Recently, I’ve been reading Tim Ferriss’ new book, The 4-Hour Body. In one of the sections, Tim describes how he plans to go from running a 5K to running a 50K ultramarathon in 12 weeks, using a CrossFit Endurance training plan developed by Brian MacKenzie.
The CrossFit Endurance training program uses short, intense interval training, calisthenics, and weight lifting to build the strength, speed, and endurance needed to run triathlons, marathons, and ultramarathons. The longest running workout in the CrossFit Endurance plan is typically 13.1 miles.
My take on the CrossFit Endurance program is that it can help you to improve your strength and fitness and may help you improve your race times in shorter races, up to the half marathon. It may also get some people to the finish line in a marathon or ultramarathon, but it may also increase your risk of a DNF or a slow time.
I don’t think there is any substitute for doing long runs to prepare for a marathon (and especially an ultramarathon). Do you need to run 20 miles or more? Not necessarily. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, some training programs top out at 16 miles.
Preparing for a marathon is not just about the running. Marathoning is highly technical. You need figure out your hydration and nutrition strategy and test it on your long runs. You also need to break through some of the mental barriers that tell you that you can’t run 26.2 miles. You need to learn to continue run with good form when your legs muscles are extremely fatigued.
By skipping the long runs and the associated race prep, the CrossFit Endurance plan increases the chance that you will end up dropping out of the race, walking the last several miles, or running a slow finish time.
If you like CrossFit training and are thinking about running a marathon, I would suggest that you supplement your training with long runs. It will increase your chances of having a good finish.
I’ve asked a couple of ultramarathoning experts what they think about using CrossFit Endurance to train for an ultra. Bryon Powell, author of the ultramarathon training book Relentless Forward Progress, is skeptical that someone could go from “couch to 50K” on the CFE program. He thinks that someone who had previously run marathons could “certainly finish” an ultramarathon on the CFE training program.
Scott Jurek, 7 time winner of the Western States 100 mile race, who was interviewed in The 4-Hour Body, thinks that “anybody can do an ultramarathon”, even on low mileage of 30-40 miles per week and that finishing an ultramarathon using the CFE program is “totally doable”.
How will Tim Ferriss do in his 50K ultramarathon after only 12 weeks of training? Although I’m a big fan of Tim’s work and he has done some amazing things, I think that this is going to be a tough one for him to pull off.
I predict that Tim either won’t finish the 50K race or will finish in over 5 hours, much slower than would be predicted if he had done a conventional ultramarathon training program. You can check on Tim’s results here. So far, nothing to report.
Have you tried the CrossFit Endurance program? How has it worked for you? Tell me in the comments.
Update: I recently saw a post from a 25 year old man who had successfully completed a 50K ultra-marathon using only CrossFit Endurance training. However, after checking the results for his race, it turns out that he finished 4th from last in the race, running at just under a 15:00 per mile pace and finishing behind some runners in their late 60’s.
Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete also wrote about his experience in running a 50K trail ultra-marathon, following the CrossFit Endurance prescription of no runs longer than 13 miles. He swears that there is “no way in hell” he’d do that again.