10 Tips to Improve Your Running Endurance – These Work

If you have any plans to run a distance race like a marathon or an ultra, then one of the first things you are going to need to do as a runner is to increase your endurance. These tips will help.

  • You Must Be Consistent
  • Do Long Slow Runs
  • Add Variety To Your Runs
  • Eat The Right Way
  • Run To Your Heart Rate
  • Be Mentally Strong
  • Add Some Strength Training
  • Try Cross-Training
  • Find A Running Partner
  • Make Sure You Recover

Of course, the time it takes to improve your running endurance will depend on many things. You might be a complete beginner with little experience of any formal type of exercise, or you may be someone that does have a good level of fitness but wants to improve.

Whatever level of fitness you are currently at, the following 9 tips to improve your running endurance should go some way to helping you advance in the best way possible.

You Must Be Consistent

Let’s get this straight right from the off. There are no shortcuts, no hacks to improving your endurance. So many people nowadays are looking for the quick fix to whatever it is they want to achieve. Whilst doing certain things the right way might well get you to where you want to be a little quicker, there are certainly no short cuts.

This is where the idea of being consistent comes into play. Training on a regular basis is ultimately the way that your body will adapt over time. So that means running with a splash of strength training added in. Let’s take a look at what might be a typical week:

MondayStrength Training
Tuesday3 Miles (Tempo Run)
Wednesday6 Miles Hilly Run
ThursdayRest
FridayStrength Training
Saturday12 Miles Slow Pace
SundayActive Recovery (bike, walk)

This is just an example of what a week might look like. Be aware that what works for me might not work for you.

Do Long Slow Runs

Normally set aside for the weekend, the long run is where you really start to build your endurance. Don’t worry about speed or pace, just go out there to complete either a distance or a specific time and build on this each week.

For example, if I was training for a marathon, I might start my first weekend run at 8 miles, or 90 minutes, depending on how you want to train. Next week I would run 10 miles, the following week 12 miles and then drop back down to 8 on the 4th week.

By building up your mileage over time, with a lower mileage week once per month, you will really start to get your body used to the longer runs without overtaxing yourself.

If your plan is to complete a marathon, I would aim for my longest run during the training period to be around 22 miles at 3 weeks out and then reduce the mileage on the remaining weeks leading up to the race.

The other important point I want to make is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if a run doesn’t go to plan. I have often cut a run short because I wasn’t feeling it, and that’s ok on the odd occasion. Also, don’t be scared to walk at certain points either – it’s about moving forwards, no about how fast you do it.

Add Variety to You Runs

The long run is where the endurance is built, but you must have variety in your training when it comes to the type of run you do during the week.

The types of runs you should consider within your training are as follows:

Tempo RunA Tempo run will help you to develop your Lactate Threshold which is absolutely necessary for running faster.
Hill RepeatsIf you are going to run a trail race, chances are you will be running up and down hills, so run up and down hills in your training (it’s ok to power walk up them)
FartlekSwedish for speed play. During your run, change up your pace and have some fun running.

You can read more about the various training runs in this post: Running Workouts for Over 50’s

Eating the Right Way

plant based meal on a plate

Ok, so I follow a plant-based diet, but I’m not going to preach to you about why you should give it a try. All I will say is that since I progressed to the diet I have lost weight and increased my energy levels, resulting in me being fitter today than I was 20 years ago. I just feel better.

However, when I say eat the right way, it’s about being sensible. If you want to run, get fit, lose weight, get strong, then it’s all going to work better if you eat the right foods.

I’m not one for calorie counting as that is just a chore to me. However, I try to eat whole foods 90% of the time. It shouldn’t feel like you are restricting yourself in my opinion.

Eat to lose body fat, get strong, and fuel yourself for your training or race. It isn’t rocket science to me. If you are interested in learning about the plant-based diet then you can check out this pdf from Kaiser Permanente.

Run to Heart Rate

In most cases when people are training they run at a dictated pace depending on the type of run. So for instance a tempo run might be run at a 5 or 10k pace, or the long run might be planned for 10 minute miles etc.

This is something I did right at the beginning when I was just getting into running and losing weight. I quickly realised that it didn’t really work for me, because I was finding it hard to gauge what pace to run at. Don’t get me wrong, I can run at a very consistent pace over a number of miles, but I find myself feeling more tired than I should quite often.

