How Crossfit helped me survive the Shut-In Trail Race


I survived the Shut-In Trail Race.

That’s how I tell it. I survived. I was the second-to-last runner to cross the finish line at five hours and 40 minutes. I had hit the time cut-offs – runners must reach the 9-mile and 16-mile marks within specific times – and I finished.

My secret? I did it without any real running training.

I knew going in that I wanted to run the Shut-In in the style of my friend Michael Flynn, the guy who inspired me. He’s a terrific athlete who would run and bike distances that make my stomach weak just talking about it. Flynn would often do just light training, then hit the race. Why expend all that effort in practice, right?

Last fall, I hit the Shut-In with Flynn for two separate 9-mile runs. I needed to get a feel for the trail, and Flynn was training. The Shut-In climbs more than 3,000 feet of Blue Ridge Parkway ridge line up to Mount Pisgah. It is a grueling race, and the final stretch of a mile or so has an incline so steep that your knees just about knock your chin along the way.

So I knew what I was signing up for when I sent in my $75 entry fee and waited to hear if I’d gotten into the race. Only about 200 runners get in the November race, and you have to fill out a paper form and send it in.

I got the official word in October. I was in, but I hadn’t committed. I had done zero running training. All I was doing was my three-day-a-week Crossfit Asheville classes. I felt good.

I’ve been working out with Crossfit Asheville now for three years, and I’ve said all along that the Crossfit high-intensity exercise and training there has changed my life, remade my body to be stronger that it’s ever been. Under the guidance of Randy Kite, Shanna Duvall and Corey Duvall, I’ve found new reservoirs of strength and determination.

And that’s the training I really needed to tackle something like the Shut-In. That’s the Crossfit combination that is key to me: the ability to put together the physical strength and mental fortitude to push your body to new heights. It is Crossfit that has given me the mental confidence to push myself to reach physical goals I never thought I could achieve.

Crossfit Asheville classes are an hour out of my day, but it’s the most intense hour of my day. I know I have to be focused in the warm-up and the “practice” portion of the workout. And then I know I’m going to be challenged to push myself during the workout of the day. My trainers and fellow Crossfitters cheer support. I calm my thoughts to help my body get through.

Running the Shut-In Trail Race the way I did was a stupid way to go. I should have run more. I should have given more thought to food and hydration throughout and had a support person check in with me along the way, like most other runners had. I walked when I needed to walk. There were several times when I told myself to just keep moving, when I told myself the individual spider webs that spanned the trail were little finish lines. Aside from a few leg cramps around mile 17 and 18, I was fine. Mentally, I could have run another 19.

I survived.


121205 Wednesday « CrossFit Asheville December 4, 2012 - 9:31 pm

[…] Jason Sandford during the 2012 Shut-In Trail Race. Here you can read his recap, “How CrossFit helped me survive the Shut-In Trail Race” […]

Media Watcher December 4, 2012 - 5:43 pm

Can you give us an update on Michael Flynn?

Jason Sandford December 5, 2012 - 11:07 am

I’ll ask for an update, Media Watcher. Thanks for asking.

Melissa December 4, 2012 - 1:13 pm

You did GREAT!

Shanna December 4, 2012 - 10:57 am

Thanks for sharing your story Jason! I definitely do not advise individuals to do long distance efforts without putting in some miles to prepare the body. CrossFit style training can certainly prepare you mentally & from a cardiovascular standpoint, but there is nothing much other than putting in some mileage to prepare your body for the duration of being on your feet and running for that period of time. In general, I would advise putting in ~70% of the distance/duration 3-4 weeks out from race day. This would also help you practice what fueling options work best for you too! Perhaps simply something to keep in mind for your future adventures! 🙂

Con December 4, 2012 - 10:21 am

I’m proud of you kiddo!

Jennifer Saylor December 4, 2012 - 10:22 am

Me too.

FDR December 4, 2012 - 10:08 am

Crossfit is not Bootcamp folks, and you can’t do the same at the big box gym.

White Lightnin' December 4, 2012 - 9:47 am

Congrats. -=WL=-

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