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Why CrossFit and distance running are the same


I was surprised after I ran the Chicago Marathon when people at my CrossFit gym thought I was crazy.  I mean, CrossFit itself is kind of intense just like a marathon.  And the more I have thought about it, the more I actually think CrossFit and distance running are sort of the same.  For those of you who are not familiar with CrossFit, here is a primer:

CrossFit and distance running thrive on challenge.

Fundamentally, I think CrossFit and distance running both are centered on challenge.  I equally enter running races and CrossFit WODs (Workouts of the Day) sometimes with huge doubts.  The feelings that I have on starting lines and while staring at the CrossFit workout countdown clock are the same.  It’s the same feeling of nervous anticipation and excitement.  I mentally prepare myself to get ready for something hard.  But no matter what, once the gun goes off or the buzzer sounds, it’s gametime.

CrossFit clock

Chicago Marathon starting line

CrossFit and distance running hurt.

People sometimes (often) don’t think that CrossFit and running can work together well.  Actually, I think my experiences running cross country and track are the very thing that prepared me for the pain and endurance aspects of CrossFit.  Because of running, I know that sometimes it hurts before it gets fun and I know that some of the greatest rewards come from hard work.  In running, there are races and workouts that take everything you have to finish.  Likewise, in CrossFit, you have to dig deep sometimes to finish a killer WOD.  No matter what though, you do what it takes in either instance to cross the finish line or finish that last round of the WOD.  At the end of the day, distance running and CrossFit both involve pain in the best possible ways and pushing through the parts that are not fun is what makes them so immensely rewarding.

Box jumps at my Birthday WOD.

Finishing a not so fun leg of the Wild West Relay.  Holy elevation gain!

CrossFit and distance running reward those who try.

My high school cross country coach used to say that something that made our sport so unique was that nobody sat on the bench.  If you showed up to practice and completed workouts, you ran in meets.  End of story.  Distance running is a sport that appreciates effort, and if someone tried their hardest in a meet, to some extent, it didn’t even matter what place he or she got.  I see CrossFit in the same light.  If someone shows up to WODs and tries their hardest, everyone in the gym respects him or her.  Before I started CrossFit this past winter, I had never really done any serious technical weightlifitng.  Also, my squats were terrible.  I could barely get to 45 degrees.  The important thing was that I continued showing up and trying.  Am I the best CrossFitter in the world?  Oh not even close.  I was literally the last one to finish the WOD yesterday, and I have zero shame because I gave it my all.  And wall balls are just always awful.

I totally wore my CrossFIt shirt in the Chicago Marathon.  One dude yelled “Yeah CrossFit!” at me during the race.

CrossFitters and distance runners are a community.

I could care less when Men’s Health comes out with some stupid article hating on CrossFit because I’ve always done sports accused of being cults!  This is really just the norm for me.  In high school, my cross country team was accused of being a cult on a fairly regular basis.  I don’t think CrossFitters or distance runners are members of cults, rather I think they are both just sports you have to participate in to understand.  My cross country teammates saw me at my lowest points, trying to make it through a mile repeat workout on a 90 degree day in Missouri humidity.  Only they understood what that was really like.  Likewise, people at my CrossFit gym have seen my struggling through a WOD (like yesterday!).  Only they understand what that’s like.  Running and CrossFitting have this way of revealing someone’s true colors, which is what makes each so special.  There’s no better way to get to know who someone really is than by going for a run or doing a WOD together.

Pull ups in a WOD at the old gym.

Before running my marathon, I did a lot of research into whether or not CrossFit and marathon training can work together.  Nobody really agrees on anything, at least according to the Internet which is always right.  So you know what I decided?  I like running.  I like CrossFit.  I might be shortchanging running by CrossFitting – and I might be shortchanging CrossFit by running.  I truly believe that they can be complementary though, and my marathon training plans for the future involve a healthy mixture of running AND CrossFit.


Author: paulamahla

Typical Colorado girl that can't make up her mind. Trail running, hiking, climbing, camping, CrossFit, ultimate frisbee, and skiing? E, all of the above.

2 thoughts on “Why CrossFit and distance running are the same

  1. Great Post!!

    I am planning to do Chicago Marathon, i will be joining from Costa Rica and i am just starting with Crossfit!..

    Do you have any sample plan? 🙂

    • Hi David! For me the most important thing was fitting in the long distance runs. I did CrossFit 2-3 times a week and ran 2-3 times a week. My three longest runs were 16, 18 and 22 miles. I missed my 20 mile week but it ended up being just fine! I also skipped any CrossFit workouts that were pure strength. For example, if it was a day where we were maxing out on deadlifts, I didn’t go. I personally think CrossFit is most helpful when it’s the WODs that stress endurance AND strength. Good luck! 🙂

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