As modern technology and conveniences make us more sedentary, many Ashevilleans are searching for fitness methods that improve overall wellness by increasing strength, flexibility, endurance and ease of movements. There’s running, of course. But there’s also a high-intensity training method, CrossFit, which draws on the core movements of several sports. There are advocates of each fitness method who think their workout is the best. But some fitness buffs combine running with CrossFit and say they benefit from both.
Created by former gymnast Greg Glassman, CrossFit has “changed how I deal with fitness,” says Hayette Bouras.
She’s CrossFit Pisgah’s business manager and a convert to the typically high-intensity, group-oriented workouts the system calls for. “I dabbled in running, hula hooping,” says Bouras. “I played in high school sports but couldn’t follow through and didn’t have the self-discipline to stick with anything.”
CrossFit uses movements from such sports as gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. Bouras says she made fun of the system before an enthusiastic friend told her how much he enjoyed it and why she’d love it too. “Then he told me how much it cost, and I said, ‘You must have lost your damn mind!’ … Now, I would take on two extra jobs to be able to come here.”
Bouras’ relationship with her body has changed a lot since she joined CrossFit Pisgah last year, she says. “I was a lot like most women, preoccupied with how I would like my body to be different, how I wasn’t enough the way I was,” says Bouras. “The biggest thing CrossFit has done for me, which has translated into all areas of my life, is to feed my self-esteem. At this point, I’m so comfortable with how I feel that I don’t pay attention to how I look.
“I thought I had vanity fitness goals, like a six-pack. Now, changes in my body are the result of the fun I’m having. I feel more confident and powerful and strong.” She says her weight has not changed at all, but her physique has changed completely.
How does CrossFit work?
“In CrossFit, the goal is the general pursuit of fitness,” says Dan Hartley, head coach and manager at CrossFit Pisgah. “The definition of fitness is … who is the fittest across the board. CrossFit is always goal-oriented, with a clear expectation of what you want to get out of the test of fitness that day,” he says.
“That’s why we rely on data. I want to know that I’m getting better when I’m sacrificing four hours out of my week [when] I could have watched four episodes of Game of Thrones.”
Hartley says he was “overweight, a plump kid in high school.” Then a Navy recruiter told him he had to lose the pounds before he could sign up. “I ate a lot of chicken and vegetables and ran,” says Hartley.
In four months in 2005, he went from 210 pounds to 148, passed the physical fitness test and joined the Navy. His interest in athletics sparked, Hartley became a professional lightweight strongman and trained in Olympic weightlifting at CrossFit gyms.
“Four or five years ago, I made fun of ‘CrossFitters,’ Now I look back and think, ‘What a jerk,’” says Hartley, noting the camaraderie in CrossFit training. “The family in the gym is the closest thing. They’re supportive and understanding, a great group of people, the best I’ve interacted with.”
Regular folks, both young and old, with little athletic background, have transformed themselves with CrossFit, say Bouras and Hartley. Steven Hendricks weighed over 300 pounds and is now 215, says Hartley, who calls him “a nasty good CrossFit athlete.” Bouras dubs Hendricks “a beast of muscle.”
Another local CrossFitter, Joan Sprinkle, is a little older but “doesn’t let anything intimidate her,” says Hartley. “She puts in a lot of hard work, and she’s doing the same workouts that Steve is doing,” he says.
For one Friday workout, athletes performed 10 kettle bell swings on each side (70 pounds for men, 55 pounds for women), 10 triceps dips and a lap run, repeated without breaks for the last 12 minutes of the session.
“Everyone is getting closer to their goals,” Hartley says. “No matter where you are on that journey, everyone is ‘High-five, man, great job.’ That’s what keeps people coming back.”
A post-Katrina running success story
Alex Baker, local artist and owner of DNA Illustrations along with husband Dave, sticks to running to improve her overall fitness. She started jogging after Dave and her best friend Keely Carlisle trained together for the Asheville Citizen-Times‘ annual half-marathon.
“Keely’s husband and I took our collective kids to watch them run and to meet them at the finish,” Baker says. “As I was watching Dave and Keely run by, I decided that I wanted to be out there too.”
Baker says she had “put on weight” and had trouble sleeping after leaving New Orleans — and Hurricane Katrina — behind.
“Katrina was the gift that kept on giving, and I didn’t feel like myself,” she says. “On a whim, I signed up for the Couch to 5K program with the Asheville Track Club at Carrier Park. It was hard,” says Baker.
“And I will never forget the first time I tried to run for a minute, because I thought my heart would explode. I nearly dropped out of the program. I got shinsplints. It was miserable,” she recalls.
“But I saw people much larger and/or older than me who kept showing up, week after week. I didn’t want to let them down.” Baker ran her first 5K and started running with Keely and a neighbor. “With them, I trained for my first 10K and then my first half [marathon],” she says. “I dropped over 20 pounds, but the goals started becoming less about weight loss and more about running itself. And I was sleeping through the night.”
