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Experts Q&A: How to smartly increase mileage, work toward a PR, during marathon training

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Dr. Cucuzzella,

I’ve run four marathons, a 50-miler and a handful of halfs over the past few years with a marathon PR of 3 hours even.

I’m considering running the Dubai Marathon this spring and would like to step up my weekly miles considerably and cut a lot of time off my PR.

Do you recommend any specific training programs?

Air Force Capt. Charlie Dehn

Tell us: Do you have a fitness or nutrition question for our experts panel? Send them to us at pt365@militarytimes.com.

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Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. (Dr.) Mark Cucuzzella:

A great question and one in which there is no lack of volume of program schedules out there. At three hours for the marathon, you have built a great base of fitness. The next layer is truly developing the aerobic system to the max and teaching your body efficient fat metabolism, which is critical for marathons and ultras. The “endurance engine” tab of Dr. Mark’s Running School on our site explains the science and some specific strategy. You must have patience to build the system correctly.

My friend Dr. Hiro Tanaka of Japan — who ran a 2:38 marathon at age 50 — wrote this in a book which is the ultimate truth:

Performance = skills x physical attributes

You notice it is “x” not “+,”  so working on the coordination and skill of running is an often missed area but just as important.

Over a few weeks, dip into the sections of my site and www.efficientrunning.net and practice the skills. Drills and stability/mobility work are also really helpful.

For schedule and mileage, the Lydiard Approach is historically the best there is. One run on a weekend of 2 to 2.5 hours, and another during the week of 1.5 hours. Recover around these as you are a busy person with a day job. Effective training = stress x rest.

– Mark

Former Marine Capt. Mosi Smith:

I concur with Dr. Mark’s sentiments. It takes years to reap the rewards of cellular adaptations (increased size/number/distribution of mitochondria, increased oxidative enzyme activity, and increased activation of capillaries necessary to distribute blood about exercising muscles) to build one’s aerobic engine.

While there exists a plethora of training plans out there, long runs — in addition to appropriately inserted harder efforts (hills, fartleks, tempo runs, and longer intervals) —  remain a key staple in the weekly diet. Arthur Lydiard’s lessons have withstood the test of time and prove to be pivotal in the yearly progressions of runners on the Naval Academy marathon team. Runner’s World provided a good overview here.

Additionally, I would recommend looking to Dr. Tim Noakes’ The Lore of Running and Lydiard’s The Lydiard Way.

– Mosi

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Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. (Dr.) Mark Cucuzzella is a professor of family medicine at West Virginia University School of Medicine. He is also designing programs to promote healthier and better running in the military with the USAF Efficient Running Project. 

Former Marine Capt. Mosi Smith, is the race director of the Endless Summer 6-Hour Run in Annapolis, Md., which benefits the Semper Fi Fund. Mosi is a certified coach through USA Track & Field and Road Runners Club of America and was the assistant coach of the U.S. Naval Academy marathon team. Read their full credentials here.

Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your physician.

Sara Davidson

Sara Davidson is an ultrarunner and contributor to PT365. She's run 7 marathons and 31 ultramarathons. This fall she is training for the Marine Corps Marathon using our PT365 Run Plan. Reach her at sdavidson@gannett.com .