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The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
CREATED: 04/08/09 by jen_ REPLIES: 25
jen_'s ravatar jen_    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 162
The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/08/09 2:05 PM

Is this the future of triathlon and other endurance sports? Do you think people can really be successful on less than 10 hrs of training per week for all three triathlon disciplines? For a 100 mile trail run? Would you be willing to try it?



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

So, 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, is meant as an enhancement to the regimens prescribed at 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.

What 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.

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

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.

Interview by Max Wunderle

adilks    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 290
Does it Really Do That? CrossFit for Endurance
POSTED: 4/09/09 11:11 AM

I'm really interested in your take on this since you are trained at CrossFit. It really goes against everything that I do and have read. Do you really think this could work for the average joe?

Lunchbox's ravatar Lunchbox    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 31
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 11:43 AM

Interesting stuff, and tempting route to go. Sounds like fun. Of course, it's all fun to me.

Wonder if he'd have had the same success had he not had years (?) of the more traditional longer, less strength oriented training under his belt before changing up.

jen_'s ravatar jen_    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 162
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 11:57 AM

First off, I have been doing CF since last June and just started adding CFE run/row workouts to my training program. Currently, I'm training for a 100 mile trail run and haven't been swimming or biking much aside from a 1-2 mile jaunt here or there.

I'm still very skeptical about such limited training, but I'm very open minded to his ideas on training. It wasn't until I had a really good 28 mile trail run a few weekends ago that I AM getting faster. I'm trying to follow a 3 day 'on', one day 'off, then 2 day 'on' schedule with days 1 and 3 interval runs, and day 2 a tempo or TT run. The next 2 day set is usually on the weekend, so Saturday is a longer run and Sunday intervals. I am still doing some LSDs, but my weekend long runs aren't slow. I try to add intervals to them or hold a hard, steady pace. If I run slow in training, I'll run slow race day. My 'a ha' moment that run was of a fellow runner behind me that was doing back to back weekend runs of 20 miles. She was tired, and here I was, covering sections about 10-20 min faster than usual on less training. Volunteers were confused when I came in earlier than expected and asked WTF I'd been doing. Timewise, I was training less, but the intensity is there. I'm going faster because I'm training my body to work harder and faster and more efficiently.

How this training transfers to IM atheletes is where I'm still unsure until I see it, or do it, for myself. Is that a challenge for myself? Maybe. I do see value in LSD-type runs/rides. There is an adjustment period to time on your feet (trails), and time on the bike (how comfy IS that saddle? dialing in nutrition) that I think is valuable in such training. But doing it every weekend is going to suck the life out of you.

I DO think it could work for the average joe over time. The workouts will take a little getting used to - sport specific and in the gym. Not many people are used to jumping onto a 20" box, doing pull ups, push ups, or tossing a medicine ball 10' up against a wall.

Yes, there is an adjustment period, which I'm still going through. I do enjoy my long weekends in the mountains, but I'm altering my training (running hills as 20sec hard, 10 easy) instead of walking is making me stronger. It's hard to wrap your mind around a 20 minute run intested of the usual 6 miler as your workout. Combine it with a 20 minute workout of burpees and squats and you'll be glad that's all you have to do for the day. We'll see how this 'limited' training

There a CFE Certification in Arlington next month that I'm attending. I'll meet Brian and have a chance to pick his brain all while learning a new way to run and train. I'm excited.

I encourage other to check out the CrossFit Endurance website and keep an open mind. Add a couple of the workouts to your training and see how you feel. One of my favorites is a Tabata - 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times. Another follows the 20:10 where you try to cover 2 miles (running) is as few 'rounds' as possible. Tough stuff.

There's also a thread on slowtwitch about the article.


jen_'s ravatar jen_    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 162
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 12:10 PM


Not only that, but you wonder by how much could he have improved his IM time if he didn't stop training and focus on honing the 'craft' and building a business.

It is very interesting and I'm hoping to use myself as a test subject this summer/fall on a couple races if my schedule allows it. Having been out of the pool and off the bike for so long, I'm basically starting from scratch, so it will be interesting to see how my times compare to past times.


dsgrunning's ravatar dsgrunning    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 1481
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 12:59 PM

There is a good discussion of this on I think that the first post on there makes some very valid points.


trithis73's ravatar trithis73    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 525
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 1:46 PM

Crossfit is what it is. It has a lot of positives for it. I used it during the off-season, because I was pretty out of shape after my deployment. I think it was worth it, because I am feeling great and tracking on the course I thought I was going to be on some where in June. I also have taken certain exercises from it and put it into my weekly routine once a week to be my strength training for the week. If you have never tried it, now that the seaon is on us, probably won't be such a great idea, but I think you should try it on the off season. You will like the results.

xena's ravatar xena    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 138
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 2:24 PM

As a person who can only dream of a sub-12 IM, I have no room to talk, however ...

