Endurance Training Q&A: How Do I Run Faster for Longer?

by Jason Fitzgerald

Pop quiz: what is the most reliable way to run faster? What could you start doing immediately to become a faster runner?

The answer is relatively simple: most runners just need to run more.

Even if you’re running 5k races, you’re an endurance athlete. You need endurance training to achieve your potential and that includes high mileage.

Of course, high mileage is relative based on where you are right now. But more mileage than what you’re doing right now is almost always a good idea. As my former cross country coach Jim Butler always exclaims as the secret to being a good runner: mileage!

And as you begin to run more mileage, you might have questions like:

  • What do you do after your training and race are over?
  • I always need to stop after mile 6 of my long runs. How do I train to run a half marathon without stopping?
  • What’s the best way to increase my fitness if I’m trying to double my mileage?

Today I want to answer your most pressing questions about high mileage, endurance training, and aerobic workouts so you can better plan your running.

The Strength Running PR Guide

One day I asked my newsletter readers: “Send me any question you have about running and I’ll answer them.”PR Guide

Within an hour, I had enough questions for a great article… but they kept coming. After I had over 25 questions in my inbox, I decided to put together a massive Q&A-style ebook for my readers to showcase the answers to their questions.

The final product is the Strength Running PR Guide – a collection of 35+ questions and answers about…

  • Mileage / Endurance training
  • Specific workouts
  • Pacing / Racing
  • Injury management
  • Running gear

Every question is from runners just like you so this is truly a cooperative effort: I couldn’t have done it without you! These questions are YOURS and that’s why the guide is for email subscribers only.

I want to thank all of the Strength Running readers who helped make this book possible. If you’d like to read the entire book, just sign up here and you’ll get access to the SR PR Guide (along with even more free running resources).

Alright, let’s get started and answer your questions!

Why are marathon long runs shorter than the race itself?

This gets to the heart of endurance training for runners at the marathon level. The full question is:

Why is it that for most races, it is recommended to run a long run of a greater distance than the race itself but then for marathons, training plans max out long runs at 20-22 miles? People hit the wall at 20 miles – is that because they’ve never run further? Is the ideal training really different for higher mileage races such as marathons and ultras?

Shorter races in the 5k – 10k range are by definition relatively short, so it’s fairly easy for most runners to run longer than these race distances on their long run (and often, for many other runs during the week).

When you start training for the marathon however, you approach a race distance so long that the wear and tear on the body is too great to run longer during training. Even professional marathoners rarely run more than 22-25 miles in training. The risk of injury and the compromises in training you would need to make for several days after a 26+ mile long run are too great to make it a standard part of any training plan.

People “hit the wall” around the 20 mile mark because of fueling issues – in other words, they come close to using all of the stored sugar in their muscles. Your body can only store roughly 2,000 calories worth of glycogen (sugar) in the muscles, blood, and liver – which is enough to carry you roughly 20 miles.

You can increase the distance you can run without hitting the wall by training and taking in carbohydrates during the race. For ultramarathons, consistent fueling is mandatory to just finish the race.

Can you build mileage faster than the 10% Rule?

Another classic! Here’s the full question:

The 10% Rule always assumes that one has never built up to that mileage before. But what about more experienced runners who are coming back from a post-season mileage reduction of a few months? Can I build my mileage faster?

This is such an important question and one that a lot of running “experts” just don’t seem to understand. Of COURSE you can build faster!

Let’s use me as an example: I’m very comfortable running about 60 miles per week. If I take two weeks off after a serious race that included two weeks of reduced mileage during my taper, then I’ll start my mileage at about 40. But in one week I’ll jump straight up to 50 (that’s a 25% increase!) and then settle into a 10-15% increase until I reach 65. Only when I reach my top-end mileage will I be more conservative. When I reach about 70 miles per week, then I rarely add more than 5%.

You can build mileage aggressively until you reach your baseline mileage – this is where your body is comfortable training. Once you start running high mileage (for you; it will be relative), then be more conservative with adding miles to your weekly plan.

A great strategy I frequently use is to only add mileage every 2nd week, allowing 2 weeks for my body to adapt to a certain training volume before an increase.

Another issue to consider is what types of workouts you’re running. Be careful not to increase both volume and the intensity of your workouts too drastically at the same time. A 20% increase in mileage may be fine for you at a certain level, but only if you’re not also increasing your hard workouts.

