Show me any runner and I’ll show you a runner that wants more endurance! That means how we structure our endurance training will be key to our success as distance runners.
Endurance is important for runners because it allows them to run for longer distances without getting tired. This is important for both competitive runners and recreational runners.
Competitive runners need endurance to be able to compete well in long-distance races, such as marathons and ultramarathons. It’s a hallmark of our coaching programs.
Recreational runners need endurance to be able to enjoy long runs and to be able to run for longer periods of time without getting tired. With more endurance, you’ll also have a lot more fun at your local group run!
Let’s consider all of the ways that runners benefit from endurance training:
First, endurance allows runners to use their aerobic energy system more efficiently. The aerobic energy system is the body’s primary source of energy for long-distance running. When runners have good endurance, they can run for longer distances without getting tired.
Second, endurance allows runners to recover more quickly from workouts. When runners have good endurance, their bodies are better able to remove waste products from muscles, which allows them to recover more quickly from workouts. This means that runners can train more often and for longer periods of time, which can help them to improve their performance in races.
Third, endurance can help to prevent injuries. When runners have good endurance, their muscles and joints are better able to withstand the stresses of running. This can help to prevent common running injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis.
But let’s back up a second. What exactly is endurance?
What is Endurance?
Endurance is the ability of the body to sustain physical activity for a long period of time. For us runners, endurance is the ability to run for a long time. It is a complex trait that is influenced by a number of factors, including genetics, training, and even the weather.
There are a number of different types of endurance, including:
- Aerobic endurance: This is the ability of the body to use oxygen to produce energy for sustained physical activity. Aerobic endurance is important for any endurance activity such as running, swimming, and cycling.
- Anaerobic endurance: This is the ability of the body to produce energy without oxygen for short periods of high-intensity activity (also known as VO2 Max). Anaerobic endurance is important for activities such as sprinting and weightlifting.
- Muscular endurance: This is the ability of a muscle to contract repeatedly without fatigue. Muscle endurance is more important for ultra endurance athletes, like marathoners or ultramarathoners.
Endurance is an important component of overall fitness – and arguably the most important trait for distance runners.
Is Endurance Training Beneficial for Longevity?
Runners typically think of endurance as a physical trait that will only help their running performances. But in fact, a high level of aerobic fitness can also be beneficial outside of your running endeavors!
Endurance can improve your quality of life, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and prolong your health span (the amount of time you’re free of disease).
In Peter Attia’s phenomenal book Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity, he speaks about aerobic fitness through the prism of VO2 Max. Build this fitness metric as much as possible and when the inevitable decline occurs from aging, you have a longer “runway” for this decline to occur.
In other words, the higher your peak fitness during your competitive years, the better fitness you’ll have in your older years.
It’s another reason to focus on endurance training throughout your life! As long as we can limit our risk of injuries by training intelligently, a high volume of endurance training will benefit our racing performances and overall longevity.
Just avoid these common mistakes to stay healthy:
- Not gradually increasing mileage. It’s important to gradually increase your mileage over time, or you’ll risk injury. If you try to increase your mileage too quickly, you’ll put too much stress on your body and you’ll likely get injured.
- Not cross-training. Cross-training is a great way to improve your overall fitness and reduce your risk of injury. If you only run, you’ll be more likely to get injured.
- Not listening to your body. If you’re feeling pain, take a break. Don’t push yourself too hard, or you’ll risk injury.
- Not getting enough sleep. Sleep is essential for recovery. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you won’t be able to recover properly from your workouts, and you won’t be able to build endurance.
- Not eating a healthy diet. A healthy diet provides your body with the nutrients it needs to recover from workouts and build muscle. If you’re not eating a healthy diet, you won’t be able to build endurance.
With an intentional approach, you’ll be far more likely to remain healthy while building endurance.
How to Build General Endurance
Endurance can be improved through regular exercise (not just running). The type of exercise that is best for improving endurance will vary depending on the individual’s goals and fitness level.
For example, if you’re reading this article, you’re probably a runner! That means the most effective endurance building activity you can do is running.
Even with running, there are a number of different ways to improve endurance. Some of the most common methods include:
- Weekly Mileage: Your total volume over the course of the week is one of the best predictors of your race performances and overall endurance.
- Long Runs: This is arguably the best individual type of run for endurance training. The long run is the longest run you’ll complete during the week.
- Aerobic Workouts: Any faster training session run at lactate threshold, half-marathon pace, or marathon pace all build endurance.
But we can also target endurance training through other forms of exercise. Ideally, we’ll find running-specific forms of cross-training that have high transferability. In other words, the fitness you gain from cross-training will transfer well to running.
My favorite forms of cross-training for runners include:
- Cycling: Cycling is a great way to cross train for running because it uses similar muscle groups. It is also a low-impact activity, which makes it a good option for runners who are looking to reduce their risk of injury.
- Indoor rowing: Indoor rowing is a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance, while having a low risk of overuse injuries.
- Pool Running: Also known as aqua jogging, pool running has you simulate the running motion while in the deep end of the pool.
- Elliptical: Common in almost every gym, the elliptical mimics the demands of running and can build similar endurance as running.
But I’m also a big fan of “sneaky endurance training” – informal exercise that builds the aerobic metabolism without you formally experiencing a workout.
How to Build Event-Specific Endurance
Event-specific endurance is simply the endurance needed to run your goal race pace for the duration of the distance you’re about to run.
For example, if you want to run a sub-3 marathon, we have to build the fitness needed to run 26.2 miles at 6:51 per mile pace (or 4:15 per kilometer).
If you want to run a sub-4 marathon, you need to run 26.2 miles at 9:09 per mile (or 5:15 per kilometer).
The fitness needed to run this pace can be built through race-specific workouts where you run at this goal pace for an extended period of time, particularly during long runs to make the workout more specific to the demands of the marathon itself.
It’s important to build fitness around your goal pace, as well. This means running support paces both slower and faster than your goal pace.
Ready to Begin Endurance Training?
With consistent, strategic endurance training, you’ll see results like these runners:
“I am so excited today. I have been following the running plan that you set up for me. I have always been a run/walker. My goal was to be able to run 3 miles non stop with a stretch goal of 5 miles non stop. Today, I did it!
I haven’t been able to do that since I ran my marathon back in 1996! I am thrilled. I will tell anyone who will listen about you and your great website! Thanks so much” – Anna
“I ran my half marathon earlier today and got a PR of 1:45, placed first in my age group, had the fastest time in that age group for all the years the race has been run, and most impressively to me was that my last two miles were the fastest, at 7:35 and 7:36! I’m a very happy girl. Thank you for your plan. On to the next one!” – Martha
“Jason, not sure what kind of mystical powers you have but I ran a 5k this morning and cut 40 seconds off my PR!” – Kris
“Looks like your plan is working for me: 1:06 10k PR in my first “B” race of the year in the snow :)” – Emily
Most importantly, let’s structure your training appropriately so you can be as strategic as possible with building endurance (while limiting your risk of injury as much as possible).