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Winning an endurance race isn't necessarily about who has the most endurance or who can go the longest.
It's about who can finish first.
According to the law of specificity, in order to improve in any endurance sport or activity, you need to train that specific sport or activity. There's no denying the science.
But this doesn't mean other types of training can't enhance performance, too.
One missing component many endurance athletes gloss over is the importance of strength training, which not only boosts performance, but also provides a host of other benefits.
Strength is the Base
Think of strength as a glass, and all the attributes we want to improve upon—endurance, power, speed, strength, agility—as the liquid inside the glass.
If you're weak, your glass is small, and likely filled with as much liquid as it can hold. There's no more room to improve. Strength training makes your glass bigger and, as a result, will allow you to put more liquid (various athletic attributes) inside.
Strength is your ability to produce force against an external resistance. In the case of running a marathon, the more force you can put into the ground to propel your body forward, the faster you'll move.
Running more miles for the sake of running more miles won't accomplish this.
Improved Running Economy
Research says strength training improves running economy because there's less perceived effort given a certain intensity and/or distance. A strong running economy means less oxygen needed and improved performance over a given distance, as pace can be maintained for a longer duration.
So, in effect, improving running economy may be a better predictor of success than solely focusing on VO2 max.
The stronger someone is, the less errors in technique there are prone to be, and one will be able to maintain a high-quality technique for a longer period of time.
Less Risk of Injury
Buildings collapse due to weak infrastructure, cars break down due to wear and tear on the engine, and weak people tend to break down more easily, too.
Strength coach Mike Boyle says with endurance athletes, there tends to be a vicious, repetitive cycle of training, getting hurt, and going to physical therapy.
That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's not entirely untrue.