Take Flight: The importance of recovery with USAF LTC (Dr.) Mark Cucuzzella Ret.

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Two-time Air Force Marathon winner Lt. Col. (Dr.) Mark Cucuzzella shares his perspective on recovery with Team RWB

USAF LTC (Dr.) Mark Cucuzzella Ret started running competitively in high school and continued in college. He consistently found himself facing various running injuries, which ultimately inspired his journey to helping others find health and tackle their own challenges as a physician.

Today, Dr. Cucuzzella is a practicing physician, a professor at West Virginia University School of Medicine, small-business owner, and holds a personal record of running a sub-three-hour marathon for thirty consecutive years. As part of Team RWB’s Take Flight Challenge, Dr. Cucuzzella shared his perspective on the importance of recovery, straight from a snowy running trail.

Personal Philosophy

Dr. Cucuzzella spent 29 years on active duty, 19 years in the National Guard, and participated on the U.S. Air Force Running team as both a coach and runner, winning the Air Force Marathon twice.

“Part of my life experience and best memories of running is running with military colleagues around the world. Not just U.S. military, but meeting military members all over the globe and engaging in friendly competition,” said Dr. Cucuzzella.

Throughout his time in the military and throughout his running career, Dr. Cucuzzella developed a personal philosophy around exercise that directly involves recovery. Dr. Cucuzzella says he does this by avoiding the creation of an environment where pain is put on the body and recovery treatments are a necessity. 

“My basic overriding philosophy surrounding recovery is don’t do damage to body,” said Dr. Cucuzzella. “If you train correctly and don’t damage your body, then recovery is just eating, sleeping, and doing the normal things a human would do to get ready for the next day.”

Common Misconceptions

Working with patients, presenting running workshops on military bases, and owning a minimalist running and walking shoe store have exposed him to misconceptions that many recreational athletes have toward recovery.

“The biggest misconception about recovery is that blogs or people selling products will make you believe that there are ‘hacks,’ and that the hack is some sort of way to shortcut biology,” said Dr. Cucuzzella. “I don’t think there are any true long-term hacks for recovery.”

Along with trying to “hack” the natural recovery process, Dr. Cucuzzella sees trends that promise to speed up workouts and bypass the parts of fitness that directly include recovery.

“Everyone focuses on workouts, workouts workouts. There’s this new trend that high intensity is better,” said Dr. Cucuzzella. “It’s fun to think that in 7-minute workouts, you can achieve health and fitness just like blogs might tell you, but you really can’t shortcut human biology in any way that’s sustainable.”

Elements of Recovery

When it comes to the elements of recovery, Dr. Mark Cucuzzella credits sleep as one of the most critical.

“I think sleep is probably the most underappreciated recovery tool because during sleep is where repetitive processes take place – from many aspects, not just muscle recovery, its brain cleansing and hormonal resets,” said Dr. Cucuzzella.

Sleep – which Dr. Cucuzzella refers to as the Swiss Army Knife of health –  has a profound impact on every human physiology aspect including mood and mental health.

Dr. Cucuzzella also recommends working on what he calls “zone two training.” Zone two training should be an easy, relaxed pace that encourages your body to utilize fat as fuel or, in his own words, the type of training where you get fast from running slow.

“The race is the final lap. Get to the starting line healthy, and you will finish the race,” said Dr. Cucuzzella.

For Team RWB members Taking Flight this January, Dr. Cucuzzella encourages them to consider the non-negotiable equation: training = stress + rest.

“Listen to your body and make sure what you’re doing that day makes you want to wake up the next day and do it again.”

To learn more about Dr. Mark Cucuzzella’s philosophy on exercise and recovery, check out his book Run for Your Life: How to Run, Walk, and Move Without Pain or Injury and Achieve a Sense of Well-Being and Joy. To learn more about Team RWB’s Take Flight Challenge, visit teamrwb.org/takeflight.