It's kind of ballsy to talk about not needing endurance runs but tank at the end of your IM.

His time was posted on
MacKenzie, Brian 12/17/40 29/M25-29 00:57:59 05:31:55 04:57:34 11:33:47

On the other hand, I'm all for anything that allows me to spend less time training.

xena's ravatar xena    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 138
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 2:37 PM

TOTAL SWIM 2.4 mi. (57:59) 1:31/100m 133 12

TOTAL BIKE 112 mi. (5:31:55) 20.25 mph 188 17

TOTAL RUN 26.2 mi. (4:57:34) 11:21/mile 479 40

AndyJB444's ravatar AndyJB444    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 401
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 3:23 PM

Results don't lie, and I'm just not seeing any results...I mean, 11:13 is solid for an IM but not ground breaking...and he thinks Macca is doing his training all wrong? HAH.

It might be a great option for off-season training, but I just can't understand how 20 minutes of heavy lifting/super hard sessions is going to replace the aerobic load you get from 100 mile rides at race pace, or 6 hour runs in the mountains...

I'd love to have a beer with the guy, though!

Andy B.

xena's ravatar xena    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 138
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 4:35 PM

I don't think he is ripping on Macca.
I do think MacKenzie doesn't know the sport well enough to recognize that Macca is at the top of his game right now. And that the reporter was probably F-ing with him a little.

Macca just set a record at Lavaman, how do you improve on a Kona win and a record?

Chad's ravatar Chad    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 116
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 5:02 PM

If I started lifting heavy weights like that I would be a lot heavier and my overall bike speed/run speed would drop precipitously....undeniable fact - the more you weigh the harder it is to pedal/run up the Western Port Wall at Savageman...or any hill/mountain for that matter, which is probably why he ran almost a 5 hour Ironman Marathon. Either that or he spent too much time lifting weights and not enough time actually running 20 mile training runs on tired legs from all the bike/speed work...

The opinions expressed above are those solely of the poster and have no scientific basis other than personal experience and knowledge of other athletes within the poster's circle of friends and in no way are meant to be debunked, debated, and/or argued since they are purely opinions not ideas or theories.... ;)

jen_'s ravatar jen_    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 162
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 5:35 PM

I like this discussion and glad others are getting involved..

Chad - I'm sure it's just our difference in build and genetics, but I'm lifting heavier than ever and am at my lowest weight in 5 years. Who knows how that transfers over to power output on a bike.

I don't think it's lifting heavy that makes someone heavy, it's the extra calories you put in your mouth where you gain the weight. Personal experience.

alya72's ravatar alya72    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 49
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/09/09 5:36 PM

I have to admitt, I am a little skeptical as well that bulking up more is what you want for endurance sports. Another example is biking, like Tour de France riders. If you look at those guys, none of them are bulky in the torso and upper extremities, in fact they strive for the opposite.

jen_'s ravatar jen_    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 162
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/10/09 11:10 AM

Where does the Trimax article talk about bulking up? I agree, that added weight can be a hinderance for endurance sports, but wouldn't having stronger quads/hips/glutes be a benefit on the bike?

Looking at the TdF riders, is this the body that we should strive for?

Riding is their job, but not-so-much for the rest of us. Lifting to get stronger (not bigger) isn't such a bad thing. I want to be able to push myself up off the ground, pull myself over a fence if I'm being chanced by the po-po (hey, you never know!), and carry heavy boxes without throwing out my back or being sore for the next 3 days (I'm in the process of moving and can speak from experience here).

I'm all for trying something different after training the same way for 7 years. Whether or not I can fully believe their 'claims' is still up in the air, but I'm keeping an open mind.


AndyJB444's ravatar AndyJB444    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 401
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/10/09 12:01 PM

I suppose it would depend on a person's goals in triathlon or endurance events, but CFE just does not have the specificity needed to be COMPETITVE in triathlon or ultra's...if you're just looking to finish an event then CFE-it-up!

karlaj's ravatar karlaj    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 215
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/10/09 8:04 PM

Yes Jen - very interesting. Glad you chimed in on this.

Anybody know what Macca's training regimen is? Or are we speculating that it's got alot of LSD? Seems that the pros keep their training secret, but I got the impression they did some pretty intense sets to get stronger/faster, and just maintained endurance once they get to the desired distances.

In some aspects, but the CFE way doesn't sound that different from "traditional" (Friel?) competitive training, in the sense that when you're in-season, you're either working hard (>=z4) or recovering (<=z2). CFE recovery is simply passive recovery vs. traditional active recovery. And are the CFE hard work sessions really longer/shorter than traditional interval sets in actual time working? You know, apples to apples?

