April 27, 2012
Running a Different Race: Keysha Benzing
By Amy Quimby
From 8th in North Central to the Olympic Trials.
From 8th in North Central to the Olympic Trials.

"I will never forget my first CrossFit seminar ... Annie Sakamoto, Nicole Carroll, and Eva T made me feel as if I was a girl amongst badass women."

Keysha Benzing and CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman after "Frelen."




Olympic Games hopeful in the 800-meter run, Keysha Benzing, took 8th in North Central in the 2012 Open. Yet as other top 60 finishers quickly registered for the Regional, Benzing opted out. This year, she is training for the Olympic Trials, not the CrossFit Games.

“I think I could make a decent showing at Regionals, but I am currently focused on running and have been doing minimal CrossFit,” Benzing says. “I have not been training as a CrossFit athlete should be training for the CrossFit Games.”

The CrossFit Madtown co-owner knows  it’s hard to be a specialist in a generalist’s sport. She found out the hard way at her Level 1 Seminar in 2004.

“I will never forget my first CrossFit seminar. It was a monumental moment in my life,” she says. “This was the first time I truly got my ass handed to me by other girls. I grew up with boys and have always considered myself a good athlete. Well, Annie Sakamoto, Nicole Carroll, and Eva T made me feel as if I was a girl amongst bad ass women.” 

She got a dose of humility after trying to keep up with Annie Sakamoto on Frelen.

Five rounds for time of:
Run 800 meters
15 Dumbbell thrusters
15 Pull-ups

With a PR of 2:05.3 on the 800m, Benzing had an edge. In the end, Benzing finished behind Sakamoto and got a visit from Pukie, but earned a shirt to memorialize to from CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman.

“She would beat Annie on every run, but then fall behind on the thrusters and pull-ups,” Director of Media Tony Budding says. 

The experience changed her approach to training. At the time, she was working with her husband, Skipp Benzing, as a Division 1 Strength and Conditioning Coach, and running long distances.

“I was running 65 to 70 miles a week year round. I was doing my own research on running and I started highly doubting high mileage. I knew there had to be a better way,” she says. “With CrossFit, I was able to cut way back on my mileage, gain improved conditioning and leg stamina without all of the junk miles of the long runs.” 

Keysha and Skipp left their jobs at the university to open up their own box, CrossFit Madtown. Now, they focus on training kids rather than young adults.

“In grad school, Skipp and I studied the Russian Athletic Training Model and we noticed that we [Americans] have some things backwards. In Russia, their best, most experienced, most educated coaches were working with their young athletes ages 4-22, when athletic development is crucial. In the United States, we have our best coaches working with college and professional athletes, due to how much money is involved,” she says. 

Benzing got her start in college athletics — earning Three-time Athlete of the Year, Two-Time All Conference, NCAA Regional Qualifier, and Big West Scholar Athlete on California State University Fullerton’s track and cross country teams. She also holds the school record in the 800 meter and the 4x400 meter Relay Team. Now she works to give the same opportunity to her CrossFit kids.

She and her husband help with everything from college mentoring to teaching sports psychology and nutrition. They also offer a youth scholarship so  money isn’t an obstacle for young athletes. “We prepare our athletes for college, preferably on athletic scholarship,” she says.  “We cover everything that goes into an athlete getting to college on scholarship. We run our programs in hopes that our athletes are one step up from the rest of their teammates once they reach their destination.” 

Benzing has selectively focused on what she cares about. For now, it’s being a great mom to her young daughter, training kids at CrossFit Madtown, and preparing for the Olympic Trials. Yet don’t count her out, she intends to give her full attention to the CrossFit Games season soon. “I will definitely train for the CrossFit Games as an individual in the future.”