It’s a balancing act to determine what your body can handle. My advice is to always err on the side of doing slightly too little as opposed to too much. You’d rather be a bit under-trained than injured or over-trained.

Why did my legs feel so tired after months on the elliptical?

An interesting question about the specificity of endurance training. Here’s the question:

Because of the bad winter weather, I’ve worked out on an elliptical for the last three months without any running. I was recently on vacation and went for a short run but it wasn’t easy. Why did my legs feel so tired?

Your legs felt tired because you haven’t been running for three months! The elliptical is a non-impact cardio exercise and is best used as a supplemental aerobic exercise.

There are two good reasons to use the elliptical (or any type of aerobic cross-training exercise): to replace a run when you can’t get outside because of the weather, if you’re hurt and can’t run, or to add more aerobic exercise to your running volume. Cycling and pool running are more specific to running in my opinion and better approximate the actual act of running, but the elliptical isn’t bad at this either.

Running isn’t easy because your body isn’t accustomed to the impact of running. You haven’t done that specific movement in a long time. To be a good runner you have to run; other types of exercise can bolster your fitness but without running, it will always be a challenge to start after a long layoff.

Since your body has been doing zero impact exercise for three months, it’s important to slowly start running again and do lower body strength exercises to enable your legs to handle the stress of running’s impact forces.

Want the entire Strength Running PR Guide?

It’s yours, for free. Sign up in the box below and you’ll get access to a private page where you can download it.

I’ll also give you even more free resources (they’re all listed on this page) because I love rewarding my email readers with extras that I don’t make available on the blog.

After you read the PR Guide I want to hear from you – what questions would you love answered? Leave them in the comments below and we might see a sequel!

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{ 11 comments }

Kim Abruzzese

I’ve always enjoy your information. It seems to go right along with all of my fave running authors.

Jason Fitzgerald

Thank you Kim, I really appreciate that.

Andrew Tucker

I am 2 months into the marathon training schedule you built for me and the last 2 long runs of 14 and 15 miles were the longest runs of my life. I felt great..a little sore, sure, but great. Your program of progressive mileage sandwiched between warmup and cool down routines is working fabulously for me. Thanks for all the fantastic advice and info!

Jason Fitzgerald

Awesome, nice job Andrew! Keep at it.

Moin@Skin

Not that am new to this blog but new to running. Today I read few interesting posts on running including this one. These posts are inspiring me to stat my running journey.

But am afraid am failing to keep this spirit same all the day. Do you’ve any tips to keep this spirit?

Jim Maceo

You offer such valuable information. I just completed my first marathon after five months of ‘by the book’ training and a base in half marathons. Boy….. do I have more to learn. I’m looking forward to taking on the next one.
Thanks.

Dorothy Vaughan

I am coming back from a pain-with-every-step hamstring injury. I’ve fully taken your experience/ recommendations into my rehab/ recovery (along with a few other recommendations that fit my needs). I’ve incorporated several strength exercises (huge emphasis on low back/ glutes/ hams, but also upper body) and active stretching. Now, slowly but very definitely, I’m coming out of this injury stronger and better prepared. I feel like a completely different runner. I feel closer to how I felt as a college athlete. I’m an athlete who happens to run. There is still more that I need to improve on… but I have such a different outlook versus the pain/ frustration I felt for all of last year. Thank you so much for your guidance!

world_runner

Hi Jason,
You answered this a bit with the elliptical question above but how does cross training translate into running? Right now I am swimming 3 days a week for 1 hour plus running 3-4 days a week (one of my days I swim and run). When I get ready to start building my mileage back up how do I translate those swim days into run days? Do I start at 3 miles and build from there?

Jason Fitzgerald

I go over this here: http://strengthrunning.com/2013/07/cross-train-for-speed-health-recovery/. But you can’t instantly switch all your swim sessions into run sessions – that’s too much impact all at once. Just build mileage normally from there, knowing the swimming has boosted your fitness so it wasn’t wasted.

Bob

Thanks for the article. I took some notes as I have only started running less than a month ago. It was really hard at the beginning but I’m enjoying it more and more every day. I think I’m ready to increase the distance now not sure about the speed though. Thanks again for the tips.

Todd

Really impressed with this line: “most runners just need to run more”. Great Article.. Thanks for sharing.

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