Three Mistakes that are Killing Your Endurance Program

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There exists an entire population of goal-oriented, long-term thinking, type-A athletes who need exactly what you and your CrossFit Box are dishing up. But, you’re missing them in a big way. In fact, three big ways.

If you’re unsure of who this mystery population is, thumb through the latest Runners World, or show up at your city’s local marathon, even the 5k festival, and you’ll see a group of enthused, focused, athletes (and coaches, companies and vendors) who actively invest in the running and endurance lifestyle they care about. In fact, an entire economy exists around shoes, clothing, events, and now injury prevention, strength, mobility, movement and coaching. Runners know they need help and are virtually never stingy on things they believe will assist them in living this lifestyle.

Nonetheless, runners don’t always see the inherent value of the CrossFit sign hanging on your door. In fact, for every runner interested in CrossFit, there are two or three who are frightened and skittish about AMRAPs, burpees and bumper plates.

But fear not! That just means we have some work to do in bridging the gap, and by avoiding these three common mistakes, you’ll be building long-term relationships with local runners, coaches, races and entire endurance communities for years to come.

  1. You don’t know who you are or what your program is!

Are you creating a running program for your existing CrossFit membership? Or are you trying to create a focused strength and conditioning program for existing and active endurance athletes? Do you wish to partner with a high school swimming program? Or are you going after the local college’s track team? Maybe you want to do all of the above, but knowing the difference between these groups is important because you will want to structure the programs differently and talk to those prospective members differently.

For example, CrossFit is most well known for its stomach churning high rep, Metcon workouts. Those are usually what gets members excited and in the door. But here’s the thing: Actively training runners don’t necessarily need more metabolic conditioning, and it’s this notion of crazy dangerous workouts that keep them out of your gym.

They do, however, need space to work on mobility, basic core strength, single leg work and, of course, some focused time under a barbell. Does that mean they should never breathe hard and get sweaty? Absolutely not. But, carving out a space for tired runners to come in and not just get more tired will not only build their trust in you, it will keep them showing up throughout their racing season.

Being sensitive to your endurance athletes’ needs and specifically addressing their needs every day you train them cannot be overstated.

  1. You haven’t made the right friends AND you’re not part of the conversation.

CrossFitters love CrossFitting because they get to hang out and, well, CrossFit all the time. They speak the same language, commiserate on the latest Open workouts, geek out on Rich Froning’s Fran time or drool over how comfortable the latest Nanos are. In many respects, it’s THIS conversation and community that keeps your members happy and coming back.

So you know, an equally robust and equally geeky conversation occurs on the other side of the athletic aisle: Which socks wick sweat and prevent blisters for half marathons? Don’t you hate it when your GPS watch runs out of batteries 12 miles into your Ironman or Ultra marathon? What’s your favorite GU flavor? Why oh why do I always cramp up on the hills? Ooh, are you a water bottle guy or a hydration pack guy? Did you see the latest Boston Marathon qualifying standards? Crazy!

Your membership is always as active as its ability to be part of these bigger conversations. And while the flavor of the conversation shifts during the time of year and, of course, from Box to Box, the conversation is there. Recruiting coaches and creating a space for these endurance conversations to occur will attract runners who want to get strong, but who really want to get strong while talking running with all their running buddies. In essence, they feel like they belong there!

  1. You’re missing the big picture.

“Well, you really shouldn’t be running that long anyway. In fact, did you know you could train for a marathon just doing CrossFit and running once per week?”

I’ve heard this line more times from CrossFit Coaches and gym owners than I care to count. In essence, it’s telling someone to stop doing what they love to do, or that what they love to do is bad. No wonder many cyclists, runners and triathletes roll their eyes at the latest CrossFit Coach standing on their soap box, proselytizing to the unconverted.

Granted, this argument has merit. Many people are attempting distances way beyond their physical limitations and paying the price. Runners get hurt, a lot, and need the strength, mobility and general physical preparation that the local Box provides more than they know.

However, starting combatively will shut the conversation and a potentially long, profitable and mutually beneficial relationship down even before it can begin. Telling people what they do is wrong totally overlooks and devalues what they themselves enjoy doing.

So, your endurance program boils down to a marketing problem, not necessarily a product issue. Any runner who bravely attempts to enter the new world of CrossFit usually comes out feeling rejuvenated, excited and empowered. But, for every runner who makes the leap, there are several who are too afraid, or who try but immediately get turned off by the box’s attitude.

Remember: Sell people on what they want, but give them what they need.

As Coaches and gym owners we empower! Our job is to help our members live the lifestyle they want to live. The best way to do this for runners is to build a killer endurance program at your gym. So, don’t make those above three mistakes! Make sure your endurance program targets actual runners, Coaches and run groups. Invest time in encouraging as much community and conversation around leg swings as you do around hook gripping. Finally, don’t be a judger! Rather seek to understand what your runners enjoy doing and why. Your job is to help them do just that. Even if that occasionally means talking them off the 40 marathons a year ledge, you might want to start with a high-five and a “welcome.”

Nate Helming
Nate Helming coaches strength and mobility for national and international-level road cyclists, mountain bikers, triathletes and ultrarunners at San Francisco CrossFit, as well as elite-level amateur runners and triathletes outside the gym. You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter and check out more of his videos and articles on his website, www.TheRunExperience.com.

1 Comment

  1. RunnerXX

    June 2, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Right on. Most runners don’t have the mobility to execute the Cross Fit moves to maintain maximum endurance on only one run per week. Some (lucky, not all!) of your gym owners need to stop telling people that. I will show you if you put me in a race against my (note: experienced, 7-10+ year) runner-turned-cross fit friends who buy into this. Maybe this is true after 1-2 years (if they don’t hurt themselves first) or for a few gifted athletes. Please be honest with your customers. Truly. I am not going to walk into any CF gym, quickly reduce my mileage by 70% and win any age group by doing WODs right off the bat. If this is about successful athletic development, don’t put us in one “box”. Customized endurance programs are win-win!

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