Power Speed Endurance: Finding the Goat

Power Speed Endurance author, Brian MacKenzie, demonstrating a drill using a plyo box at San Francisco CrossFit.

I recently had the chance to have Brian MacKenzie—author of Power Speed Endurance—take me through the sort of initial evaluation he does with runners at CrossFit Endurance seminars seminars.

First, MacKenzie had me go through a series of simple runs that he videotaped. He then took me aside and showed me the videos. The main thing he pointed out to me was the movement of my right foot and right knee. Which pretty much stunned me.

I was sure that as I was running I was keeping my feet straight. But there was no mistaking the fact that my right foot was flicking out duck-walk pattern and that as I landed on my right foot, my knee collapsed inward.

While you can get away with a movement flaw like that for some time, I have learned the hard way that the soft-tissue implications of such a deviation are not good. As I’ve written about extensively, knee problems on my right leg ruined my running over the last 10 years. No amount of strength work, running shoe gadgets, flexibility training, leg extensions, etc., were able to change this pattern.

MacKenzie then showed me drills and exercises that he has in the book that were part of my assignment. The drills were meant to teach me, from the ground up, how to run with my foot landing correctly and my knee driving out as opposed to collapsing inward.

To demonstrate the difference, MacKenzie had me jump off of a 20-inch box and land with my right foot. I did. Just like I landed in my running, the foot splayed out and the knee collapsed inward.

I tried it again consciously trying to apply the landing pattern he was talking about–which is the same pattern that San Francisco CrossFit coaches teach with the air squat: you screw the feet into the ground, driving the knee out and distributing the weight across the foot. Done properly, the hips and hamstrings take on the load as opposed to the load being dumped onto your knee.

On the third try I did it correctly. The difference in how I landed was a surprise. As opposed to a slight wince of pain and a feeling of power collapse, landing in the pattern MacKenzie was teaching had his sort of powerful, braced elasticity to it. MacKenzie smiled because he knew I had seen and felt a major difference.

After the drills, we did a few more runs. MacKenzie taped them. He told me to apply the same patterns I was practicing in the drills to the sprints. After less than an hour, it started to catch on. We watched the tape and I had to wonder–was this the first time in 20 or more years was I running without shredding my right knee? I could feel that the proper technique was more powerful and, again, I think elastic is a good word to describe the sensation. The leg was simply braced in a better position.

And so here’s a thing when it comes to taking on the Power Speed Endurance approach to running: It’s not something that happens overnight. I’ve heard MacKenzie talk about this, about how it’s a process that takes time to rewire old patterns and habits. It might happen swiftly for some. I think in my case it might take some time–at least in regards to fixing my right leg and foot.

So in sort of designing my own approach to adopting the PSE program, I’m dedicating the time between now and New Years to simply learning the drills in MacKenzie’s book and the mobility drills as advised by Kelly Starrett (MacKenzie has a section in the book relaying some of Starrett’s www.mobilitywod.com exercises to benefit runners).

In Inside the Box, veteran journalist and marathoner T.J. Murphy goes all in to expose the gritty, high-intensity sport of CrossFit®. From staggering newcomer to evangelist, Murphy finds out how it feels, why it’s so popular, and whether CrossFit can fix his broken body.