Published on: 09/23/2022
There’s nothing like the exciting but slightly scary feeling of signing up for a new race distance. Whether it’s a half-marathon, marathon, or ultramarathon, picturing yourself toeing the starting line right now might seem surreal. Maybe you don’t feel like you have the running endurance to get through the event.
You may ask yourself, “Can I really run that far?” or “Will I get injured?”.
Not to worry – with a solid training plan, you can safely increase your stamina and endurance to help you run longer and prevent injury. Come race day; you’ll be ready to give this new distance your best effort. We’ve compiled our top seven tips on how to build endurance running.
Why is Endurance Important?
Long-distance running requires repeated movement over a long period of time. As your body gets tired, your brain will tell you to stop.
Endurance is a valuable asset because it allows runners to run longer distances with less fatigue. Mind and body conditioning allows them to keep running past the point where the voice in their head tells them to quit.
Studies have shown that endurance training benefits the cardiovascular and muscular systems positively. (1) Improving your cardiovascular endurance helps your heart and lungs provide enough oxygen to your muscles. And as muscular endurance increases, your body’s ability to withstand fatigue improves, so you can run longer before getting tired.
Stamina vs. Endurance
While they’re closely related, stamina and endurance are slightly different from each other. Both terms describe the ability to sustain physical activity. However, stamina refers to how long you can perform an activity at maximum effort, while endurance describes the total amount of time you can perform an activity.
Think of it this way:
Stamina allows you to handle repeated cycles of short bursts of high-intensity activity followed by an active recovery period. Sports that require a lot of stamina include tennis, football and basketball. These activities carry heavy mental and physical loads to complete the activity/recovery cycles over and over again.
Endurance, on the other hand, enables you to maintain persistent activity over a long period of time. Running a marathon or ultramarathon or completing an Ironman-distance triathlon requires endurance. In these events, your cardiovascular system must work efficiently to carry oxygen-rich blood to your muscles as they work continuously.
7 Tips to Improve Running Endurance
You can build running stamina and endurance by incorporating these elements into your training plan.
1. Train Consistently
It takes time to build endurance, and studies show (1) that consistent training is one of the simplest ways to increase your ability to run longer. Over time, regular activity has been shown to build your aerobic capacity, which is a measure of how much oxygen your muscles can use. You’ll also build muscle strength as your legs get used to carrying you over longer distances.
How to do it:
Your ideal workout schedule will depend on your experience level, but make sure it’s something you can commit to each week. Depending on your current experience with endurance training, you could run two to four times each week, allowing a day or two for recovery in between. Beginner runners could start by running once or twice per week, while more experienced runners may be able to handle three to even five runs each week.
It might be tempting to run more, but that’s not always better; a 1997 clinical trial (2) showed that it can even hurt your running performance. Taking a recovery day is good for injury prevention, and it helps your body adapt to your training.
Struggling to stay consistent? Find a running buddy or a group to run with for accountability. Schedule your runs like any other appointment. However, maintaining a regular running schedule can be difficult. Many runners find success running early in the morning, so it’s out of the way before anything unexpected can derail the plan. Finally, prepare ahead of time: review your workout, choose your route, and prep your gear so you can just get dressed and go when it’s time to run.
2. Increase Distance Gradually
Studies have shown (2) that suddenly running long can negatively impact your performance. But if you gradually run farther, your body will adapt so you can increase your running stamina and endurance and also avoid injury.
How to do it:
A good rule of thumb is to increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent. For example, if you run 10 miles one week, you could go up to 11 miles the next. This will help your body adjust with less risk of injury.
The 10 percent rule applies to long runs, too. In other words, if your long run is currently 10 miles, don’t jump up to 15 miles the next week. Add one mile (10%) instead. As you build stamina and your long runs get longer, you can increase the distance by two or three miles per week.
3. Include Speed Work in Your Training
Interval training and tempo runs are some of the best ways to increase running stamina after you’ve built a solid base of endurance. According to a 1992 study (3), incorporating periods of high-intensity running helps to increase stamina so you can run faster and longer with less risk of overtraining than simply running more miles. The best part is that runners of all fitness levels can use interval training to build running stamina.
There are various options for incorporating speed work into your plan, and you only need to do one of these weekly training runs to see results. While most runners prefer running outdoors, treadmill runs can help you maintain the pace for interval training.
How to do it:
If you’ve ever worked with a running coach, you’ve probably done Yasso 800s. This is one of the most popular running workouts for building stamina and running speed. It’s pretty simple: just figure out your goal race pace for your race and then run two laps around a standard track (800 meters) at that pace. Recover by walking or jogging for the same amount of time and then repeat. Start with three or four reps and add more as you get more experience.
HIIT Running Intervals
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is simply alternating short periods of maximum effort with longer rest periods. For example, you could run 30 seconds up a hill and then walk for 60 seconds to recover. Running as hard as you can for a shorter distance helps strengthen your heart and lungs. HIIT has been shown to improve your body’s ability to run at a faster pace for a longer distance. (4)
Tempo runs are a must if you want to increase endurance and running stamina. They’re longer intervals at a challenging pace that you can sustain for the entire time. This should be a “comfortably hard” pace that’s about 30 seconds slower than your goal race pace. If you’re training for a 10K or half-marathon, a 20-40 minute tempo run is sufficient. Marathoners and ultrarunners can do 60 minutes or more.
