete than I am—offered the following thoughts:
My two cents: in my experience, the real breakthrough when incorporating CrossFit (and/or CFE) into your life comes when you stop thinking of yourself as a “runner” (or “bike racer,” or “triathlete,” or . . .) and start thinking of (and planning for, and valuing) yourself as an “athlete.” An athlete doesn’t do the same thing, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Nor does an athlete just run, or just ride, or just swim, or “just” swim, ride, and run (or just train in a CrossFit box). Unless you’re a professional making a living from being one-dimensional, why just do one thing, when doing many different things so greatly expands the physical, psychological, and social benefits of training and competing?
Top age-group endurance athlete Kevin Flowers enjoying the benefits of having reformulated his training approach.
With a brief look at his impressive race resume, one might be hard pressed to think Flowers hadn’t developed all of his potential as an endurance athlete years ago. Here’s a snapshot of Flowers in 2010: He was qualifying for the Boston Marathon on an annual basis. In his 40s, he was a regular on the age-group podium at most running races he jumped into. He was an age-group All-American triathlete who participated in the elite waves at big races like Chicago Triathlon and the NYC Triathlon, often grabbing podium honors as an age-grouper and often in the open division. The year 2010 included 11 such triathlons. Also in 2010 (Flowers wasn’t shy about toeing a start line) he competed as a CAT-2 cyclist, both on-road and off-road, having reached the podium in a marathon mountain biking event. If that wasn’t enough, he nearly qualified for Wave 1 honors at a major cross-country skiing event.
“Yeah, most would have said I was pretty darn fit,” Flowers says. It was in 2010 that Flowers first stepped into a CrossFit gym for an introductory workout. It was a classic CrossFit workout called “Filthy Fifty,” composed of the following:
50 Box jump, 24-inch box
50 Jumping pull-ups
50 Kettlebell swings
Walking Lunge, 50 steps
50 Knees to elbows (you hang on a pull-up bar and bring your knees to your elbows for one rep)
50 Push press, 45 pounds
50 Back extensions
50 Wall ball shots, 20 pound ball
50 Double-unders (jumping rope with two passes of the rope for each jump).
Despite his exceptional qualifications as a highly-ranked age-group athlete, Flowers had to scale the workout down to something he could safely manage. This means lighter weights and shorter plyometric boxes or single jump-ropes instead of double-unders.
“Mine was the same story as it is for everyone,” Flowers says. “It literally knocked me on my ass and showed me how limited my fitness actually was.”
So Flowers added the strength and conditioning work of CrossFit to his schedule. The common concerns are that such training would put to much bulk on the athlete, or the dynamic training would force an injury.
Flowers’ experience? “I was even faster than before I started CrossFit, and I was definitely a better and stronger athlete.”
Since then, the strength and conditioning work has become more of the point for Flowers. He has turned his training inside-out, with extremely minimal volume as far as running and biking, with emphasis on attacking all of the weaknesses he unveiled the first time he tried CrossFit. His favorite races now are trail running races combined with obstacle courses, but he’ll still jump in a duathlon or triathlon and place well, despite the slash of volume. “Most important to me is that I am, finally, in my late 40s, for the first time since high school, not just a cyclist, or a runner, or a triathlete, I am an ATHLETE,” he says. His new program elicits remarkable versatility and recovery aspects. In June of 2013, having gone 7 months without a single standard bike ride or run, he competed in one of the most competitive duathlons in the midwest, taking 3rd in his age-group and 21st overall out of 500 racers. From the race he went directly to the gym for an Olympic lifting session and long CrossFit workout. “I have more than just the elite-level cardiorespiratory endurance and stamina I had before,” he explains. “I am now also strong, powerful, fast, mobile, agile, coordinated, accurate, and confident in my ability to do anything requiring athleticism.”
Flowers and fellow CrossFitters after a Saturday workout.
One of the most beguiling qualities about CrossFit Endurance (or polarizing for some) is that it’s based on the this idea that a runner should be an athlete, just in the way that Flowers describes his personal epiphany. In Brian MacKenzie’s program, you must focus on health and you must master the skills of the sport. Strength and conditioning provides the chassis for which the runner can safely execute the speed endurance aspects of the running workouts. “You have to have the strength and conditioning in place to realize the benefits of the program,” MacKenzie says. “Otherwise you’re just going to burn up.”
In his new book, Unbreakable Runner, CrossFit Endurance founder Brian MacKenzie tears down old-fashioned run training traditions to reveal the new rules for fast, powerful running.
Unbreakable Runner includes CrossFit-based training programs for the most popular running race distances from 5K to ultra marathon.
Now available! Autographed copies of Unbreakable Runner from Brian MacKenzie!
Find Unbreakable Runner in your local bookstore, CrossFit gym, or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, your local bookstore