Translating Crossfit’s Fitness

Before I started Crossfit, I did a lot of reading about it. One anecdote that came up over and over was how people would give up running or swimming or biking in favor of Crossfit, and then successfully complete a race in that sport with no specific training. I’ve read several tales of people running half marathons without training for the races – just doing Crossfit. They all seemed like tall tales to me.

I can’t speak to any long-distance efforts, but a couple of recent experiences are leading me to believe that those stories might be true after all.

I started Crossfit 4 months ago, in October. In the 3 months prior, I was a gluttonous lump on a log. And for the year or so before that, I was working out 3 times a week – running and swimming throughout 2013, but tapering to less intense things like long-distance walking by mid-2014 (5-9 mile walks). When I started Crossfit, I was completely out of shape in terms of strength and cardio endurance.

Until last week, I hadn’t done any workouts in the past 4 months outside of Crossfit. I’ve only recently started to feel a bit stronger and able to survive the metcon WODs. When snow buried me in for a few days and closed the gym, I got a bit stir crazy.

So I walked down to my apartment’s gym to go for a run. My plan was to run 1 minute, walk 1 minute, for a mile. I warmed up and then started to run, and much to my surprise, I felt pretty good. I ran the mile straight through. 13:29.

That was Feb 21, 2015. The last time I ran a mile was March 1, 2014. My pace a year ago? 14:07/mi.

I dug back a little deeper, since that March 1 run was a bit of a fluke, tucked into a bunch of weeks of swimming. What was my most recent pace, when I was running regularly?

I had to go back to the summer of 2013, when I was running mostly 2 and 3 milers. They paced like this:

Running pace data from the summer of 2013

Running pace data from the summer of 2013

My current 13:29/mi looked pretty spot on, compared to a year and a half ago when I was running regularly. Even more wild – I weighed 20-30 pounds less that summer than I do now.

Could Crossfit alone have given me back my running legs and lungs? It sure looks like it.

Today, I decided to go for a swim. Work prevented me from getting in my third Crossfit workout this week, and my ankle is a bit sore from a slip on ice in the parking lot a few days ago. I figured swimming would be less stressful on the ankle than running, so I headed to the pool.

My last swim was July 15, 2014 – more than 7 months ago.

I swam 1600 yards breaststroke today. That’s my typical swim distance, and it typically takes me about an hour. My pace today was 3:11/100yds – 56:01.

My pace last July? 3:20/100yds.

Last July, I was on-again, off-again with swimming. I swam 3x/week from November through March, took April off, swam in May, took June off, and swam in July. As I compared today’s pace to July, I got curious. How would today’s pace compare to the months when I was very consistently swimming?

I had to go back to December 2013 to find when I was doing breaststroke regularly, and here’s what it looked like:

Swimming pace data, winter 2013

Swimming pace data, winter 2013

3:08 to 3:30/100 yards. So today’s 3:11 pace over 56:01 looks to be on the fitter end of things!

All from Crossfit?

There’s really no other explanation, because that’s all I’ve been doing the past 4 months.

It feels really good to finally be (slowly) transitioning to the point where I don’t feel like I’m dying in every workout. Near-death, maybe! But my lungs are finally starting to catch up, and that’s opening up more options for me.

I love a lot of things about Crossfit – namely, the community, the barbell work, and overall intensity and efficiency of it. I do think, though, that I will continue to run and swim. I doubt I’ll do any more long-distance running (it’s just not an efficient use of my time as a slow-poke), but I’d like to get back into running 5Ks and 10Ks.

There are 2 things I miss about running and swimming, compared to Crossfit:

1) choosing my own music

2) the long, slow, less intense work that lets me zone out and think

I knew I’d miss the solitude (I really do enjoy working out alone), but I didn’t expect to miss the long slog! I wouldn’t give up Crossfit for either of those things, but I think I’ll find the best version of myself in some combination of them all.

I have to say – I’m still quite shocked by the numbers. I’m performing just as well at two cardio-centric sports with zero recent sport-specific training as I was when training them regularly, at a much lighter weight.

I’ve got Rocktown Crossfit to thank for that!


Mount St Helens by Image Editor

I Like Helen

“Helen” is one of the benchmark workouts of Crossfit. There’s a series of workouts named after women (thus referred to as “The Girls”). I’ve seen and read a few variations on how “The Girls” got their names. One interview I found showed Crossfit founder Gary Glassman saying, “I think anything that leaves you laying on your back gasping for air wondering what just happened to you should be named after a girl.” Another variation quoted Mr. Glassman as saying that the workouts are named like the US National Weather Service names storms, because they’re so intense that they leave you feeling as if a storm just hit you.

Whatever the inspiration for the names, I met my first one this morning. Her name is Helen, and she looks something like this:


3 rounds for time of:
400m Run
21 Kettlebell Swings, 1.5/1 pood
12 Pull-ups

I’ve been kind of looking forward to the day I’d meet Helen. I may be out of shape, but even so, running is something that feels like an old friend. Sometimes, it feels like an old friend that I want to punch in the eye (I would never punch a friend in the eye!), but an old friend, regardless. I know how to do it (run, that is). I know how my body feels and responds to different levels of intensity while running, and I’m pretty good at managing my pace and noting my body’s cues. That’s pretty much unlike everything else in Crossfit, where everything is new to me and nothing feels second-nature.

