How I Used Crossfit to Train for The 26.2 Mile Marine Corps Marathon

"Three days before running my first marathon I PR’d my Jackie time."

The world was going about their normal habits as though there was nothing special about the day. The sun had finally broken out after a week of clouds and rain. I was a mix of excitement and overwhelming nervousness. The sidewalks were clear, my body felt good, and this final extended run before the Marine Corps Marathon left me wanting a world of more.

My typical run route started and ended at my crossfit box, one of my favorite places in the world.

After this run, I came back to the box expecting to eat my donut I got for completing months of long, hard training only to discover my coach ate it. In laughter and the slightest disappointment that my “treat” was eaten by my coach, I set out to do Grace for the first time RX’d and set a top time in my box.

Three days before running my first marathon, many would say this was the dumbest thing I could do. But it is everything that I would do and nothing less. A couple days prior, I PR’d my Jackie time.

Aside from the pending marathon, I have completed 15 other races, many Obstacle Course Races, in 2016. I used Crossfit and Olympic lifting to train. No one could give me advice for how to balance my training, other than to say everything I was doing was going to hurt me.

Former Iron man and top Crossfit Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on how to Improve your Aerobic Capacity

The typical Marathon training will consist of months of long runs, short runs, tempo runs, sprints, hill training, and other varied runs. It means waking up at four or five am to have time for these long runs and still not interrupt the rest of the day. This training, just like all other training will mean learning what food will be best to fuel you and not negatively effect your performance. It is not just putting in the work during the activity, but throughout the day to make sure everything you intake follows your plan. It’s hard, fun, problematic, exhausting, and I can’t wait to do it again.

As someone who has attended crossfit classes nearly every day for about three years, I knew what I liked, what worked for my body, and what my mentality could handle.

When I had a foot stress fracture, I was still in class with modified work every day. Once I recovered, my priority wasn’t about getting my balance and strength back. Now I had the responsibility to join all others who have embarked upon the journey of completing a marathon. Though I had so many competing wants, ideas, and goals, there was no way that I could stop everything I do to train solely for running.

bodyweight workouts sara sigmundsdottir running
Sara Sigmundsdottir working on her endurance

I would forego any option at a weightlifting competition for the 2016 year, but there were still plenty of benchmark WOD’s that I had goals of RXing and do better at than the year before. I had to carefully plan in recovery and rest coming off of my injury so to not injure myself again and continue building my strength. My goals consisted of doing enough tough mudders to change color headbands- three, complete my first Spartan trifecta, and run all races in the Marine Corps series.

Running is not simple, and should never be understood as such. If you study running and make it a sport for yourself, you begin to understand your body and its movement with the ground beneath your feet more than anything else can teach you.

marathon training for Crossfit
Training

I created a running plan based from what I had read on pinterest and running blogs, adjusting it to the extra work I put in. I ended up giving up Barbell club in order to give myself recovery time and complete longer runs in the evening. If needed, I would run before the 6am crossfit class and then get to work on my own programming devised by my coach so I never lost sight of crossfit, but the goal was more focused towards running a marathon.

The first couple of months consisted of a lot of accessory or skill work- Single leg RDL’s, handstand pushups, kipping technique, double-unders, ring work, and of course my major lifts- the clean, snatch, squat, and press. The conditioning would consist of some barbell work, but typically, I was on the air-dyne, running sprints, or doing light lifts with lots of rope climbs, wall balls, or burpees. It was all powered to keep me moving and never stop.

crossfit training marathon
My programming

Looking at this work, or imagining how it can be paired together it’s obvious how it works for the OCR world- keeping your engine going while climbing a rope is exactly what we do out on the course. For a marathon, I learned how to pace myself in these WOD’s and how to breathe. I learned about how high I could get my heart rate for an extended period of time before I needed to rest, and then practiced extending that amount of time. Working under weight only made it easier for my muscles to continue working for longer periods of time while making me feel lighter when I ran. 

marathon training
WOD

I like to test what I learn and my gains. The rope climbs, pull-ups, sprints, heavy lifting… every little bit of it helps me out on the course. I know my potential because I practice it every single day. I know how to lift my body, how to hold my body, and position myself on bars and elsewhere because I practice this…with Crossfit.

Many would say I was an idiot for not focusing on one priority. And even more would come up with a snarky comment about Crossfit and go on about the minimal running or strength in their own training plan, but essentially how Crossfit was taking me away from my overall goals and a waste of time with a promise of injury. After all, I was training a lot of muscles and fibers you don’t need for running with very little recovery time.

I have seen the conversations several times. I have seen the articles. I’ve even engaged in the pointless arguments where someone who has tried it once – or not at all – demands that Crossfit is the worst thing in the world and is designed to damage you.

home workouts mat fraser running outside
mat fraser running

This is my take on it, and this is why I could not let it go when I should have been running like every other dedicated marathoner. The mission of Crossfit is to train the average person to be a functional mover. Whether we want to lift 200 pounds above our head, run around with our kids, or carry a box of books from the moving truck to the house.

When many think of crossfit or step into the box for the first time they may have this idea of being a more functional mover, but often it is of obtaining that perfect idea of looking good naked. That’s why we all start, but we have to find that thing that keeps us going. PR’s are not constant. It’s probably much easier to count the PR’s or times we succeed rather than the times we’ve failed or had a bad workout. Though we keep coming back.

Crossfit will teach you failure. Those who failed and walk out to then bash the sport, really failed and pity should not be bestowed upon that person. For those of us that stuck around we believe in ourselves and this process. We believe that come the next day or the next few workouts, a different movement will be better. That with practice and constant repetitions our technique will improve. That with each failure and PR we will continue to learn and be better than who we once were. We will read about how the sport changes us as people, but to keep working with it as with any sport, it will change how our body once was.

hero wod murph sam briggs wins 2015 event
Sam Briggs has an unstoppable engine forged from her days as a triathlete.

Every racer comes up with a plan to be more functional with the goal of completing an obstacle or running further and faster. Yet, runners say that obstacle course racers are stupid and obstacle course racers say that runners are boring and both call crossfitters beyond innate.

We’re all moving though. We’re all doing something that works for us as individuals because in this nation we have options and take advantage to find the best things to meet our needs. It is useless to continue to bash someone and start these internet arguments over how one option is better than the other. In this fitness movement we are still a small community. We need to support all who get out to move. We’re all trying something. We’re all doing something. It works for us as individuals.

I used crossfit to train for my first marathon. I finished and I loved every moment. I cannot wait for the 2017 marathon and all the training to come with all the lifting.

Want to improve your engine?

Crossfit Conditioning: Building a Powerful Aerobic Engine


bodyweight workouts sara sigmundsdottir running © RX'd Photography

marathon training for Crossfit © Victoria Volk

crossfit training marathon ©

marathon training ©

home workouts mat fraser running outside © RX'd Photography

hero wod murph sam briggs wins 2015 event © CrossFIt Inc

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About The Author

Located in the DMV, Victoria is an avid crossfitter, Weightlifter, and endurance runner. She has been practicing crossfit for the last three years where she then fell in deeper love with perfecting her lifts and the zen of running. She chooses to work at all three sports while competing in Olympic weightlifting, obstacle course running, and running. Victoria continues to chronicle the daily struggles and gains during her multi-sport pursuit. Come say ...

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