Off-Season Training

It’s weird to think that I’ve been running for three years (since my college hiatus) but this is the first off season I’m able to train for next season.  After my first goal race (Mighty Niagara Half Marathon 2012), I was sent to NYC for work due to Hurricane Sandy and with 90 hour work weeks, exercise was not happening.  When I came back, I went through some personal changes (a break-up after 4 years, moving out, and a new relationship), so it took me a couple months to start up again!  After my second goal race (Buffalo Half Marathon 2013), I was injured and that started my downhill spiral until basically June 2014.  Finally, here we are in 2015 with my first successful year running that (hopefully) won’t involve injuries or work.


The first time I thought I was coming back from my injury (fall 2013), I wanted to focus on heart rate training.  It’s something I tried occasionally while training for the Buffalo Half in 2013 and I enjoyed it.  It felt appropriate to focus on a heart rate rather than a pace, which better reflected if I was recovered and the conditions, plus it really benefit me during a 15k race I did during training.

Heart TreadmillI researched Phil Maffetone’s method and tried it briefly.  It was hard.  I talked about it at first, went as far as to create a training plan and after a few weeks, I kind of totally gave up.  I also wasn’t really sold on the way he figured out your heart rate zones, though plenty of people swear by it.  Looking at his website with the method now, I don’t know that it would ever suit me.  The hardest part truly is not being able to strength train.  I’m an injury prone runner, avoiding any weights for 3 months is not ideal!

For the past year I’ve trained in the “typical” way.  I’ve increased my mileage, I’ve run within my “ideal” paces as determined partially by feel, but also by a variety of pace calculators using recent race times.  I researched the Jack Daniel’s method as well as Greg McMillan’s theories.  I read both books front to back, despite being somewhat of reference material.  I learned a lot, but I am still left with some questions.

Now I’m looking to next year and I’m wondering what approach I want to take with my training.  I’ve decided to train for shorter races from the mile to the half marathon.  I’m going to pick an early spring half marathon goal race (I’m looking at the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 1st) and then spend the rest of summer racing whatever and whenever.  I’ve had some PR goals for a while now (more on that in the future) and I’m ready to nail them.  The question is — how do I want to train?  

crossfit-cartoonThere is one component of my training that cannot disappear and it’s my strength training.  I have no question that it’s the sole reason I’m not back in physical therapy after two “goal” races (goal to finish injury free).  My strength training method of choice is CrossFit, mostly CrossFit Endurance classes, and it works very well for me.  I know CrossFit gets a bad rep, but I firmly believe if you’re smart (key word), it’s not as bad as everyone wants to make it out to be.  I went to a few different locations and had not so great experiences (too heavy weights, not enough instruction for my safety, typical CF concerns people express) but settled into my current program at CrossFit Nickel City.  The main coach, Chris, is an endurance athlete himself and my physical therapist is now housed there as well; their emphasis is on moving well.  It’s been a serious game changer for me.

This that leaves me with two options for my training that I’m interested in: a total focus on heart rate training only or the CrossFit Endurance method.

Heart rate training is pretty self explanatory, I believe and most people seem to have a general understanding.  You determine your maximum heart rate for your sport by a sport specific workout or a test administered in a lab setting by cardiologist or physiologist. Utilizing your maximum heart rate, you can figure out your specific training zones and follow (or create) a plan in which you’re spending most of your time working on aerobic capacity or “easy running” and a small amount of your time (think 10-15% each week) in the highest zone towards your max heart rate.  Most often we run too fast on our easy runs but we don’t push hard enough on our hard runs; heart rate training is a solid effort at fixing it.

Trained Harder CartoonNow CrossFit Endurance?  That’s something new to me and probably new to most of you.  It’s a very different approach to running and one that will probably make the majority of people scoff, “You cannot possibly train for an endurance event with that plan,” I’m interested, though.  The scary thing is it seems in order to see full results, you need to totally invest yourself in the method.

The CrossFit Endurance website states a pretty bold claim:
This program only requires 6-8 hours per week to COMPETE at Ultra/Ironman distances.

