Ah, running. We CrossFitters love to hate it. But the truth is, in the CrossFit Kaiju box, the greater CrossFit Matthews and CrossFit Charlotte communities — and beyond — CrossFit athletes who take up running have better conditioning, hands down. Interestingly, the reasons we tend to avoid it are the very reasons we need to learn to love it:
Let’s cut to the chase: nobody likes to feel out of shape, and not many things make you feel out of shape more than huffing and puffing around the block. Running taxes your aerobic system. This is important though, because it raises your Anaerobic Threshold (AT). Simply speaking, your AT is just a line between aerobic and anaerobic activity; it’s the point where you cross from being aerobic to anaerobic (unable to take in enough oxygen to meet the demands of what you’re doing). This is also the point during exercise when lactic acid starts to accumulate in the muscles, causing exhaustion and intramuscular pain.
So, guess what: the Anaerobic Threshold of a runner is higher. This means that, even with minimal CrossFit experience, a runner may be able to kill it in a workout while a religious CrossFitter may become winded or exhausted doing the same movements because they don’t have that kind of conditioning. The higher your Anaerobic Threshold, the better. What’s an effective way to increase AT? You guessed it: run.
Really, this hits the “feeling out of shape” button again. Even though running seems like it should come naturally to any species with legs, that’s not always the case. Some people were born to be runners. They JUST LOVE IT. That’s fine. (And it would serve them well to add some CrossFit into the mix, but that’s for another post.) You may think because running feels so uncomfortable, it means you’re not good at it. This could be the case, but even the natural-born runner will tell you when they’re working to improve, running is uncomfortable for them too. When you’re training to be better, the discomfort is the point.
Let’s call this your Comfort Threshold. Not a scientific term, but it will do. How far or how long can you remain uncomfortable? Can you — will you — keep going even in an extended state of discomfort? Running conditions your body to continue to perform even when you’re uncomfortable.
Welcome to the mind game of running. Weight lifting can be a mind game too, but often at some point you reach exhaustion and you literally cannot do another rep. At that point, the mind game is over and you don’t have to push yourself to do more; your muscles have actually failed and there is nothing you can do about it. But, it’s not like that in running. Except in the most extreme circumstances, you don’t “max out” on steps. As long as your mind is in control of your body, you can always take another step. Let’s call this the Focus Threshold.
Improving your mind’s ability to focus – and your body’s willingness to listen — will inevitably improve your performance in not only the CrossFit box, but countless areas of your life in general. Can you just keep going? The focus required to keep putting one foot in front of the other, over and over (AND OVER) — especially when it’s hard and uncomfortable — builds the kind of discipline and mental toughness that will take any CrossFitter to the next level.
So now what?
Don’t overcomplicate it. Try adding a run on rest days. It doesn’t need to be anything high intensity like sprints; start small, and work up to a 2-3 mile jog. Embrace the difficulty. Welcome the discomfort. Practice the focus. You will find with even a small amount of regular running, you’ll increase those physical and mental thresholds, preparing you for a better workout back in the box.