“Emily, push harder! You’ve got this - you’ve done it a thousand times! Breathe! Where’s that thrust?! Use it!!” I was mid-workout in a beginners’ CrossFit competition called Festivus Games, the shouting of my teammates and coach sounded as though it was somewhere in the distance, though they were just feet away. My muscles burned, my breath was quick, but I was energized by the crowd and the running clock. That’s the thing about CrossFit - no matter how hard or how heavy your workout, it’s almost always a short burn of intense energy (short, at least, from the perspective of a distance runner). So, stressing over a workout is futile - just focus, give it all you’ve got, and before you know it, you’re done - covered in sweat, with the satisfaction that you’ve worked harder in that 10 or 15 minutes than most people do in an entire day.
I first walked into a CrossFit box over two years ago - at a time when I was moderately active, and generally bored - well before the term “ultrarunning" entered my vocabulary. I’d been inspired to try CrossFit by a friend who’d worked it into his lifestyle, a decision whose success was evidenced by an ongoing transformation that seemed positive, both physically and emotionally.
As hard as it was to shake awkward gym class flashbacks in which middle school-aged me was uncoordinated, uninspired and generally terrified, the positivity and encouragement that abounded in that CrossFit box allowed me to do so. Throughout the first few weeks, my initial feelings of intimidation, nervous energy, inferiority were replaced with motivation, pride and camaraderie.
Over time, as my focus on distance running grows, so does my appreciation of CrossFit and its benefits. Thanks to countless squats in various forms, running hills now requires less effort. Sit-ups, handstands, planking and farmer carries are just a few of the exercises that contribute to a stronger core, which can be key to maintaining posture and form when your body starts to tire during a long run. The mobility exercises, muscle smashing and stretching we spend time on keep me loose and pain-free.
The most valuable aspect of CrossFit, however, are the relationships I’ve developed in the box that have enriched my life in many ways. Not only does this group of friends look past the bedhead, sweat, and loopy pre-coffee, 6AM conversation, they are willing to suggest you’re ready to lift more weight, run faster, to get in your face and shout encouraging words, pushing each other - pushing me - to be present and use my strength.
When I tell other runners that CrossFit is a regular part of my routine, many react with confusion. It’s understandable - I’m the first to admit that the best way to perfect your skill as a runner, is by running - there is simply no other way to prepare your body and mind to run for hours at a time. And though ultrarunning has staked a claim in my life in a very big way, this team of friends - this tribe of enthusiastic, energetic, competitive people - they are why I CrossFit.