I see the jaws dropping already.  CrossFit Endurance involves a lot of focus on technique (something I already do regularly at my CFE classes) which has improved my form immensely, plus developing explosive power and avoiding the “junk” miles.  The scary part is how you take out the actual “endurance” portion of the training.  The book Unbreakable Runner is one on my list to buy and read before making my decision fully.  It’s so crazy to think you actually train for only a few hours a WEEK for a marathon on these training plans.

Here’s an interesting review from an Ironman who trained traditionally, then with CrossFit Endurance.  Basically, she found she had similar times between the two training methods, but the 2nd Ironman (trained with CFE) was a more difficult course. The thing I found to be most appealing is that when all is said and done, she plans to continue with this training method!  If you’re curious on the type of training plan that you might see, there’s one located on Competitor Running is located here, which is indicated to be an “advanced” plan.  Focusing in on the running, you can see it’s basically like three short interval workouts per week.

On the flip side, of course there is a ton of skepticism.  I like when articles point out that no elite athletes use CrossFit Endurance in their training regimen because actually?  They kind of do.  We incorporate running drills, plyometrics, and power lifting with barbells and kettle bells.  If you ever look at an elite runner’s strength training workout, it’s very similar to the things we do.  Now the running part?  Well, that’s another story — I don’t think any elite runner has done that, but I’d love if somebody tried it out and honestly talked about it.

As it stands, I’m leaning towards thoroughly researching heart rate training and doing it right by giving it my all (not Maffetone this time).  I’m just not quite ready to get rid of my volume and longer track workouts yet.  Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to get rid of that; it’s ingrained in my genetics, I’m pretty sure.

paleoI’d love to give CFE a hearty try, but I’m on a budget, or at least trying to be.  I currently invest (because I honestly feel it’s an investment in my health and injury prevention) about $125 every two months in my classes.  I buy a 10-pack and take 1-2 classes each week, which lasts me about 8-10 weeks.  If I were to train solely with CFE, it’d cost me $145 a month (unlimited membership) and my bank account isn’t ready for that.  Unfortunately curiosity is trying to get the better of me and I just want to see what happens if dive fully into the Kool-Aid.  Well as full as I can dive without becoming Paleo, because I just can’t ever agree that that’s the right way to eat.


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Just a 20-something homegrown Buffalo sports loving, distance running, gin drinking kind of girl.

7 thoughts on “Off-Season Training”

  1. I’ve heard very good things about Maffetone method, but I’ve also heard that it can be really hard to stick with because you end up running much slower than what you are used to. I don’t know that I would be able to stick with it.

    This will be the first year that I really get to train through my off season. I’m planning on running lots of easy miles to keep my mileage base around 30-40 mpw and adding in a lot more strength training. I really slacked off on strength training this year and I need to get back at it.

    Also: I’m planning on running the Mighty Niagara Half next year. What is the course like? It looks like the downhill should make it a fairly PR friendly course.


    1. The patience require for Maffetone is incredible. I don’t have that when I’m running on the ice and snow, which already boosts my heart rate up even when I’m slowing down!

      The mighty niagara was my first half marathon! You’re right, it is a downhill course, super flat, but it’s REALLY boring. You’re running down somewhat rural (more suburban I guess) roads with houses set back. There’s not much to look at and I don’t remember there being a ton of spectators when I did it. It does seem to always rain though! The hardest thing for me (aside from being my first) is at one point you can hear the cheering of the finish but you have another half mile or so of weaving through the park to get to the finish. It was such a mind game!

      Granted, after running a handful of half marathons since, my feelings might be different now!


  2. Hey Brittany,
    Thanks for checking out CrossFit Endurance. Love that you are doing your research. We also provide Heart Rate parameter training with the CrossFit Endurance model. Its based off of a Metabolic Test and helps you target the weak spot in your engine. From the test we give you an individual prescription for 6 weeks of HR based training that is only 3-4 runs/week depending on your skill level (albeit not easy!). If you dig it we can of course program out beyond 6 weeks too.
    Check it out here:
    Email us at for any more info or questions.
    Good luck and train smart!


  3. I love that you are looking at all options. There really is no one way to train, and I agree that your strength and cross training really helped keep you healthier and come back stronger. I also love that you are researching things, something I do often. I like to know things, what and why I am doing something. Why would I choose x over z. If I try A + B but remove D, what would the result be. Total nerd shit going on over here don’t mind me! 🙂


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