I also kind of like kettlebell swings. I thought I hated kettlebell swings before I joined Crossfit. At my regular gym last year, I took advantage of a free session with a trainer, and she set me up with a strength routine that included kettlebell swings. The form was completely different than they taught me at Crossfit (really, I don’t think that trainer gave me any form cues at all – I just made it up from what I’d seen on The Biggest Loser, and she didn’t correct me), and the move always hurt my back and made me feel nauseous. I quit doing them after a month or so, until I joined Crossfit.

Once I got some proper coaching at Crossfit, kettlebell swings felt good! I had been swinging the bell down near the ground, bending completely over, swinging it way behind me with my hands down at shin level, and yanking it back up with my arms. So, yeah… that’s not the way to do them. I had no idea that kettlebell swings are more of a hip movement than an arm movement. When I took the focus off of my arms and put it to my hips, the kettlebell just glided, and the weird strain in my back was gone. It seems that the hips make all the difference. Never underestimate the power of good coaching.

The last component of Helen is pull ups, and while I still can’t even do one assisted, I can do ring pull ups. So that was my plan.

I headed to the gym in my running shoes instead of my Nanos, since there wasn’t a strength component today and, well, running. It was chilly outside, but the sun was out, so the temperature wasn’t too bad once we had warmed up. My goal was to finish the workout in under 20 minutes, using the blue kettlebell (18#) and the rings for pull ups. I knew I’d be taking up the anchor, because I have to run really slow in order to keep running at all, but I was confident that I could manage my pace and not meet pukie.

The first round went well (except that in my head, I thought we were doing 29 kettlebell swings… hey, I was far away from the whiteboard and my eyesight is atrocious! And obviously my short term memory is like a steel trap *not*). I broke the kb swings into two sets, 14 and 15, and did the first round of pull ups unbroken.

The second round taught me that I should’ve been a little more conservative in my first round strategy, and I had to walk 20 feet or so to catch my breath during the run. It sure will be nice to get my lungs back, someday. I did the same split for the kb swings, and broke the pull ups into 3 sets of 4.

That worked much better, as I felt pretty darn good for the last run and didn’t have to walk. Most of the class was done with the workout by the time I got back for my last sets of kettlebell swings and pull ups, and someone shouted out, “You can do it! 3 sets of 7!” Wait, what? Awww man. It was supposed to be 21 kb swings, not 29. But, woohooo!!! That’s way fewer kb swings! Those went well (maybe I could have gone a little heavier?), and I did the pull ups 3×4 again. Yowza, those last couple pull ups were ouchie.

I finished my modified Helen in 19:04. That puts me somewhere in the bottom 10% of all women, but at least I’m on the list!

I have a long way to go, but I can definitely count on lots of fun new things to learn, and lots of new personal bests to be achieved. And maybe someday Helen will be my BFF.

Photo credit: Image Editor

Valley 4th Run 5K

Valley 4th 5K

7 months off of racing… that’s what my “break” ended up being. My last race was the Blue & Gray Half Marathon in Fredericksburg, VA in December 2011. Here we are… July 2011… starting over, in a way.

I ran the Valley 4th 5K run yesterday in Harrisonburg, VA. It was a sweaty good time – but first, a note to self: do not get your hair dyed red the day before a 90-degree race unless you want your new white tech tee to become swirly pink.

I went into this race planning to continue with the heart-rate-training, and run it the way I plan to run my next half – with Galloway’s run/walk interval approach. I’ve been running 2/1 run/walk intervals (minutes) the past 2 weeks, but figured for the sake of racing I’d kick it up to 4/1 intervals – monitoring my heart rate all the way and attempting to stay around my sweet spot of 167bpm during the run intervals. At this point in my training, that still means pretty slow running (about a 12:30/mi pace). Unfortunately, the late race start (9am versus the more typical 8am) led to a pretty steamy climate (already in the 80’s, but without the luxury of the evening humidity burn-off). My heart rate was through the roof 2 minutes into the race.

So, I decided to stick to my intervals and run it anyway, even though running had my heart rate up around 180bpm. I did discover a new max heart rate 🙂 Last year, I had discovered my max to be 191bpm. Yesterday, I topped out at 192bpm. I still use 190bpm for purposes of calculating my target zones. Good to know the ticker is rockin’ out for my age, though.

With the heat and my known penchant for both fainting and heat exhaustion, I had a strong mantra in my head for this race:

Don’t be stupid. Don’t be stupid. Don’t be stupid.

Translation: When your heart gets above 185, WALK. I don’t care if you’re in the middle of a run interval. Slow the #^$& down.

I had to invoke my Don’t Be Stupid walks three times, on uphills.