Here’s a sample tempo run workout: 5-minute warmup, 10-minute easy effort, 20-minute tempo effort, 10 minutes easy, and then a 5-minute cooldown.
4. Incorporate Strength Training and Plyometrics
Whether you’re a beginner runner or a more experienced runner, strength training is a must to decrease injury risk and increase running stamina and endurance.
According to a Strength and Conditioning Journal study from June 2010 (5), building strength can help make you a faster runner. This is due to an increase in muscular strength and power that can be sustained for a longer period of time – exactly what you need for a long run.
While you do want to work your leg muscles, it’s also important to strengthen your entire core. When you’re on your feet running for long periods of time, your upper body has to be strong enough to stay upright. If you’ve ever seen someone bent over to the front or the side as they struggle to the finish line of a marathon, you understand why this is important.
Here are some strength training exercises that are beneficial to runners:
- Overhead Press
- Bent Over Rows
- Push Ups
Plyometrics are also important for runners. The explosive movements strengthen the same leg muscles that you need to push off the ground and can help prevent knee injuries, according to a 2019 study. (6) Squat jumps, box jumps, and even jumping rope are all good exercises to improve stamina.
You can also consult a certified personal trainer for specific recommendations on other exercises to increase running stamina.
5. Prioritize the Long Run
Running further takes practice, so make sure to include one long run each week into your training program. These are usually recommended to be easy miles, so don’t worry about hitting your goal pace. To help avoid overtraining and injuries, long runs are traditionally done at an easy pace you can maintain for a long time.
Keep in mind that “long” is relative – if you’re training for a 10K, your long run will be shorter than if you were training for a marathon. Just like your overall mileage, your long runs should increase gradually. As your total volume goes up, your long run distance should equal about one-third to one-half of your entire mileage for the week.
How to do it:
One common approach to long runs is to go at a conversational pace for the entire distance. With this technique, you just focus on completing the miles without going too fast. If you can’t easily hold a conversation while running, slow down until you can.
Another common approach to the long run is a progression run. In this method, you start out at a conversational pace and then gradually increase speed over the last half of the run until you’re near your goal pace.
Remember, there’s no rule that says you have to run the entire time during a race or workout. If you need to take a walk break to help you slow down or complete the distance, that’s perfectly acceptable. The main goal is to get in the miles.
6. Improve Your Running Economy
Studies have shown (7) that maintaining proper running form will help you save energy and avoid fatigue. Over time, your body will adapt to use less oxygen as you run. Practice good running technique to increase stamina, improve running economy and become a more efficient runner. As a bonus, you’ll also be less likely to develop overuse injuries.
Running drills can be helpful in developing muscle memory and activating the fast twitch muscles. This can help you with a faster turnover.
It’s also important to think about how your foot lands with each step. Heel striking (landing on your heel when you run) is generally considered to be an inefficient running form. Instead, practice using a midfoot strike to land more in the center of your foot.
Check with your local running store for free running clinics to learn how to improve your form. You can also find a wealth of instructional videos online.
7. Focus on Recovery and Stress Management
Even though you’re working to increase running stamina, recent studies have shown that recovery is a crucial part to train endurance. (8) As your running volume increases, your body will need more rest, water, and food to replenish your muscles. Proper fuel and sleep will help you perform better on your next run.
Nutrition and hydration
As you start running longer distances, eating enough protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates is important to fuel your workouts and recovery. (9) Under-eating will make it hard to complete your running workout and leave you feeling worn out when it’s time to train again. Be sure to look for science-backed nutrition recommendations (10) when deciding how much you need to eat.
Generally, you want to eat a bit of easy-to-digest carbs before you run to provide energy to your working muscles. According to a 2014 study (11), eating protein after a workout helps maintain muscle mass and speed muscle repair. Some runners experience gastric distress while running, so test out different fuel sources to ensure you can digest them without a problem.
It’s also important to stay hydrated during and after training (12), especially if you live in an area with hot, humid weather. An electrolyte drink can help maintain proper sodium levels when you’re sweating your way through a 60-minute or longer workout.
Studies show (13) that gentle movement can help with the sore or tight muscles that often plague distance runners. You could try dynamic stretching, massage, and foam rolling to help loosen the joints and relax tired muscles after a long run or tough interval session.
One element you might not think of when trying to increase endurance is stress. We all have stress in our everyday lives, but running is also a stressor to our bodies, even though it’s one we choose and enjoy. And a 2012 study (14) showed that psychological stress can affect training recovery, while a 2019 (15) study revealed a negative impact on athletic performance.
Stress has been shown (16) to cause immune system function, elevated adrenaline and cortisol levels, sleep disruption, and more. All these combined symptoms mean you won’t recover from your workouts either, leading to sore muscles, fatigue, and an increased risk of injury.
Simple activities like yoga, mindfulness, and meditation can help you manage stress and give your body a chance to repair and recover before your next workout. These practices can also help calm the mind and make it easier to get more restful sleep.
Bonus Tip: Be Patient and Trust the Process
Building endurance and increasing your running distance takes time, but don’t get discouraged. Honoring the slow pace long runs, paying attention to your diet, adding speed work, and incorporating strength workouts into your training routine will help you run farther than you ever thought possible.
Give It a Try
Now that you know how to build endurance for running go ahead and confidently sign up for that big race. The distance might seem daunting now, but you just might surprise yourself with how far you’ll be able to run after a few weeks of training.
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