6 Building Blocks to Increase Endurance

We all want to run longer, faster; the new runner might be trying to run their first 5K while the seasoned runner might be looking to hit a particular time. While their goals are different, the way each of these runners meets their goal is to increase their endurance.

So, how can you build your miles? Can you do this while simultaneously working on your speed? The answer is yes, as the same principles support building endurance and speed.

Below, you will find 6 strategies to increase your endurance for all levels of runners; try them and see what your think.

Build up mileage slowly

We’re a big fan of building up your mileage slowly, the gradual adaption will allow your body to become accustomed to the higher mileage and will allow you to avoid the injury that will keep you off the road. This concept, let us call it gradual mileage adaption is something that should be used by the new runner struggling to run a mile and the marathoner looking to improve their PR.

This gradual adaption can take a few forms, but we recommend the new runner increase their mileage by adding 1 mile per week to their long run for 3 straight weeks and then skipping their long run on the 4th week; then begin the process over. For example, if your long run is 5 miles you would follow the following pattern:

  • Week 1 5 miles
  • Week 2 6 miles
  • Week 3 7 miles
  • Week 4 No long run
  • Week 5 8 miles

For the more experienced runner, rather than increase your mileage by 1 mile per week we recommend adding 10% to your long run weekly following the same pattern as above.

Run long and slow

We’ve discussed the many benefits of your long run, and want to reiterate the value of running these at a slow pace; by running slow and long, your body will be running in a glycogen depleted state and will learn how to do two things which will greatly enhance your endurance. First, your body will determine it needs more glycogen and will naturally increase your stored glycogen; second, it will become more efficient at burning fat. Each of these will help to increase your endurance.

So, the big question is what is “slow”; your long run should be at about 80% of the pace at which you could run that same distance. For example, if your 10-mile pace is 10:00 minutes per mile your long run should be at 12:30; simply multiply your race pace by 1.25. For many, this is difficult as the run will feel so effortless you naturally think you are not improving. But, over time you will notice your endurance is better and you are able to sustain your runs longer without bonking.

Make every workout count

If you are going to run, you want to make that workout count; you want it to build your endurance or your speed or both. While I am not a practitioner of the 3 day per week running plan, I think it is helpful to understand the three workouts you want to do EVERY week. This includes the following:

  • Long run
  • Tempo Run
  • Speed Workout

If you simply love to run, and want to add some base runs in that’s not a problem but each week should include a long run, a tempo run and a speed workout in order to enhance your running fitness level.

Run hills to build leg strength

If you want to add a run beyond your 3 main weekly runs, you should seriously think about adding some hill running. One of the main benefits of hill training is the fact it will strengthen your ankles, calves, quads, glutes and hamstrings; the stronger your legs, the more time you can spend on them and the longer you can run.

You can use these hill runs for a variety of reasons; to increase your endurance, your speed or both and there a number of hill workouts to keep it from getting boring and repetitive.

Run Longer Tempo Runs

Without getting too technical, tempo pace is the effort level at which your body clears as much lactate as it produces. Since your body’s lactate clearance is at the same level as its lactate production, meaning the dreaded dead-leg sensation does not set in. 

Tempo runs help you “push back” or increase your anaerobic or lactate threshold, which is critical for running faster for longer periods. Your lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid (a by-product of glucose metabolization) begins to accumulate in muscles.

An accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles leads to the fatigue and soreness that runners experience when running hard. If you can increase your lactate threshold by doing tempo runs, you can reduce the accumulation of lactic acid and run faster without suffering muscle fatigue. 

Most runners will run around 30 minutes for their tempo runs, but if you really want to make a breakthrough in your speed endurance (running faster for longer periods) the goal here is to increase these tempo runs to 45 – 60 minutes. This will have the effect of an even greater increase in your lactate threshold and your ability to sustain your speed for longer periods of time.

Run Long and Fast

Wait, what? Didn’t we suggest earlier you should run long and slow? Yep, we sure did. But there is a benefit to running long and fast and it can be done without losing the benefit of running long and slow. The best way to do this is by running one or two long runs a month, using the following:

  • Run ¾ of your long run at a slow pace; per above, this pace should be at roughly 80% of your pace for the same distance
  • Then, when your body is glycogen depleted pick up the pace and run the last ¼ of your long run at either your marathon pace or your tempo run pace depending on your level of fitness; however, please note you should gradually accelerate to this pace to avoid injury

You should not run this last ¼ of the run at a pace which causes you to collapse at the end, but it should be hard enough to accustom your body to handle late-race fatigue.

Be safe and keep running!

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Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.

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