As runners, we all want to increase our endurance, but we're often referring to two different things. The beginning runner wants to go farther from two miles to four miles, then to six. More experienced runners don't see much point in running farther. (Isn't 26.2 miles far enough?) These runners want to improve their speed-endurance the pace at which they can cover substantial distances.
Fortunately, you can have it both ways. You can follow training plans that build the length of your long runs, and others that improve your speed-endurance.
Using such workouts, thousands of runners have dramatically improved their endurance. Craig Beesley, a beginning runner, extended his longest run from 30 seconds to nearly 3 hours. Doug Underwood, a successful marathoner, wanted to lower his best from 3:50 to 3:30 to qualify for the Boston Marathon. And Deena Drossin, the American 10-K and cross-country star, wanted nothing less than to run the marathon faster than a legend, Joan Samuelson.
All three runners achieved their goals. Each used a different method. Which raises the point that exercise physiologist Kris Berg explains in his recent article, "Endurance Training and Performance in Runners," in the journal Sports Medicine. "After decades of studying ways to improve endurance," says Berg. "I'm leaning more than ever toward the great gestalt of mind-body wisdom, and encouraging runners to do what feels right."
In other words, different strokes for different folks. We're not all the same. Genetic researchers refer to "high responders" and "low responders." Sometimes we need to take different paths to reach our goals.
Below, you'll find seven endurance-boosting strategies that have worked for a range of runners. Not all will work for you. But one or more will, and that should be enough to significantly increase your endurance, which means you'll run stronger and easier than ever before.
Plan 1: Take One Step At a Time
If there is one overarching principle of endurance-building, this is it. Call it gradual adaptation. That is, be consistent, be patient, and build up slowly. This principle applies to all circumstances and all runners the beginner who's trying to make it around the block four times, as well as the 36-minute 10-K runner who's training for a first marathon with long runs that stretch to 12 miles, then 16, then 20.
The gradual-adaptation principle is deeply rooted in human physiology, and has worked for about a billion runners since Paleolithic man started stalking wild animals in East Africa 150,000 years ago. It still works today. Witness Craig Beesley of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada.
When Beesley began running 2 years ago, he could only manage 30 seconds at a time, followed by 4 1/2 minutes of walking. But he didn't let his lack of fitness discourage him. He simply repeated the cycle eight times (for a total of 40 minutes), and made sure he did three workouts a week.
Thirteen weeks later, Beesley was running 30 minutes at a time, and by last fall he had completed his first half-marathon in 2:12. Pretty impressive. But Beesley didn't stop there. He kept running outdoors through the winter months, despite temperatures that dropped to -25°F, and last spring added speedwork to his routine. By May, he was running long runs of 2 hours, 40 minutes, and doing six 400-meter repeats in 1:45. In his near future: a first marathon.
A program can't get any simpler than Beesley's, or any more successful. "I've increased my endurance and my speed, and I've done both without any injuries," he says. "My family members describe me as a very patient man. Patience combined with persistence is a great combination for success in running."
What you should do: Whatever your present endurance conditioning, build it slow but steady. We like a program that adds 1 mile a week to your weekend long run, for example: 5 miles, 6 miles, 7 miles. Every 4th week, reduce mileage by skipping the long run. Rest and recover. The next week, start building again, 1 mile at a time: 8 miles, 9 miles, etc.