My First Unbreakable Runner Workout

Brian MacKenzie, founder of CrossFit Endurance, has just released a new book called Unbreakable Runner. The body of work is a refinement of the work he presented in Power, Speed, Endurance, only this time the book is focused solely on running. In an interview on Competitor.com Brian explains how his program focuses on quality of training and not volume of training. Brian’s points are very similar to my previous blog post challenging traditional triathlon training plans. As a runner who has struggled with a variety running injuries in the past, the approach of the Unbreakable Runner is very appealing.

Brian’s is to combine skills training, with CrossFit style strength conditioning, and HIIT style runs. The skills training are designed to make you a more economical runner and to have a less injury prone running form. The strength conditioning build up on the skills training. My take is to correct weaknesses which will reduce compensations in your running form, thus leading to fewer injuries. And there’s a number of benefits to your endurance achieved through strength training. The final component is HIIT style workouts. These workouts give you substantial bang for the buck in your workout time. You achieve the same conditioning benefits while pounding out far fewer miles.

CrossFit Endurance is not without criticism. Injuries are common with CrossFit. Ohio State kinesiology professor Steven T. Devor said:

“As with any high-intensity power training — including CrossFit — your likelihood of having an overuse injury is greater. It is the nature of the intensity,” he said.

With CrossFit Endurance specifically, overtraining is a very common criticism. Ben Greenfield has a much sharper opinion of CrossFit Endurance:

“If you’re a CrossFit enthusiast and CrossFit gym attendee, or use the CrossFit websites to get your WOD’s, and you’re blindly adhering to the program while also doing 2-3 swim, bikes and/or runs during the week, then you’re either A) not performing to your capacity in the CrossFit workouts, and thus getting mere fractions of the “intense” CrossFit benefits or B) performing to your capacity in the CrossFit workouts, but then performing ugly and half-assed aerobic training sessions because of soreness and fatigue.

In either case, A or B, I guarantee that if you’re doing a “proper” CrossFit program and combining it with a “proper” triathlon or endurance training program, there is absolutely no chance that you are giving your testosterone:cortisol ratios or inflammatory response to exercise an adequate time to recover, which results in increased immune system lowering risks, increased risk of soft tissue injury, and increased risk of overtraining syndrome.” – Ben Greenfield

In Beyond Training, Ben Greenfield goes very in depth on overtraining syndrome. Ben Greenfield’s book is a must read for any endurance athlete. I read Ben’s book several months ago and made several adjustments to my training. Overtraining is very real and very common amongst athletes. More is not always better. Overtraining can be very counter productive of your training goals.

I think its important to keep in mind Brian MacKenzie is selling a product called CrossFit Endurance. His business is training CrossFit Endurance coaches. It is a very challenging program and may not be for everyone. But the same could be said of traditional triathlon training. In either training approach you are going to risk overuse training injuries. That’s the nature of training for this sport.

Brian MacKenzie started CrossFit Endurance because he himself was left too injured from traditional training approaches. Its not a totally brand new approach. Just the first time that I know of that interval workouts have been packaged with CrossFit workouts. There are professional athletes who have had a great deal of success combining strength training with interval training.

I do see the benefits to CrossFit Endurance over the training I have been doing.  The training plans in Beyond Training are for the single sport of running. I have the next month or two to experiment with what works for me focusing just on running, before I need to recalibrate for triathlon training.

A Unbreakable Runner Workout

So, what is an Unbreakable Runner workout like? Following the book, I set out to give it a try. The workout was a set of drills, followed by interval runs.

Unbreakable Runner Drills

The training day I selected from the 5k plan in the book called for a set of drills. I did 4 different drills.

Hollow Rock

I looked at the description of this drill and thought, ahh, its not bad. Nope, I was wrong. This one was a challenge! The purpose of the drill is to develop trunk strength and midline stabilization. Clearly this a weak area for me! I was way short of the 1-2 minute hold!

Recommended: 3 x 10 reps or 1-2 min hold

Hop With Forward Lean

Brain is an advocate of the Pose method in running. This drill is to help to teach you to properly use gravity with a falling forward lean. I totally messed this up my first couple tries. But it did help me get a better feel for what should be happening in running.

Recommended: 3 x 3-5 reps

Pulling Wall

The goal of this drill is to help you learn to activate your hamstrings and glutes when pulling your foot up from the ground. This wasn’t too bad to do, but I was a bit uncertain I was doing it correctly. Later while running, I felt like my feet we’re not coming up high enough.

Recommendation: 3 x 20 reps

Alternating Foot Pull

This drill builds upon the previous drill. I know I totally messed this one up. Brian makes it look se easy in the video. It really taxed my coordination! Interesting drill though. I will try this drill again. I’m sure with a few more sessions I’ll get it down.

Recommendation: 3 x 5-10 reps, per side.

An Unbreakable Runner Run

The Week 1 intermediate 5k training plan called for interval run of 8-10 200 meter runs with 2 minute rest periods. Thus run for 200 meters, walk for 2 minutes, repeat 8 to 10 times.

In my opinion this is an interval workout, not a High Intensity Interval (HIIT) workout. The 200 meter run is just too long to be called ‘high intensity’. While not the current buzz, this is still very effective.

My Actual Run

I don’t run at a track, and rarely run on a treadmill. I enjoy running outside. I reside in downtown St Petersburg. Thus, I typically head out my door and run by the water. Which is always just a pretty run. I didn’t see any dolphins on my run today, but I did see some white pelicans (who only visit us during the winter months).

White Pelicans

White Pelicans

My intervals are far from perfect. My rest periods are even worse. I run with a Garmin Forerunner 220. The 200 meter sprint distance, works out to about .125 miles. I was watching the distance on my watch for tracking the intervals. This works, but is not nearly as accurate as a track or treadmill.

I used the first interval just to warm up a bit. I ran that at my normal 10:30 pace (I’m not that fast). I increased my pace on the following intervals to about a 7:30 pace. I was finding this was leaving me fairly winded at the end of the sprint.

I was able to complete about 7 total intervals. I chose to end my workout a little early. While running last week, I strained my right hamstring. It was starting to get unhappy. No need to push it and risk further injury.

Run Observations

I like the 200m interval distance. It’s long enough to allow you to settle into a nice fast pace. I was able to monitor my cadence via my Garmin. I found I did a fairly good job of keeping my cadence in the 180-185 range as recommended by Brian. After doing the drills, I felt more aware of my run mechanics. I feel like it is easier to keep a good running form at a 7-8 minute pace, than it is at a 10-11 minute pace.

Conclusion

This was my first time with this Unbreakable Runner workout. You may find it ironic that I aborted the run early due to a looming injury. But hey, this is my first Unbreakable Runner workout! So, lets keep the expectations in check!

I do plan to continue with Brian’s Unbreakable Runner training plan. I really like the approach. I’ll be visiting a local CrossFit box for the first time tonight.

I’m doing 18 miles for Ragnar next February. Hoping the Unbreakable Runner Training plan leaves me ready for Ragnar, and two months after Ragnar, I’ll be starting into the 2015 triathlon season.

John has been racing triathlons since 2007. He has completed more sprints than he can remember, a handful of International distance triathlons and two Ironman 70.3 races. He is leading a Ragnar team to Key West in February 2015, and is registered to race the Augusta Ironman 70.3 race again in September 2015.