Baker insists she’s neither fast nor an athlete but says running has given her a level of fitness and serenity she’s never before experienced. “I have asthma, and speed is difficult. But I’ve figured out where my plateau is, breath-wise, and I if stay under that, I can run for hours,” she says.
“I’m in much better shape than I ever was in my 20s or 30s. I can’t call myself an athlete with a straight face, even though I’ve done eight marathons. For me, running is a mental vacation,” says Baker.
“I don’t run with music or audiobooks anymore. I let my mind wander and eventually I don’t think about anything at all, except to notice the cadence of my footsteps.”
Baker’s running odyssey has presented great challenges, though. “I’ve had highs and lows,” she says. Two race bibs — numbers pinned to competitors’ shirts during races — are taped to the wall behind her desk. “In my worst marathon experience, my training went to hell, and everything went wrong. I got the worst time and I spent half the race wanting to drop out,” she says, explaining one of the bibs. “And a second bib [represents] where I kept on top of my training, and everything went well. I got a PR [personal record] and ended the race feeling fantastic. The bibs remind me that I will get out of [training] what I put into it.”
Deadlifts, marathons and beer curls
Ginna Reid, owner of the Canine Social Club of Asheville, has strived over the years to strike a balance between running and CrossFit. She began running in 2003 and, after moving to Hawaii in 2008, joined a friend at a Maui football stadium for CrossFit workouts. “We were doing dynamic movements,” Reid says. “We pushed football blocking sleds, ran stadium stairs.”
Then, a startling thing happened to her running after adding the CrossFit workouts. “I took five minutes off my half-marathon time,” Reid says. “I was getting stronger.”
She moved back to Asheville in 2010, joined CrossFit Asheville and went from deadlifting 105 pounds to 200 pounds. Reid took up running again and met local women who were running 5 ½-minute miles. A 7-minute mile runner, she decided to train to get faster for her first marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Her coach said, “You can’t be good at both [CrossFit and running] at the same time,” Reid recalls. So she stopped CrossFit training a month before her first marathon in Duluth, Minn. Needing 3 hours and 40 minutes to qualify for Boston, Reid ran a 3:13.
She ran her first Boston Marathon on April 18 but says, “I had some weird inner ear thing and lost my hearing at mile 4. So I was training to do a 3:03 or 3:05 marathon, and I ended up doing a 3:18 [in Boston]. But I stopped and had a beer at mile 21.”
Wait … what? “They had beer the whole way,” Reid explains, laughing. “At the top of Heartbreak Hill, they were giving out free beer and I’m like, ‘Hell yeah!’” That 3:18 time requalified Reid to run Boston again next year.
Reid runs 7-12 miles every day. She plans to get back to the gym after healing from a torn labrum, an injury she sustained from lifting a CrossFit kettle bell overhead and reinjured when she fell while running down Haywood Road.
How do the CrossFitters and the runners feel about her doing both?
“I have a lot of friends who don’t see eye to eye,” Reid admits. “My CrossFit friends say, ‘You’re crazy! Why are you running 18 miles? That sounds awful!’ And I have running friends who say, ‘CrossFit’s a cult. It’s not serious exercise.’”
Reid says, “Everybody wants their side to be the best. But they look at me with respect and say, ‘Wow, that’s really cool that you can find benefit and balance with both.’ I think they want to be able to do that.”
This is why Reid splits her workout time. “I find that CrossFit has made me a better runner, and it sparked that initial click inside my head,” she says. “If I work on running and get stronger, I’m going to be better. And when I go back to CrossFit, it won’t be about deadlifting 200 pounds. It’ll be about maintaining a more balanced life.”
Reid believes that other people can do what she is doing. “If you do CrossFit and sign up for one of those brewery races, you’re going to find that it’s easier. If you’re consistently going to the gym, you’ll finish that 4-mile run, and you won’t be the last one. And you’ll be in good shape.”
Crossfit Pisgah, 772-7115, crossfitpisgah.com, 151 W. Haywood St.
CrossFit Asheville, 335-0882, crossfitasheville.com, 438 Haywood Road
Asheville Track Club ashevilletrackclub.org
Race to the Taps has two remaining events in its Marathon Series: the Pisgah Brewing 7-mile run on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m. in Black Mountain; and the New Belgium Brewing 4- or 8-miler on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 11 a.m. in Asheville. One free craft beer awaits all finishers.
Asheville Running Experience featured the ARX Half Marathon and the Asheville Brewing Superhero 5K on Saturday, Aug. 20; Chasing Trail, the Incredible Asheville Urban Odyssey, and the ARX Funktastic Fun Run on Sunday, Aug. 21. Sponsors included Asheville Brewing, Catawba Brewing, Hi-Wire Brewing, Twin Leaf Brewery, Wicked Weed Brewing and Burial Beer Co.