How to Increase Your Running Stamina and Endurance
If you’re a runner, you know the importance of endurance. Whether you are running long distances or aiming for a faster 5k.
Whilst running a 5k is the entry point for many when it comes to endurance running, it still can be a tough challenge. The same can most certainly be said for those longer distance runs where you want to keep pace without tiring.
Before you begin building on and improving your running stamina, first make an assessment of your current fitness level. You need to get a realistic measure of your aerobic base. From there you can plan how to improve. Going from a gentle 5k to a marathon overnight could be dangerous and lead to injury.
Before you begin training, it is also worth bearing in mind that everyone improves at a different pace, and different training styles work for different people. The exercise physiologist Kris Berg covered this in his review article ‘Endurance Training and Performance in Runners‘: “After decades of studying ways to improve endurance, I am leaning more than ever towards the great gestalt of mind-body wisdom and encouraging runners to do whatever feels right.”
With this in mind we have outlined a number of ways that you can improve your running stamina that make sense. Each point should show how you can actually improve your endurance without pushing yourself too far.
Increase Your Distance Gradually
If you are used to running a parkrun every Saturday and not much else, it is unlikely you are going to be smashing out marathon distances in a week. You are most likely going to burnout and severely injure yourself.
The real key is to increase your distance bit by bit. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you do not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% per week. By building up slowly you can save yourself frustration and pain – but still reach your goals! It may take longer to increase your distance that you were hoping for, but it is one of the better ways to really improve your endurance. Trust the process!
Run at a Moderate Pace to Increase Stamina
Increasing distance is great for pushing your stamina and endurance, but moderate running is the safest way to build strength and resilience.
The term ‘moderate’ causes a lot of confusion within the running training intensity designation. This is because it is one of the many terms runners apply to this particular intensity zone. ‘Steady’, ‘tempo’ and ‘marathon pace’ are a few other examples.
What a ‘moderate running pace’ actually means is that the runner can speak in short sentences, and the run feels ‘comfortably strenuous’. Your heart rate would be between 82-87% of your max heart rate.
The run should not be an all-out effort that has you gasping for breath, but a positively challenging pace that you feel you can maintain over the duration of the run. If you feel like you are unable to keep the pace until the end, slow down until you are comfortably challenged.
Introduce Tempo Runs to Improve Endurance
Tempo runs are a great segway from the training style of running at a moderate pace. Tempo runs are perfect for improving your running economy, or the amount of oxygen you use at a given pace. It can also help you dial up your mental toughness.
Tempo runs are a type of workout where you alternate between periods of running at a fast pace and a slow pace. These runs normally take place over a shorter distance, but at a higher pace than at which you normally train. Training like this teaches your body to clear lactic acid from the bloodstream quicker, which means you can run longer before fatigue slows you down.
When planning a tempo run, remember that you should be aiming for a “comfortably hard” pace (there is a theme here) that lasts around 20-40 minutes. You should be able to maintain this pace for the whole of the run.
The Beauty of Hill Training for Endurance
Incorporating hill training into your runs can make a world of difference to your endurance. Running uphill is also a great way to build leg strength.
Remember, you want to make sure you are completing the right type of hill workout for the goals you have. To build stamina and endurance you want to make sure you aim for longer hill runs. Around the region of 2-4 minutes of uphill with a slow downhill recovery jog would be perfect. A grade of 4-5% is ideal for this sort of training. Take a look at the elevation filter on our running route listing page to find routes with the right elevation near you.
Aim to complete 5-6 repetitions, with a total amount of uphill running around the 15 minutes range. The Kirkstall Rollercoaster run route is a great example of where is perfect for this sort of training. Although the route in its entirety is 2.5km, you can alter and change it as you see fit.
Interestingly, hill training is also a great way to develop coordination and control. This style of running encourages you to properly use your arms during the driving phase and feet in the support phase.
If you are interested in hill running and its benefits, we cover this at greater length in our article on ‘Why all runners should do hill training’.
What to Eat and Drink for Endurance Running
As you may be aware, what you eat and drink can have a massive impact on your health. And your running! Making sure you’re adequately fuelled and eating a nutritious diet will help your body recover from workouts and be ready to go again.
Eating a balanced diet with plenty of complex carbohydrates gives you the energy you need to power through your runs. Think plant foods. Complex carbohydrates are most commonly found in whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice and starchy vegetables like corn and peas. These usually take longer for the body to digest, and provide a slow release of energy. Whole-grain foods are also less processed, meaning they retain more of the nutrition the grain naturally provides.
Be sure to eat something before heading out the door, particularly if you’re going on a long run. Otherwise, you may stall partway through and not be able to finish. We recommend a banana!
Drinking plenty of fluids is crucial for runners, especially when trying to increase mileage. Make sure you’re getting enough water throughout the day and carrying a water bottle with you on your runs. Sports drinks can also be helpful, especially on longer runs, to replenish electrolytes.
Cross-Training is Key
In addition to running, incorporating other forms of exercise into your routine can also help improve your endurance. Activities like biking, swimming, and weight training can help increase your aerobic capacity and build up your leg muscles, both of which will come in handy when you’re running long distances.
For more in-depth information on cross training take a look at our article by the Running Studio.
Cycling is a great way to train when you are not running. It uses different muscle types than running. More specific areas of your quads, glutes and core muscles will compliment your running.
Cycling can provide a great workout without impacting your knees. Granted, if you cycle long distances you can end up putting stress on your knees, but it is far lower than the impact of running.
Studies have shown that cycling can improve a 10k race time by 9 per cent; and quicken a 5k race performance by 3 per cent! If being outdoors is your absolute favourite part of your run, then consider giving cycling a try.
Swimming is a popular cross-training for running because it works so many muscles in the body. And much like running, swimming at a slower pace for a longer periods build up your endurance. This translates directly back to your running. Swimming boosts cardiovascular fitness by working the heart and lungs without all the wear and tear from running.
One advantage of using swimming to build running endurance is that is has minimal amount of gear needed to get started. Other than access to a pool and a pair of trunks, you should be good to go. It also requires a little more focus, which makes your training plan a bit more interesting.
It is easy to forget about weight training as part of the cross training package. It can sometimes feel a little more nuanced and inaccessible for those who are not used to the gym life. However, it is definitely not one that should be ignored.
Strength training has the potential to reduce injury risk by correcting muscle imbalances and improving muscle activation. The act of running puts the force of about 3-times your body weight through each leg. Having the strength and stability to absorb this impact will minimise the risk on injury and the dreaded runners knee.
Weight training is beneficial for improving running endurance. Weight training is repeated patterns and movements focused on particular muscle groups. This repetition helps the body hone in on the most efficient way to fire these muscles. Meaning less wasted energy, and faster running.
Plenty of Rest
Rest and recovery are just as important as the actual workout itself. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night and taking any necessary rest days. This will help your body recover from the stress of running and be ready to tackle your next workout.
By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to improving your running endurance. Remember, consistency is key. So keep at it and don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results immediately.