Like Jen says, you can get alot stronger without excess bulk. But Chad's right too - go Schwarzenegger and the hills will toast you. Without specificity, you cannot get all the muscles trained you need, but I don't really see advocating against swim/bike/run training (right Jen?).

Curious for me why it would take 2+ years to transition from one method to another. That didn't really get asked/answered.

And I'm not a tri-hard-or-go-home kinda guy, and maybe alot of this doesn't apply to 90%+ of us. I actually enjoy being outside for extended periods of time, and CFE would seem to take some of that away. Without the stress relief, I'd enjoy tri training so much less and wouldn't be in the sport to begin with.

drsully's ravatar drsully    JOINED: 2/28/09    POSTS: 30
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 4/10/09 9:34 PM

I think the big benefit to cross fit training is that it gets a person to train more functionally vs body building type training most people do at the gym. I have no experience with the endurance program but I have done some off season cross fit training and kettlebell training. I think for triathlon training you need to develop a base before high intensity training that he discusses with his endurance program. If a person goes straight to high intensity training I feel that they are more susceptible to injury and burn out. I think most triathlon coaches at the elite level have their athletes incorporate high intensity training into their program but not just high intensity training.

It will be interesting to see the results for those triathletes that do decide to follow this training program. For me I will use it for as an off season training program for cross training along with Mike Verstegen core performance program for endurance athletes.

jdchristopher's ravatar jdchristopher    JOINED: 9/22/10    POSTS: 23
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 6/19/11 1:39 PM

ugh.. I hate resurrecting old threads, but this is the only one that came up with CFE as the main topic. Apologies to those that aren't interested in talking about this 2 years later (and are still subscribed to the thread)...

I'm starting a CFE program in a few weeks post-injury. I've been doing a bit of research and am still grappling with this being 180 degrees from my training as a swimmer... more miles means more skill/speed, right?

My program will be relatively short.. I'll be doing the CF WOD 4x a week, then 2x per week on each sport (so 6x workouts outside of CF). The CFE sport specific workouts are intense, but not long. 15 x 50m swim on the minute, for example. I'll be done in 15 minutes, but my HR won't be calm and easy. Including mobility work, I'll probably be working out 10hrs a week in total.

This is a total guinea pig moment for me, but there seems to be some merit to the program.. here are a few articles to compliment jen's earlier posting:

Anywhoo, my worry is really just quantifying/qualifying my recovery after each workout to make sure I don't overtrain, since this is anaerobic intensive.

Just some food for thought, comments welcome.

PotomacTriathlete2009's ravatar PotomacTriathlete2009    JOINED: 9/19/09    POSTS: 532
RE: The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training - Brian MacKenzie
POSTED: 6/20/11 4:59 PM

I'm neither an IM finisher nor a top AG'er. But I saw a few items that could be clarified. MacKenzie seems to think that all triathletes focus on long, slow distance all the time but that isn't the case at all. I keep reading over and over that once you establish a solid endurance base after a few years of solid training, that training intensity becomes much more important. But this usually means intensity in swim/bike/run workouts.

He also seems to think that no triathletes do any strength training at all. While it does seem to be a matter of dispute, many coaches and triathletes add at least some strength training over the course of the year, perhaps more ST over the winter/off-season than during the peak of the racing season.

I agree that strength and bulk are not necessarily related. It's possible to add a great deal of strength without bulking up. You need to eat a lot more to bulk up. ST by itself doesn't mean that you'll bulk up.

As for what Macca does, he might offer some clues in his new book. I haven't read it yet so I don't know what's in there. I do know that he avoids HRM and other measuring devices, preferring to train and even race by feel. I was surprised to find out that he doesn't even use a basic bike computer. He goes for broke based on how he feels. Sometimes it works (as in two IM world championships). At other times, he might burn out before the end of a race and have a sub-optimal time.

Chrissie Wellington talks about training intensity over slogging through long and slow workouts, but she has already established an enormous aerobic base from years of swim/bike/run training. In one article, she said that instead of doing a single long bike ride, she breaks it up into two shorter rides at higher intensity. The rides are still long (2 to 5 hours or something like that), but not the 6 and 7-hr. rides that some people do.

At the seminar before the Nation's Tri last fall, Dave Scott also spoke about the necessity of focusing on training intensity once you get past a certain stage of development. Friel also talks about this on his training blog frequently. After a few years of consistent training, you start to plateau on your aerobic endurance. To continue to improve, those athletes have to put more of a focus on training intensity.

Personally, I think strength training can help with injury avoidance and muscle balance. I find it convincing when Friel includes ST to build a general strength base, and then builds on that strength later in the season with sport-specific strength moves (paddles on the swim, and hill work on the bike and run). So that's my take on everything so far, while I recognize that I still have a lot to learn and experience in this sport.

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