So a couple of years ago I was watching a YouTube video on running to heart rate. I thought I would give it a go and see if it made any improvements. Initially I would run to pace and then check my heart rate for the run I had done afterwards.

I soon realised that on my longer runs of 10, 15, or 20 miles, my heart rate was averaging around 155bpm which was way to high for me. My resting is around 60bpm and my max a little over 170.

Clearly this was an issue in my eyes. So I made the point of trying to run the longer runs with my heart rate averaging in the 130 – 135bpm range. Yes this means running slower, but it didn’t have a huge impact on my overall times for the distances I was running due to the fact I was running more consistently.

If you are struggling with the ability to complete longer runs, or you feel exhausted towards the end, then why not try running based on your heart rate as opposed to pace.

It’s a Mental Game

long distance runner on road

This is especially true during long races. Your mind will always give up before your body if you let it. If you struggle to keep motivated then set yourself some targets.

For training, set some mini goals like improving your distance over time, losing 2 pounds over the next week, or hitting a 5k PB on your midweek run.

I actually hit my 5k & 10k PB’s on a 9 mile run and I wasn’t aiming to do so, I just wanted to try and push a fast pace for that particular run. It feels very motivating to do something like that and it helps to keep you focused on the end goal.

Sign up for some races – so if I am training for an Ultra, one of the things that keeps me motivated in my training is to sign up for races within my training. So if the week I am supposed to do 12 or 14 miles is near, I might sign up for a half marathon.

Not only does this keep you motivated and on track with your training, it also gets you used to running in race-like conditions

Add in a Touch of Strength Training

This is something I didn’t do at the start, I just ran and ran and did nothing else. All was great until I starting to get little niggling injuries that were setting me back in my training.

I sought help from a sports therapist that told me the main reason I was starting to see these injuries was that my glutes had become very weak. That weakness was affecting my hips, knees and calves. I was put on a strength training program and bingo! within a few weeks I felt like a new person.

If strength training isn’t something you have done much of then I would suggest starting some bodyweight exercises in the first instance. Concentrate on movements for the larger muscle groups by doing exercises like bodyweight squats, lunges, push-ups etc.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional so if you have any concerns about starting any routine, please speak to your doctor or health professional in the first instance.

Do Cross-Training Where Possible

Cross-training is something I tend to do on my recovery days. This is all about keeping the body ticking over but without putting any unnecessary stress on it. A few of my favourites are:

  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Walking / Hiking
  • Elliptical Trainer

Find a Running Partner

I have always been happier training alone, it’s just my preference. However, some people like to train with others and that’s great.

Having a running partner can keep you motivated and also help your running be a generally more enjoyable experience. If it works then do it.

Another option which many people opt for is to join a running club. They have set sessions for different types of runs and they can also be very good for actually learning how to run correctly and safely. Of course, there is also the chance that they do a lot of races together as well as being very social away from the training – if that works for you then I urge you to go for it.

Rest And Recover

Maybe your thinking after all of these tips that there isn’t any time for your body to recover. Try to ensure you do.

The training and nutrition are vital of course, but so is you recovery time. Use this time for your body to rest and repair itself. By doing this you will only find yourself getting stronger and better each week.

Fail to recover and you will quite possibly find that you are getting little niggling injuries and are not making any improvements in your training and goals.

I was the same believe me. When I first started running and was losing weight I didn’t want to stop because I thought the more I did with my running the better I would be. This started to break down after a few months with calf injuries, sore knees, and aching hips – all because I didn’t rest and recover.

If you are at a point you don’t feel like you want to stop, I’m not in a position to stop you. In fact, there is the option you do some active recovery such as walking or some easy cycling etc. They are forms of exercise of course, but you aren’t taxing the body as much as you are on training days.

Still, I will always try and half one fully rested day during the week, where I will go for a 2 or 3 mile easy walk with the dogs and that is it.

Since I started doing this I have found that I am stronger on my training days and have fewer aches and pains than I did before.

In summary…

Hopefully this post has shown you some of the ways that you can improve your running endurance and you put some of the tips into action. This is based around my personal experience over the last few years since I started running. I have often had to learn the hard way so if any of these tips help you then this post has done it’s job.

All the very best with whatever you do.

Mark Emmerson

Mark loves everything outdoors, especially trail and ultra running. He has competed in many events ranging from half marathon up to an 86 mile ultra. He also follows a primarily plant-based diet.

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