A few weeks ago, I did something that I swore that I would never do: I ran a marathon.
I've been an athlete my entire life but my sports of choice rarely involved endurance. I was forced to run cross country in high school because my track and field coach said it was good base training for the 300 m hurdles; one of the more grueling and challenging events.
Otherwise, I have been a gymnast, pole vaulter, long jumper, javelin "launcher," and sprinter turned Crossfitter. Oddly enough, the most endurance training that I had done outside of high school cross country was during my first year of Crossfit. The gym followed HQ programming which is known for lighter and longer metcons and hero workouts to honor fallen veterans and public service officials. This changed when I went to a more intensive programming.
However, the 2015 Games was a rude awakening for many of Squat Mafia (Team Terminus) and the entire elite Crossfit community. Surviving the week devoted to finding the "fittest on Earth"--or what I regard as most well-rounded athlete--requires significant base training. The same type of training that my high school coach regarded as critical for having successful indoor and outdoor seasons of sprinting, hurdling, and jumping. Coach Gorski was right!
Since the 2015 Games, our training focus has shifted to endurance. We run, row, cycle and ski (on the erg) for miles a week. We do intervals ranging from 400 meter to one mile repeats and have been working with a well-known endurance/Ironman coach in the Crossfit community. Given our new training protocol, I decided to skip my annual Half Marathon at Disney and focus on a bigger goal. Shortly after the 2015 Games season I began training for the New York City Marathon.
Many of us were admittedly burnt out from the long season of training and weekend sacrifices and wanted another competitive outlet. I knew it would be a thin line between undertraining and overtraining. Therefore, I decided to substitute our bi-weekly PM training sessions which typically were lactate intervals of heavy lifting, sprinting, and rowing, with miles. I never surpassed eight miles and the longest run that I ever did on our active recovery days (Thursday and Sunday) was thirteen miles (initially thought it was seventeen until I GPS-ed it). That was my training plan.
The amazing community of Crossfit Terminus also organized a charity workout to help me raise money towards ending childhood obesity. Which reminds me, I am actively fundraising and still have $2K to go! All $$ goes towards having physically-oriented after school programs and healthier lunch options in underserved school districts. You can donate at www.crowdrise.com/allisonbrager.
Within weeks of supplementing long-distance running on active recovery days, something truly unpredictable (yet expected) happened. I had faster metcon times, I got new personal bests for nearly every single squat, Olympic, and powerlift for 1 rep or 3 reps, and I recovered quicker. I literally ran with this momentum. At first I thought my new benchmarks were a fluke until I competed in the Elite division of the Pensacola Beach Brawl. I won the beach triathlon on Day 1 by a significant margin: 300 m swim, 50 reps of shoulder to overhead with heavy-ish dumbells (#35), 75 calories on an Assault Bike, and 500 m run on soft sand. On Day 2, I never really felt the aftermath of the beach triathlon unlike the year before, and I hit some solid numbers on the lifting complexes. I finished the weekend in 5th place missing the podium by a few points. However, I was pleased.
As for the marathon, it was (excuse my language) f-ing amazing!!! Honestly, I can't find any more appropriate descriptor. I have been to New York City at least twenty times in my life for family, school, and college track and field meets. I've regarded NYC as diverse but I never really appreciated its diversity until I ran those 26 miles through the five boroughs.
After crossing over the Verrazano Bridge, the remaining 25 miles had church communities, local bands, spectators, and mom and pop shops representative of that block--black, Latino, Jewish, Russian, Irish, German--and it was always oscillating block after block. I didn't need my headphones. The energy of the crowd kept me moving, and hardly anyone was multi-tasking on their cell phone! I did get super cranky the last two miles. I learned that the worst part of the course was not venturing over one of the five bridges that connect the boroughs, but rather the ascent from the Upper East Side into Central Park. Oh well. I had already hit the proverbial glycogen wall and my legs and booty were on fire so there was no point in walking.
In the end, I don't regret running a marathon during the Crossfit offseason. I thought I would, but I don't. It made me a tougher, stronger, and fitter athlete. I would do it again next offseason. You should too. In the meantime, I suggest thinking twice about getting a "0.0" sticker for your car and subscribing to the Doughnuts and Deadlifts movement for fitness gains. After all, we were "born to run" and that biological hard-wiring extends into many athletic domains as you would expect. So run on it.
ABOUT ALLISON BRAGER:
Professional: Academic Researcher with a focus on neurobiology @ Morehouse School of Medicine and professor at Morehouse College
PHD Info: Kent State with a focus on neurobiology (PHD from Department of Biological Sciences)
CrossFit Games Experience: 2015 Regionals - Team, 2014 Regionals Athlete, 2013 CrossFit Games - Team, 2012 Regionals Athlete
Collegiate Athletic Background: Brown University Track & Field, 4 year varsity letterman, specialist in pole vault and hurdles
Facebook: Meathead: Unraveling The Athletic Brain
Allison's Blog: www.dormivigilia.com
Instagram and Twitter: @beastlyvaulter
Like this article? Check out Allison's book Meathead: Unraveling The Athletic Brain