On the first day of the CrossFit Games, after biking 12,000 meters, finishing 30 ring muscleups (in three and a half minutes), and maxing out his back squat, strict press, and deadlift, Khan Porter rowed a marathon. Despite the fact the longest he’d ever rowed, uninterrupted, was 5 kilometers, and his abdominals started cramping so badly he had to stop and stand for a minute and a half, Porter completed all 42,195 meters in under three hours.
A few weeks later, the four-time Games athlete decided to do another marathon—this time on a ski erg. (We know, it’s masochistic.) Before he started puking (later he would realize it was from food poisoning, not exhaustion), he was on pace to break the world record for his age group. Inspired, Porter says he’d also like to run a marathon for the first time and do a double on the Assault Bike. Below, he shares his training tips for anyone considering an unorthodox kind of marathon.
1. Invest in Your Equipment
Before the row, Porter taped his fingertips and wore gloves, which kept him from having any issues with his hands. The same can’t be said about the rest of his body…
“I took knee sleeves out with me,” he says, “and I figured that once my ass got unbearably sore from sitting on the seat, I would use them for an extra level of padding.”
Still, his and everyone else’s butts were raw by the end, which hammers home an inescapable reality of marathons: You have to have the right equipment. Wear padded shorts for a rowing marathon; invest in some anti-chafe cream for a burpee 5K; and get comfortable, supportive shoes for a traditional running marathon.
According to Porter, the ski erg was less of a challenge equipment-wise because he was standing and could shift his weight, but he still cramped in his calves, highlighting the importance of staying nourished for any multi-hour event.
2. Make a Psychological Game Plan
Three hours is a long time to stay engaged on one task, and for that reason, Porter says he’d normally prefer to do the same length workout broken into three movements.
But, at the same time, “I like exploring when I’m in a certain level of discomfort,” he says. “I find that challenge enjoyable, having to play different psychological games with myself. For a while, I was doing 800 meters easy and 200 meters harder. Sometimes, I focused on having a quick sip of water or holding a certain pace. You always find something to occupy your thoughts to take them away from the pain.”
No matter what your tactic is—counting strokes, singing your favorite song—have it in mind beforehand.
3. Practice When the Stakes Are Low
Porter says the row was so tough that he considered quitting, one of only two times he’s done that at the CrossFit Games (the other was during Murph in 2015, when it was over 100 degrees on the field). What helped push him through the hurt locker were the 39 athletes beside him, also competing to be the Fittest Man on Earth. It was a motivating environment, but when Porter did the ski erg, he intentionally kept it low-key.
“I didn’t post about it or tell many people,” he wrote on his Instagram. “Psychologically I wanted to be able to come up with as many excuses as possible to quit when it got tough, so it would be an exercise in resilience—pushing through simply because I wanted to, not had to.”
4. Train in Every Time Domain
A basic tenant of Porter’s training—and CrossFit in general—is that athletes can work in any time domain. Porter says he’s done a few AMRAPs that are around the two-hour mark, so he has experience with endurance events, but he also succeeded because of the foundation of conditioning that he’s built, whether that’s training for a thirty-minute Murph or a two-minute Fran. According to Porter, that doesn’t mean you should attempt a marathon if your only qualification is a solid Murph time, but it does suggest that training at high intensity can carry over into other domains.
5. Play With as Many Movements as Possible
At this year’s CrossFit Games, competitors had to run a handstand obstacle course, climb a clean and jerk ladder, carry 445-pound yokes, and drag a weighted dummy across the arena. And that was only four of the 14 events. With his background in surfing and swimming, Porter excelled in the water events, but he also trains in as many movement patterns as he can—an approach that inspired him to tackle marathons in the first place.
“During the row, it sucked, but seeing what my style of training allowed me to do, physically, that’s where the idea of doing more marathons came up.”
If you’re comfortable with running, get in the pool. If you bike every weekend, pick up a barbell. The cross training will help you push past your plateaus.
If you’re in Sydney and looking for a gym, check out Porter’s Play Movement Co.