About Brandon: "Brandon is the Crossfit Endurance coach at CrossFit Balance. In his spare time, he is also a competitive ultra-runner and adventure-racer. He trains and competes regularly and loves to share what he learns during training and competition with others."
Brandon was kind enough to answer questions about his training as an endurance athlete and CrossFit Endurance Program that he runs out of Balance Gym in Washington DC.
How did you come to CrossFit Endurance?
I initially started exploring CFE almost 4 years ago. Right about the time I started CrossFit, I decided to sign up for a multi-day self-supported stage race covering 155 miles across the Gobi Dessert. Despite having an athletic background, I had never even run a marathon, but I decided to jump right in to the “Ultra Running” world.
The CrossFit part of my training was going to be a given, but I obviously also had to do something to become a better distance runner. As I started considering my options, I stumbled across CFE. Initially, I was using the main CFE website as a resource in designing my own programming to supplement my regular CrossFit workouts. After about one year of seeing solid results, I decided to take the CFE Certification Course to learn more. After that, I basically put myself on strict CFE program and the results were remarkable.
Though I’ve made some minor modifications/additions to what might be considered a “strict” CFE program (based on what I find works best in my own training), the general structure of my programming has remained CFE-based ever since.
I also started sharing my programming with others, who similarly experienced great results. As such, I’ve now been working with and assisting others in their own CrossFit Endurance training/programming for about 2 years now.
What has the program helped you achieve?
I’ve essentially been on a CFE training program for about 3.5 years. As mentioned, I initially started the program because I was training for a self-supported multi-day stage race. It was my first Ultra (and marathon for that matter), during which I had to carry a 25# pack with all my food, clothes, etc., for the week, and I ended up doing very well. At that point, I was hooked.
Since that first race, I’ve now completed, and been competitive in, several 50 km, 50 mile, and 100+ mile races. I’ve also competed in another self-supported multi-stage race near the Grand Canyon (Grand to Grand), the 30+ hour Endeavor Team Challenge, and a couple adventure races. And the best part: my results continue to get better across the board. Not only do I continue to get more competitive in the Ultra events, but I also continue to get stronger as well. Even between races (which are year round), I am regularly setting lifting and benchmark workout PRs. And to me, the most surprising benefit of CFE is my ability to recover after races and workouts. I can typically get back to the gym within a couple days of races, even 100+ milers.
In short, CFE has helped me become the all-around competitive athlete I want to be. At the same time, the programming continues to challenge me on a daily basis and never gets boring. With that said, I am now at the point where really the only long runs I do are races. My average mileage at this point is only approximately 10-15 miles a week. Still, I continue to succeed at whatever Ultra, or other event, I decide to tackle. I think this says a lot about what CFE can help others achieve as well.
What types of folks are best-suited for the program? What kind of goals should they be looking to achieve?
Honestly, I think CFE can benefit anyone looking to improve their fitness. The primary purpose of a CFE-specific program is to add sport specific balance (running, rowing, swimming, and/or biking) to CrossFit workouts. As such, most individuals will use CFE as a method of training for a sport specific event (e.g., a race – of any distance – or a triathlon).
Nonetheless, I have also found that anyone adding CFE workouts to their routine becomes a faster, more efficient, athlete. The other benefit of CFE is that it assists in building faster recovery and becoming a mentally stronger athlete, all of which is transferable to CF workouts and other sports. Really anyone can benefit from adding CFE workouts to their training. In actually structuring the CFE programming, the workouts would be tailored according to one’s goals.
Ultimately, whatever one’s ultimate goals are, anyone looking to improve overall fitness could consider adding CFE-style workouts to their routine.
In broad strokes, share the program's philosophy and approach to training for endurance events.
The CFE program is primarily about training for a sport specific event. An important component to an effective CFE program is proper (run/bike/row/swim) mechanics to optimize efficiency and performance. For example, CFE workouts can include a focus on teaching proper running form.
More specifically, introducing CFE into a training program is about working to increase speed and power while decreasing recovery time, reducing risk of injury, and promoting preservation of lean tissue to create a more sustainable endurance athlete. CFE workouts should make your lungs burn and, in the process, improve your overall stamina.
In terms of what the training looks like, CFE workouts focus more on high intensity, rather than high volume, efforts. CFE eliminates unnecessary volume and compensates with increases in the intensity of training sessions. Really, the whole point of CFE-based training is to get away from long duration training with low intensity that can result in athletes who are less powerful, less lean, and more injury prone.
In terms of preparing for endurance events, the workouts can be structured with different levels of volume to prepare an individual for their chosen event. For example, while there can be some overlap of workouts, based on my own experience, I would have someone training for a 50 miler doing more volume than someone training for a half marathon, especially if it was their first Ultra. It really becomes a balance of finding the right amount of volume. It’s also worth noting that volume can also be a matter of individual preference if, for example, the individual really likes to run more often. Even so, for such an individual, volume would be dialed way back from what you might expect in a traditional 50-mile training program.
Regardless of the level of athlete, if performed correctly, every workout should still test mental strength and ability to push through the burn.
Please take us through the first few weeks of training for someone new to the program. For example, someone looking to run their first marathon.
