Exercise and Wellness

3 Keys to Building Running Endurance

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Whether you love 5K runs, marathons or just run for fun, running is an endurance sport. If you want to get faster and run longer without feeling winded (in hot weather, too!), you need to build your endurance.

Endurance can be one of your biggest challenges in improving your running, but it’s the key to stronger and faster training and racing.

While there is a place in your training for boosting your speed, like sprints and short intervals, the bulk of your workouts should focus on improving your endurance, and endurance takes time and dedication.

If you’re new to running, you might see rapid improvements with regular training, but if you’re a more experienced runner, you may need to look at your improvement goals over a longer time.

Above all else, the key to improving endurance is consistency. If you’re injured, or if you constantly stop and start your training, it will be more challenging to improve. Running consistently, week after week and month after month, is the best way to get there.

Once you’ve established a regular habit, you can best target your endurance by focusing on three factors: your weekly mileage, long runs and aerobic workouts.

Increasing Your Running Mileage

One of the best ways that you can increase your endurance is to run more miles. While this is a simple concept, your mileage sweet spot will depend on a variety of factors.

Your total running volume will differ depending on your training history, ability and racing goals. The key is to increase your mileage gradually to find what works best for you. If you’re a beginner 5K runner, that may mean ramping up to 25 miles per week. If you’re a competitive marathoner, you may comfortably run 60 to 70 miles.

While the 10-percent rule — increasing your mileage by no more than 10% each week — is often referenced about increasing your running volume, there is room for variation. This rule may be accurate if you’re a newer runner, but if you’re getting back into training after time off or a goal race, this increase may be too conservative. If you’re a well-trained runner, you may need a week or two of low-mileage recovery after a long race.

Trevor Hicks, a physical therapist with AdventHealth, agrees with a modified approach to the 10-percent rule.

“Runners typically can build endurance by following the 10-percent rule,” he says. “This can be adapted by novice runners to possibly even less to allow for tissue adaptation.”

“The same serves true for seasoned runners who may be getting back into season or increasing their miles. They may be able to increase mileage at a faster rate week by week in preparation for a race,” Hicks says.

If you have been injured, always err on the side of caution. Remember, if you’re increasing your volume, you shouldn’t increase your harder efforts at the same time. Increase volume and workload separately to decrease your risk of injury.

Practicing Longer Runs

Long runs are essential in endurance training. Running for increasingly longer periods is one of the best ways to boost your endurance, and long runs should be regular parts of your training plan. While you should include occasional cutbacks and weeks with reduced mileage, long runs are key to improving your endurance.

Long runs have many benefits, including:

  • Building physical and mental resiliency
  • Building stronger muscles
  • Improving your running economy
  • Improving your speed
  • Increasing the efficiency of physical fuel use
  • Increasing the number of mitochondria in your cells

As with weekly mileage, the length of your long runs depends on your experience and the race distance you’re training for. Long runs typically last between one and three hours, though ultramarathoners require even more time on their feet.

As a beginner, running for an hour continuously may feel like an overwhelming goal, but you’ll get there with practice. At the other end of the spectrum, experienced runners training for a marathon may run 20 to 22 miles as a long run.

Engaging in Aerobic Workouts

Once you have established a base of mileage with weekly long runs, aerobic workouts are a third key element to improving your endurance. Aerobic means “in the presence of oxygen,” and these are workouts like tempo runs, fartlek runs and hill training — not short, fast intervals on the track.

Anaerobic workouts, or those “without oxygen,” will push you over your lactate threshold level, where your body produces more lactic acid than it can use and convert back into energy.

As for pace, aerobic workouts usually range from slightly slower than marathon pace — sometimes called a steady-state run — to a 10K effort. The pace will determine the length of the intervals. A marathon-pace workout for an experienced runner may be 6 to 8 miles (or longer), while a 10K effort will be held for shorter intervals, typically a mile at the maximum.

Why Aerobics?

Aerobic workouts build both mental and physical endurance. They teach you to hold a challenging pace for specific distances. Over time, these are what prevent the fade that often happens at the end of a long race. Endurance, not speed, is what gives you the finishing kick to end a race with a strong, positive momentum.

Try Cross-Training, Too

Of course, if you’re an injury-prone athlete, you can build endurance with cross-training. “You can gain endurance without running,” Hicks says.

“Lots of runners cross-train — either by swimming, biking or using the elliptical — to continue improving cardiovascular and muscular endurance without increasing mileage as quickly. These are great options to continue improving fitness while avoiding injury from overly increasing miles.”

Improving endurance should be a long-term goal for every runner. Progression happens over months and years. As you improve and gain more training experience, the specific types of long runs and workouts that you use may change, but the basics remain the same.

Endurance is always easier to maintain than build, so stay consistent with your training and you’ll continue to improve as a runner for years to come.

Whole-Person Care to Stay Running for Longer

If a running injury is keeping you from your best runs, turn to care you can count on at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab. We’ll work with you to develop a treatment plan customized to your physical needs and help you build endurance mentally and spiritually, too. Learn more about our services or schedule your appointment today.

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