If your idea of a workout consists, as mine did, of a pleasant run and a few sit-ups, your first CrossFit session isn’t just a shock—it’s like being tased.
“I was a junkie long-distance guy,” he begins, standing before the group like an alcoholic confessing his sins. Later he’ll tell us that “the longest I’ve run while training for a 100-mile race in the past seven years is a half marathon.”
MacKenzie is six foot two, athletically built, and handsome, with short brown hair and brown eyes. In person he’s friendly and self-deprecating. He can also be intimidating, perhaps because of his self-confidence, which is abundant, or his tattoos, which are numerous. A ring of blue skulls wrap his right wrist. The word UNSCARED is spelled out on his knuckles.
At one point during his remarks, a man in the third row asks what a lot of us are probably thinking: Doesn’t a long-distance runner need to, you know, run long distances? MacKenzie throws it right back. “You think a long, slow run is going to make you—what?—faster?” he asks. Why, he says, do humans resist the idea that less could be more?
The attendees are a broad mix, including a female ultrarunner from Denver and a sixtyish mom from Elko, Nevada. Many are CrossFitters, and they listen intently as MacKenzie and fellow instructors talk about all sorts of stuff: foot striking, diet, the medicinal properties of olive oil. The atmosphere is somewhere between a megachurch sermon and an earnest infomercial.
Traditional training, MacKenzie tells us, is a recipe for plateaus, inattention, and overuse injuries. “I think people are tapped out on volume,” he’ll say later. “We’re getting rid of the unnecessary.” In its place, CFE builds on a foundation of rugged CrossFit workouts.
In case you’re not familiar with the California-born CrossFit program, which has spawned a cultlike following among millions of regular users, the main terms to remember are short and hurts. CrossFit aims to build all-around athletes through gym-class-from-hell regimens marked by intense, sometimes frantic exercises. A single 15-minute workout might include round-robins of gymnastic movements, Olympic-style weight lifting, and plyometric routines like box jumps.
On top of this, a would-be CFE marathoner mixes in a few brisk running sessions each week—sprints, intervals, time trials—and might never run farther than 13 miles. CFE also dispenses with periodization, the concept that an athlete has to move in stair-step fashion toward peak performance.
MacKenzie isn’t anti-volume per se, but he thinks athletes shouldn’t increase distance until they’ve perfected technique and dialed up intensity. The shorter workouts succeed because they’re very hard. “This ain’t the easy way,” MacKenzie says. “Just because it’s less doesn’t mean it’s easy.”