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Elite Marine runner represents LOGCOM, Corps in marathon quest

By Jason Webb | | July 2, 2009

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According to Greek folklore, a Greek soldier named Pheidippides ran from an area near Marathon, Greece, to Athens in his quest to deliver a message of victory over the Persians. 

That 26.2-mile mission subsequently ended in his death and set the precedence of the modern day marathon.

Now nearly 2,500 years later, one Marine Corps Logistics Command Marine keeps that tradition of running the premier race alive.

Over the next 114 days, Capt. Rick Jennings will log more than 1,000 miles in his quest to represent the Marine Corps in the 34th Annual Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C., October 25.

Jennings, aide de camp, Marine Corps Logistics Command, is one of 20 Marines, Corps-wide, who runs competitively for the Marine Corps Running Team and is the only Marine Running Team member stationed at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga.

The former enlisted Marine combat engineer and veteran of three tours in Iraq with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, didn’t start running competitively until late in his career. 

The former Virginia all-state champion high school swimmer was mostly focused on his pool work, but he also found time to become a two-time runner-up state cross country champion. 

Even though he was a natural athlete and ran most of his life, the 32 year old didn’t focus on running until the last two years. 

After returning from a deployment in late 2004, Jennings had the raw talent to make the Marine Corps Cross Country Team in 2005, although his time on the team was short lived due to consecutive deployments. 

His competitive running had to be put on the backburner, and it wasn’t until 2007 that he was able to resume and refine his running skills. It wasn’t until he was stationed at the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, Calif., where he studied material logistics support, was he free from a deployable status and able to commit to running in a more focused way.

Soon after he found himself trying out for the Marine Corps Running Team and has since been on the team for over two years. 

In those two years, Jennings has seen his running abilities blossom from a first time marathon runner in 2001 with a run time of approximately 4:30:00 to last year’s time of 2:38:19, finishing as the fourth Marine team member and 33rd out of all 18,279 finishers.

Jennings attributes that giant leap in ability to his training program developed by Joe Puleo, head coach of the U.S. Marine Corps Regional Running Program, who helped establish a custom built program tailored exclusively for him to improve his overall performance over time. 

“Each individual in the program is entirely personalized. We test VO2 Max and Lactate Threshold,” Puleo said. VO2 Max refers to the maximum capacity an individual’s body can transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the person.  Lactate Threshold testing involves drawing blood and measuring lactate build-up which causes muscle fatigue. “That provides us with some baseline numbers that I use as a coach to work off of for their training.  Essentially, the numbers that we derive from the tests correlate with heart rate, then we base the training on those diagnostic tests.  Each of the athletes is different therefore they receive a different type of training even if they are training for the same event.”

Jennings said that the system that Puleo has established is a very basic program where he runs typically 50 minutes to an hour a day at 75 percent effort. 

He also has one to two workouts a week where he increases his heart rate to 85-95 percent effort.  Sometimes that is a track workout or a pace tempo run. 

He typically ends his workout week with a longer Sunday run that lasts anywhere from an hour and 15 minutes to two hours and 30 minutes per run. 

The key, he said, is the pace.  With each mile added, the idea for base training is to maintain the pace over the course no matter what the length of the run.

“It’s real basic.  He [Puleo] prescribes all the training for me.  He’s a smart guy.  I listen to everything he says and it works,” said Jennings who plans on training for the Olympic trials marathon in 2012. “It’s strange because I’m running a lot faster than I did in high school.  I didn’t have the coaching that I have now. When I was in my 20’s, I just ran to stay in shape, not for competition.  When I started with a coach and became consistent, then I started getting faster.  The talent was probably always there, but I didn’t have the coaching.  Even Michael Phelps needs a coach.  No matter how much he knows or how fast he is, he still needs to have a coach.”

Jennings explained that his current training, where he runs 40 - 60 miles per week, will eventually increase after the summer training camp in July.

He and the rest of the team will meet and get re-evaluated by coach Puleo and begin a new phase of training especially created to maximize their effort in the Marine Corps Marathon. 

By the time September nears he will see an increase in his workouts and his mileage will increase up to 90 miles per week maintaining or increasing the same fast pace he has been working on throughout out the summer. 

Referring to his first year with the program, Jennings added, “With coaching, I went from a 6.2 mile race, 10K at a five minute, 55 second mile pace to 11 months later where I was doing a 10 mile race at a five minutes and 22 seconds pace.  Those are some great results.”

Previously, Jennings participated in a race in the Chicago Spring Half Marathon May 17, during Marine Week, where he proved that proper coaching and sticking to his coach’s game plan was netting him results as he finished fourth out of all runners with a run time of 33:18.

Even though he participated in that race, he said part of the philosophy of the team is to not race constantly. 

Training and preparation makes for better performance overall when it comes to big events like the marathon.

“The Marine Corps running team has a different mindset towards training.  My coach puts more emphasis on training.  You put in all the miles and build a base foundation,” said the Pearisburg, Va., native and married father of two. “It’s like a bank account. Every time I go out and do a 50-minute run, I put a dollar in the bank account. If I go out and do a hard workout, then I might put two dollars in the bank account.  You build it up and build it up with each run.  When you go out and race hard then you have to take $20 out of the account, because it fatigues your body.  As long as you have enough of a base, and have hundreds of dollars built up, then you can afford to take $20 out at race time.  But if you race every weekend, then that $20 each race will put you in a deficit.  You are not going to have any money in the bank and then you’re going to start getting injured.  Races also take away from training time.”

With that in mind, Jennings eagerly awaits this year’s Marine Corps Marathon where not only does he want to do his personal best, but he loves the competition.

 Not only between the Armed Forces teams, but also with the ongoing rivalry between the Royal Navy and Royal Marines team from England.  The last two years has been a windfall for the U.S. where they have defeated their British counterparts for the Challenge Cup and hope to again make up for a 10 year run in which the British defeated the American team over and over.

“Our number one priority is to beat the Royal Navy and Marines from England, Puleo said about the 15-year rivalry.  “Our second priority is to perform as best as we can relative to the other branches of the Armed Forces.”


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