Unlike our recent reads, this book isn’t focussed on helping you become an elite runner. Rather, it provides an extra layer on top of your running routine – a range of unconventional methods to help you make your body unbreakable.
You may already know the standard approach to becoming an efficient runner, introduced by the infamous Arthur Lydiard, which is to run a lot. What he means by “a lot” is 100 miles or more per week if you’re preparing for long and slow distances. Of course, you wouldn’t run 100 miles at once – this would be broken up into 3 weekly runs: running hills (strength), a fast short run and a long endurance grind.
Lydiard’s approach does have opponents however and they include this book’s authors, T.J. Murphy and CFE (Crossfit Endurance) pioneer Brian Mackenzie. According to them, Lydiard’s LSD (long slow distance running) approach is a shortcut to injury town. As obstacle racers we can see some truth in their opinion; it is obvious how running more miles will result in more injuries. This book, Unbreakable Runner, lists a few studies to back up the injury claims and one of the recent studies they cite, states that almost 79% of runners face an injury at least once a year and mostly due to bad form.
Why crossfit endurance and how it makes you unbreakable
Crossfit endurance tries to reset the original mind frames of the athletes to focus on health and sustainability first. The authors present various studies of High Intensity Interval Training which can boost the VO2Max through anaerobic means, when what we usually try to do is to boost it via aerobic activities.
It makes sense that adding mobility training, strength drills, proper gear and fuel will lead to a better performance and better body durability. However, the main benefit of Crossfit endurance that I found, was that it focuses highly on building the correct form by helping you develop a tree-trunk strong core, stable feet and high cadence.
Your new running strategies
There’s a few things in this book that make it different and better than your standard training book with pictured exercises and training tables: advice for setting up your home gym, how an existing crossfit routine integrates with crossfit endurance (CFE), and most importantly how to adapt CFE to a specific distance – be it 5k or a marathon.
On using CFE to improve your 5k run: “Let’s say you are prepared to run 20 minutes flat for the 5k, but you want to break that. That means you are aiming to run at less than 6:24 per mile. <…> if you get swept up in the frenzy of the start and run 6 minutes flat for the first mile, you’ll be cooked to even hold a 7-minute pace for the second mile. Rather try to stick that first mile with a 6:24 split, hold the same pace through the second mile, then blast the final 1.125 miles with the best mile you have left in you. This is how you PR.”
And talking about longer distances: “Say you can run a 20-minute 5K race. It’s safe to say that the pace you can hold in a 10K race is about 5% slower than that. Moving from 10K to half marathon, one would begin to exhibit a larger deterioration in pace, but not by too much. A 10K at a pace of 6:40 per mile <…> would yield a pace of right around 7:00 per mile, for a 1:32 half-marathon.”
It is a no-brainer how you too can add these strategies and the below principles to your OCR routine.
Some other takeaways to turn you into an unbreakable runner:
- More miles means more ways to get injured. Instead, run smarter by doing high intensity intervals, circuit training and focusing on form, strength and skill training. The latter is imperative.
- Employ mobility tools: minimal shoes, standing desks, constant stretching, foam rolling, etc.
- Focusing on using good fats as a fuel (we’ve written about racing in ketosis) rather than your limited carbohydrate stores.
- Recognising that you need a different plan for different kinds of races. The 3-miler Spartan Sprint might have been piece of cake, but using the same intensity in 10+ mile races will make you hit the wall or ‘bonk’ quickly.
- To be unbreakable you need to focus on recovery first. This should be scheduled and a regular routine.
- Committing to B races before the main A race. This will keep you in check on your progress and keep you motivated throughout the training.
- To start with CFE you don’t need to join the crossfit box. You can follow the book’s advice and set up your own home gym. You don’t need a lot to start with: a kettlebell, a jump rope and a pull-up bar. This is the same set of basic tools I recommend to my clients.
There are far too many fitness books in the market that all say the same thing, so I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting this book was. It almost completely avoids the filler and unnecessary clutter.
Personally, I do still think that every runner should also focus on collecting the quality miles in order to increase stamina. The authors here state that crossfit endurance helps increase pain tolerance, but knowing how gritty OCR is, there might be need for more trials that help develop grit. This I think can be achieved by merging the CFE principles with the standard high-mileage approach introduced by Lydiard.