Running With Muscle: Marathoner Karly Wilson Credits CrossFit for Keeping her Injury-Free

March 10, 2021 by
Courtesy of Karly Wilson
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Karly Wilson started running in high school as a way to deal with stress. “I had a lot of addicts in my family and running became my coping mechanism, my therapy, “ said Wilson, now 32, who completed her 101st marathon in February.

  • By 2010, Wilson was running 60 training miles a week and competing in marathons. Although good for her mental health, she found herself constantly injured. “I was hurt all the time. My achilles or my hip flexors. Every single time I would run I’d be out for eight days,” said Wilson, who, at 5-foot-2 weighed just 90 pounds. 
Courtesy of Karly Wilson

Everything changed in 2013: Wilson met her now husband — Zachary Wilson — who owned CrossFit Undeniable in Westminster, CO. He thought she was logging too many miles each week, convinced her to cut them down and to add CrossFit into her training. 

  • “I was skeptical, but he told me to trust the process,” she said. “I trusted him and after three months I had one of my best marathon times after cutting my (running) mileage down to 20 miles a week,” said Wilson, who also started learning from coaches like Brian MacKenzie and Chris Hinshaw. 

Wilson today: Since reducing her running mileage to 20 to 25 miles a week, and including CrossFit workouts and strength training four days a week, Wilson, who runs a marathon approximately once a month, has been injury-free since 2013.

  • “I’m able to breathe better, and my glutes, hamstrings and quads are super strong. I haven’t had an injury since I started CrossFit,” she said. 
  • Her best marathon time is three hours and one minute, which she did eight months ago, and at 125 pounds, Wilson can now deadlift 315 pounds and back squat 245 pounds.

One big thing: Wilson admits there have been times when she has doubted what she’s doing, but it’s mostly just when the demons from her past resurface and tell her she needs to run more and eat less to be as skinny and light as possible.

  • “I suffered with bulimia for three years of my college years and always was fighting to be a certain physique…Sometimes at the start of the race, I’ll look around and see some of these athletes and they’re skin and bones and I’ll question myself,” she said. “But then I walk away from the finish line and I’ll be in the gym on Monday lifting heavy and I know what I’m doing is working.”
  • More than anything, it has come down to a mindset shift. “It sounds silly to say that muscles are sexy, but they are and I don’t shy away from that anymore,” Wilson said, adding that since finding CrosFit, her nutrition has improved tremendously. “My mindset has changed, I feel better physically and my confidence is higher. I truly believe that CrossFit has changed that for me,” she added.

The big picture: Without CrossFit, Wilson said she wouldn’t be even be close to knocking at the door of a sub-three-hour marathon, a feat she’s aiming to achieve this spring. 

  • “I wouldn’t have been able to sustain it, or I’d be out for six months after a race, or I would have gotten burnt out. CrossFit is a core piece of being a successful endurance runner,” Wilson said.
  • She added: “Sometimes the fear of getting bulky gets back into my head, but then I remember the benefits I have outside of that are so much better. If I had carried on the path I was on, without a doubt I would have blown out my knees. CrossFit has allowed me to do so much more, to be so much more.”

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