Despite my intentionally slow pace and my walk intervals, this still wasn’t my slowest 5K ever. (It was my 3rd slowest, of 9). I fully expect that my run intervals will get faster as I get back into running shape. I hope to also get a little faster at my walk intervals as time goes on.

My times:

43:06 (3.13mi), 13:46/mi

Finished 195/217. Unfortunately, the time keepers didn’t provide age group or gender stats for the whole field, and official times were gun times, not chip times. Boo. Still, it was a surprisingly good race. The route was fairly easy (at least for this area), and they had a sprinkler set up on Main St along with one water stop (that we passed twice in the 5K). There were a couple bands playing on different corners, and post-race goodies included water, bananas, and bagels. Not bad for a little local race. It was a choose-your-charity race, so I ran to support the Rockingham/Harrisonburg SPCA.

Running for a finish is such a different animal than running for a time goal. You have to take your ego out of the equation, because a whole lot of people are going to be passing you up! That’s always been true for me (I’ve never been fast – my best 5K to date was 32:17), but starting over like I am puts me back at the rear of the pack again. You just have to have a plan and stick to it and trust the process. This race was a stepping stone to something much bigger, and I feel so much more comfortable and happy out there doing intervals. This feels like the right way to re-enthuse myself about running, and so far, it’s working.

16 weeks until my next half marathon! 🙂

Ready to Rock

So, what does my half marathon playlist have to do with food? A little bit, actually. This is the first race that I’m attempting a proper 3-day carb load for. I’ll report my methods and results upon return from Fredericksburg, but until then, here’s what I’ll be listening to while I tick off 13.1 miles tomorrow. Going for an alt-rock theme (for the most part) this time around.

Well Enough Alone – Chevelle
No Sleep Till Brooklyn – The Beastie Boys
All My Life – Foo Fighters
Do You Want To – Franz Ferdinand
Float – Flogging Molly
One Wild Night – Bon Jovi
Missed The Boat – Modest Mouse
Church On Sunday – Green Day
Learn to Fly – Foo Fighters
Salvation – Rancid
Times Like These – Foo Fighters
Nearly Lost You – Screaming Trees
Elevation – U2
The Hand That Feeds – Nine Inch Nails
Damnit (Growing Up) – Blink 182
Story of My Life – Social Distortion
Sweetness – Jimmy Eat World
Dashboard – Modest Mouse
Olive Me – NoFX
Audience of One – Rise Against
The Kill – 30 Seconds to Mars
The World At Large – Modest Mouse
American Idiot – Green Day
Waiting – Green Day
Time Bomb – Rancid
All The Small Things – Blink 182
Here in Your Bedroom – Goldfinger
I’ll Stick Around – Foo Fighters
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper – Caesars
What I Got – Sublime
Hard Sun – Eddie Vedder
Need You Around – Smoking Popes
Where The Streets Have No Name – U2
The Impression That I Get – Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Float On – Modest Mouse
I Was Wrong – Social Distortion
Savior – Rise Against
Lounge Act – Nirvana
Still Waiting – Sum 41
Minority – Green Day
Machine Gun Blues – Social Distortion
Santeria – Sublime
Staring At The Sun – U2
Bleed American – Jimmy Eat World
Butterfly – Crazy Town
Bleed It Out – Linkin Park
South Side – Moby Feat. Gwen Stefani
Down – 311

Anticipation of Yum

This is the post whereby I anticipate YUM!

Caitlin over at Healthy Tipping Point had me at “grilled banana” – but imagine this drool-inducing scenario, if you will: grilled banana, stuffed between what is essentially 2 slices of french toast. Oh, sweet, cinnamony, vanilla-y goodness! A grilled banana sandwich. I don’t even need to cook this to know it’s going to be ridiculous-good.

As I sit here charging my iPod and transferring new diggnation episodes to it to watch on the treadmill, I’m also researching ways to vegan-ize the french toast part of this recipe, as I don’t eat eggs. I’ve mish-mashed a few recipes together and I’ve got what I think is a solid plan for making a most excellent brunch when I return from the gym.

Speaking of the gym… I figured out this morning why I couldn’t get video to play from my iPod onto the entertainment center screens on the Precor treadmills at the gym. It’s because I was playing the audio versions of the podcasts instead of the video versions. Duh. Video doesn’t play for an audio podcast, sweetie. *smack* It turns out, there’s a video category on the iPod – so if you happen to be having the same problem (I can’t imagine you are, but just in case), from the main screen, go to the Video category instead of the Podcast category. Run the podcast from there. I’m confident that the video will play just fine when I get to the gym today.

In other news, I added a widget to the right sidebar from, one of the sites I use to track my running progress. (I also use Garmin Connect – I really need to buy the foot pod accessory so I can use my Garmin on the treadmill as well as outside). The Daily Mile widget shows the stats for my last run. I just completed the Couch to 5K training program, and will run in what is technically my second 5K race this weekend – but it will be the first time I attempt to run the entire thing. I have plans to add some running stuff to this blog shortly, so stay tuned!

Now, off to the gym so I can get home and make this insane grilled banana sandwich!