It’s worth noting upfront that CFE is still evolving, as it is still relatively new in terms of endurance training methods. However, while certain program details and what workouts will be included might differ, the general structure is the same. The CFE sport specific portion of the program includes 1 short interval workout, 1 long interval workout, and 1 tempo or time trial effort each week. Depending on one’s starting point and goals, the program would also include anywhere from 3-7 CrossFit WODs (i.e., 2-3 strength sessions and 1-4 strength & conditioning workouts). An example of what this program might look for a beginner is as follows:
T/T – Time Trial
ME – Max Effort
DE – Dynamic Effort
Example workouts are posted on the “DC Endurance” Facebook page.
Describe a typical week of training for a more advanced CrossFit Endurance athlete.
The program would look somewhat similar to the above, but would incorporate more volume. Specifically, the individual would probably add 1 to 2 CrossFit sessions to the program.
In addition, there is a certain structure that I have found adds great value to a CFE program, especially to be competitive. For these athletes, the program should occasionally incorporate 3 components: (1) long runs on consecutive days (e.g., back-to-back-to-back runs at 10-13-10 miles); (2) multiple runs, with rest, on the same day (e.g., 5 miles at 85% in the morning, 5 miles at 85% in the afternoon, 5 mile time trial in the evening); and (3) for those up for the challenge, really long workouts in the 3 to 4 hour range, which incorporate a variety of movements.
Photo credit: Bryant Boucher
Many distance runners question the low-mileage aspect of the programming. Please share your experience, as a runner and a coach, on the relatively low mileage training for challenging endurance events involving marathon (or longer) distances.
I hear this concern often. Especially in the ultra-running community, CFE is a completely new concept that opposes long-slow distance training.
As a runner and a coach, I have trust in the programming since I’ve seen it work for not only for myself but also for others. My first leap of faith came in successfully completing a 150+ mile ultra-marathon through the Gobi Desert in China. Since then, I’ve finished in the top 5-10% in many other half marathon, marathon, and ultra-distance races. I’ve also seen others have success in tackling their first ultra-marathon or 30+ hour adventure race. Finally, based on my success with the program, I often attract the interest of other ultra-runners and coaches that want to learn more about the program.
You currently run a CrossFit Endurance program out of Balance Gym. Tell us about the program, size, demographics, etc. Feel free to share details on meeting times and scheduling.
We currently hold two classes a week. Both classes are at 6:30 p.m. Currently, one class is held on Monday nights at the Cardozo High School track, and the second class is on Thursday nights at the CrossFit Balance Georgetown location. Last winter we moved the Monday classes indoors at CrossFit Balance Thomas Circle. We made the shift around the beginning of December, and I suspect we might do something similar again this year, with the classes moving back to Cardozo as soon as the weather starts getting nicer around early March. For updates, I keep the most updated information about the classes, etc., on the "DC Endurance” Facebook page.
Regarding class size, it can vary from class-to-class, but we have a core group of about 10-15 people that show up regularly. As you can imagine, there tends to be a big surge of people wanting to go to the track as soon as Spring rolls around, so classes at that time of year tend to get pretty big.
The athletes that attend the classes come from all different backgrounds (including age) and have a wide range of different goals. Some are training for ultras or triathlons while others are just working to become stronger CrossFit athletes. We get veteran runners, people that say “I don’t normally run much,” and a bunch of people somewhere in the middle.
For someone looking to learn more, could you suggest a few resources?
Probably the best place to start would be the CFE main website: http://crossfitendurance.com/. In addition, I would suggest learning the Pose Running Method to better understand the form and efficiency aspect of CFE: http://www.posetech.com/pose_method/pose-method-of-running-technique.html.
Moreover, if you are looking for good book to read on the topic of running, check out Brian MacKenzie’s (CFE’s founder) book: Unbreakable Runner: Unleash the Power of Strength & Conditioning for a Lifetime of Running Strong. And if you’re looking for complete overview of all aspects of CFE training (i.e., running, swimming, biking, rowing, lifting, etc.), check out Power Speed ENDURANCE: A Skill-Based Approach to Endurance Training by Brian MacKenzie.
As mentioned, for our program, we also have a Facebook group (“DC Endurance”) where we post the workouts for the Balance CFE program. The Facebook group also provides a forum for us to discuss and coordinate on upcoming races, discuss various race-related topics (nutrition, equipment, etc.), and talk about other training-related ideas.
Finally, another general source for CFE-style workout ideas is http://aerobiccapacity.com/. One could also just do a simple Google search for “CrossFit Endurance” and look at what other CFE programs at gyms across the country are doing.
Any advice for someone getting started in a CrossFit Endurance program?
As with any training program, the first thing to keep in mind is that you still have to work for your results. The workouts never get easier; you just get better and push harder. It’s also important to remember that results won’t come over night. If you give the program a committed effort for 2-3 months, I think you will begin seeing noticeable results. Beyond that, I’ve seen athletes make great leaps in progress and achieve things they never thought they were capable of.
I’ve seen athletes who hadn’t ever run more than 3 miles (prior to starting the program) complete a 50 km race and the 30+ hour Team Endeavor Challenge while never running more than 12 miles in one go in training. As you can imagine, these people surprised even themselves with their performance. I’ve also seen athletes PR their half marathon after only a few months of CFE training.
Still, I know the program is not for everyone. However, if someone has even the smallest inkling of interest, I would suggest giving it a shot for 2-3 months. If you aren’t happy, go back to what you were doing and you’ve lost nothing. I think most people that try it, however, will be pleasantly surprised with the results. And if it does end up working for you, you get the added benefit of earning more free time for yourself as you spend less time logging miles running, biking, or swimming.
Train with Brandon at Balance Gym. Read more on the DC Endurance Facebook page.