How can I run longer and faster? The answer most commonly heard is- run more!

However, to optimize performance, running smarter, and not necessarily harder or more frequently will take your running to the next level. When runners start to set goals to build their endurance a common error is to increase mileage, frequency and quality all at once. This formula increases the likelihood of injury and other negative training effects.

A guideline to running smart to build endurance:

  1. Build a base– whether you are an elite athlete or new to running a solid base of mileage is needed before you can progress. For novices, start out running nice and easy 20-30 minutes 3-6 times a week depending on current fitness. For experienced runners this may be closer to 60-70 minutes 3-6 times a week. Maintain your mileage for 3-4 weeks to allow the body to adapt to the load.  Then gradually increase your mileage for the next 3-4 weeks. Depending on experience, this can increase 5%-20% through frequency (number of runs in a week) or the duration of individual runs. Pick one but not both to help minimize the risk of injury. When planning a running schedule 6-8 weeks should be allotted to build a base. Allow for a minimum of one complete rest day (no running) each week, as the body needs recovery in order to adapt.
  • Long Runs- Once you have established a good base the next step is to increase duration. This can be done through a long run, commonly done on Sunday in the running community. A good goal here is to achieve 25-30% of your total weekly mileage through this run. The long run is a major player in the development of your aerobic capacity, muscle strength, endurance and respiratory function. Add long runs into the mix during week 6-8 of your base phase.
  • Tempo work- Once you have established a good base and introduced a long run into the program the next step is to introduce threshold work. A common way to do this is through a weekly or bi-weekly tempo run. This workout can be done by time or distance and is targeted at running comfortably hard. It is not race effort but is hard enough that you do not want to talk while doing it.  These workouts can start at 5-minute intervals all the way to 20-30k depending on race distance. Remember this is not race effort, but a tool to help improve your lactate-threshold pace.
  • Recovery Runs/Recovery Days- It is important once you have added intensity into the mix to schedule recovery runs and recovery days into the program. After a hard intensity workout, you have stressed the body to a point that without proper recovery you will start to see diminishing returns in your hard work. After these hard efforts it is good to schedule either a complete day off, a recovery run (nice easy run, conversation pace) or a day of rest with active recovery (yoga, easy bike or swim).
  •  Adding intensity or speed- After you have developed a solid base and incorporated a long run and tempo work into the mix you are now ready to add speed. This can be done through interval training. Interval training helps develop your anaerobic capacity, which makes you a more efficient and faster runner. Start with adding in one speed or interval session per week. These sessions should be short and fast, such as 400m repeats to 1-mile repeats with 1-3 minutes rest between intervals. Total volume starting out should be around 1-3km worth of work at faster than your goal race pace.
  • Strength and treatment- One of the most neglected but an extremely important part of training for runners is to incorporate strength and treatment into their routine. Not only will this be beneficial in developing power and running efficiency, it will help decrease the risk of injury. You should aim to build in 1-2 strength sessions per week. These can be done on your higher intensity running days to allow you to take recovery days as true recovery. Massage and Chiro are great ways to help promote recovery. A maintenance routine goes a long way in keeping the body moving.  

In summation, when building an endurance plan only increase one of following three pieces at a given time; intensity, mileage and frequency. For example, if you increase intensity, mileage and frequency should either remain the same or decrease. A common practice amongst runners is to increase mileage through frequency. This is acceptable but be aware of your recovery days and take them easy. Increasing two factors may increase your risk of injury.

When it comes to building endurance there are scientific approaches that have proven results, but each athlete will respond differently to training and a custom approach is often the most successful. A coach is a great way to learn what works best for you as an athlete, helping you navigate and develop a plan. It takes away the stress of planning workouts and the guess work of what to do. This allows runners to focus on what they love most, running! 

For more information on how to improve your endurance feel free to reach out to runlabtrack.com

See you on the roads and trails

By Jevin Monds

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