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Brian MacKenzie of CrossFit Endurance—The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training!

BmacSo, you want to do your first endurance event (anything over 2 hrs)?  I know, you’re thinking where to begin?  I mean, if you want to run 26.2 miles or swim, bike and run 140.6 miles or run an ultra marathon (anything over 50 miles), you’ve got to put in the hours, right?  I mean at least 14-30 hrs per week to be really ready and to do your best, right?  Wrong.

How about getting your deadlift up to 460.  Instead of your “Sunday run” of 2 hours, you work on getting your back squat up to 350?  Sounds insane doesn’t it?  Not when you find out that the guys doing just this kind of work are averaging less than 9 hours per week of training and are finishing 100 mile runs only a handful of hours behind such endurance legends like Dean Karnazes.  Brian MacKenzie and his team at CrossFit Endurance are shaking up the world of endurance training by teaching technique, adding intensity and then doing it faster in all their regimens. 

In short, they are executing no more than 6 total body weightlifting/gymnastics and metabolic conditioning efforts per week (rarely more than 20 minutes in duration) along with 2-3 incremental high intensity tempo and/or interval protocols that are yielding groundbreaking results.  His site, www.crossfitendurance.com is meant as an enhancement to the regimens prescribed at www.crossfit.com.  Brian himself has done multiple races at the 50-100 mile running distances and has completed Ironman Canada among his other feats.  What’s even more shocking is that Brian has only been in this endurance game for about 6 years!  Also, Brian weighs almost 200 lbs and deadlifts 460 while back squatting almost 350!  How does this regimen possibly prepare him for ultra events?  Read on…

How do you overcome the status quo and endless volumes of data that virtually mandate a long, slow distance regimen vs. short term, high intensity program?
Uh, which studies are you referring to? If you could show me any study that proves LSD is in any way, shape or form, better than anaerobic training I’d love to see it! This is the problem with most endurance athletes... They believe for some reason that there is evidence that “neurotic and obsessed” is a study or form of training. It isn’t, nor has it ever been proven. It is still theory, and “folk lore”! Meaning a bunch of neurotic out of shape fat people believed because professional athletes can train long hours they can. Unfortunately it doesn’t work, which is why they are fat, and slow!

What was the key race for you that proved your theory and how scared were you on the start line considering only doing 6-8 hrs of training per week?
Western States 100 was the first race I did that had a lot more strength and conditioning in it. I averaged like 10.5hrs of training per week. The Angeles Crest 100 was the big race that proved what we did hit the mark. I was pretty confident at the start. Sure I had moments along the way where I was questioning it. You don’t show up to a 100 mile run under confident, and when I was there, I knew I was finishing that day. For the most part this training makes you more confident than anything else. We’ve coined a new word along with some friends in CrossFit that describes what we are... It’s called “UnScared”. The art of dealing with fear. I knew what I was getting into, I know what pain comes from running 100 miles, and I also know what pain comes from doing a sub 3 minute “Fran” (a 21-15-9 repetition weight training workout alternating ‘thrusters’ and pull ups for time) or a 5 x 5 heavy squat day. I am more scared of “Fran” and the heavy squats!

If Chris McCormack came to you and said "I want to win Kona this year (again)" how would you train him?
I’d tell him I can’t train him. An athlete like that is such a specialist that it would take me 2-3 years just to get him moving correctly enough to handle what I wanted to do to him. If I had 2-3 years and we could change his nutrition, and put some size and strength on him, all the while he still could move efficiently, then I would never let him do an unnecessary mile or minute of training again. Unfortunately, he probably wouldn’t be able to wrap his head around that, and have a break down, and secretly go out and swim/bike/run real long. I can’t give you his code for training because they are all different, but I can tell you he would not only not survive with me but would not win Kona if I only had a year.

You advocate overall body strength work and high intensity metabolic conditioning--which is more important to establish first?
Met-Con. Although Mark Rippatoe and several others that I consider peers and mentors would say strength.

BmacWhat are your top 2-3 keys to overcoming the hype of long, slow distance work for those you coach?
I have 1 key point for this... If I coach you, and you decide to go longer than I tell you, you just decided to get coached by someone else. Ask around and you will hear from former athletes I coached. They can’t hide it from me either. It;s real obvious when they do it, because they can’t recover and go hard the next time I need them to. It’s the same thing with a crappy diet too.

How do you train your newbie long, slow distance addicts to draw more strength from the CrossFit Endurance way?
Pull them away from LSD and get them CrossFitting and Strength training 4-6 times a week. 

What are the most valuable weight training movements to improve running and cycling performance?
HEAVY Squats and HEAVY Deadlifts... When I say squat, I don’t mean the kind your doctor says don’t do either. Your ass needs to be below parallel so that “it” (your ass) can experience what it does for a living.  

When you look back at all the endless hours you spent in long, slow distance work you did prior to CrossFit Endurance, what are your biggest regrets?
Not one! We basically wrote a PHD in our experience from LSD to CFE. Will we ever be recognized like that? Not by anyone I care to be around or look up too. I’ve studied HR, VO2 Max, blood lactate, and everything that goes with it. I’ve got 5+ years of heart rate data on clients and my own training. I’ve got a VO2 Machine that I used to use for everyone I trained. I’ve personally tested blood lactate levels on hundreds of athletes. It all came down to this... When we got rid of the slow stuff, added intensity, and heavy weights, everyone got faster, and everyone got healthier.

BmacWhen you think about how you'd like to go faster in your next Ultra Marathon event, what areas do you focus most on?
Speed!

What are the 3 biggest mistakes you see endurance athletes make and how would you suggest they change?

Nutrition, Training, Recovery. I know this is vague, but there is so much wrong we could write a book on it. All of the nutrition sucks in endurance sports... Get rid of the supplements and start adding real food. Training: stop running, riding, and swimming all day, it doesn’t make you faster! You are quad dominant, and your hips don’t work for Christ's sake. Learn to move correctly, and lift heavy... Then go really fast! I’d also like to throw in that none of them look at their particular sport as a skill, and because of this they will never do what they love for a long time. PERIOD!

Brian MacKenzie
Born: October 20, 1974 
Age: 34
First Triathlon: Newport Beach Sprint Triathlon May 2002
Turned Pro: N/A
Lives: Costa Mesa, CA

Career at a glance

  • Angeles Crest 100 mile run, 2007 34th 27:39
  • estern States 100 mile run, 2006, 89th, 26:47
  • Mt Disappointment 50k run, 2006, 26th, 5:47:11
  • Ironman Canada 2004 478th, 11:33:47

Brian, thanks for your time and shockingly fresh and innovative perspective.  I look forward to watching you and your athletes continue to change the paradigm of endurance training—and incorporating this same philosophy in my athletes!
Brian Mackenzie is an expert in strength and conditioning for endurance athletes as well as the creator of CrossFit's Run Endurance Certification. He is a Level 3 CrossFit Certified Trainer and is a Level 3 POSE Certified Running Coach.

Brian is the co-owner of CrossFit Newport Beach, and operates an internship for professional trainers. He has been a competitive Ultra Runner. He has competed in Ironman Canada along with several ultra marathons ranging from 50k to 100 miles including the Western States 100 and the Angeles Crest 100 on limited training and utilizing CrossFit as the cornerstone of his programming for not only his training, but all of his athletes.  www.crossfitendurance.com

Interview by Max Wunderle

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