Boston Marathon: Runner using VO2 Max training

Dan McDonald

When it comes to extensive training for grueling road races, Sean Roskey makes a distinction.

There's the world-class athletic elite and everyone else.

Despite running multiple marathons, the 46-year-old puts himself in the latter category. When the Framingham, Mass., resident runs the 112th Boston Marathon on Monday, he estimates it will be his tenth race from Hopkinton to Boston.

"I'm just a regular guy," Roskey said. " I'd just as soon run the thing without any coverage. I'm no Lance Armstrong."

Still, Roskey may be the only Framingham runner to indulge in a training tool usually reserved for the highest stratosphere of athletic prowess: VO2 Max monitoring.

Essentially, VO2 Max monitoring measures how well your body uses oxygen. VO2 Max can improve with training, although the improvement is not without limits.

"If you do six weeks of solid endurance training it can improve," said Lisa Ayles, sports medicine director at the MetroWest Medical Center. "But it plateaus."

VO2 Max measures how efficiently one's body breathes in oxygen, then attaches the oxygen to red blood cells through hemoglobin, then transports the oxygen throughout one's body, Ayles said.

World-class athletes like Armstrong have ridiculously high VO2 Max readings.

Once you attain a high level of V02 Max, Ayles said, it stays with you "awhile."

"That's why you can taper off (your training) before the race; it's not going to affect your performance," Ayles said.

Hans Thamhain, a 71-year-old marathoner from Framingham, evidently buys into such thinking.

After averaging 87 miles per week, Thamhain said he is "doing absolutely nothing," the week before the marathon.

"That's my way of doing it," he said.

Thamhain has heard of VO2 Max, but prefers his heart rate as a measuring stick for his fitness.

"It's easier," he said.

In the past Roskey has had his V02 Max levels monitored in a Connecticut sports lab. His wife paid for the session as a gift.

Roskey did not use V02 Max as a training barometer this time around.

In order to calculate VO2 Max, doctors typically hook up oxygen tubes to a person's mouth, while the individual is running on a treadmill.

Genetics, body weight and endurance often times dictate VO2 Max level.

"It's designed for more serious athletes," Roskey said. "You find out where you're at, then you train for three months and then you find out if your training was effective."

V02 Max, despite receiving publicity in running publications, remains out of the training equation for some marathoners.

"I've never really gotten too scientific about my training," said Julie Ferrari, 46, who also plans on running the marathon.

Dan McDonald can be reached at 508-626-4416 or at