When I started running and like any other new runner, I didn’t have much stamina to show for.
In fact, I gave up on running—on numerous occasions—because within a few minutes into my run, my legs were on fire and I was about to drop dead from breathing so hard and fast.
That’s why I believe that one of the biggest obstacles beginners runners face is a “weak” stamina.
And unless you’ve been living under a rock, then you already know that improving stamina is key to good athletic performance and enjoyable training.
As a result, today, I’m going to share with you some of the tactics you can use to increase your running stamina and endurance—regardless of your current fitness level.
But first things first.
Let’s delve into what stamina actually means so we can make sure that we are on the right page (and the same book).
Two Stamina Distinctions
So What is Running Stamina?
Also known as aerobic base, and commonly referred to as running stamina and endurance in the running circles, running stamina can be thought of as (1) the ability to run further—distance— and (2) cover more ground in less time—speed.
In other words: Running Stamina = Distance + Speed (or relative speed).
According to this simple definition, there are two main stamina distinctions:
The Novice Stamina. The beginner runner (1) may want to run three to five miles without stopping and with much ease, then build on that. The primary focus is building a basic cardio base.
For example: Run the 3-mile loop around the neighborhood in less than 40-minute
The Advanced Runner. An elite runner (2) may aim to improve their speed-endurance—the pace at which they can cover significant distances in less time.
For example: Run a marathon under 2:30.
The good news is that you can have it both ways. And today I’m going to share with you all you need to know about building the length of your runs, and improving your speed-endurance, in one mix.
8 Ways to Boost Your Running Stamina & Endurance
Without further ado, here are eights ways to increase running stamina along with sneakier ways to keep going stronger.
1. Gradual Progress
The key to building running stamina without facing the risks of injury and/or burnout is to “train smart”—it’s all about adapting the gradual approach principle.
In fact, if you are looking for one overreaching principle of stamina building, then look no further than the “Gradual Progress” rule.
This smart training approach entails that you must aim to slowly and steadily increase mileage and speed while being consistent, patient the entire time.
That’s it. That’s the essence of gradual adaptation.
This is a universal principle and it applies to all runners, whether you are a beginner trying to make it around the block for the first time, as well as the 80-minute half-marathon runner who’s prepping for his upcoming marathon.
Therefore, all of the training guidelines I’m sharing with you below should be approached with this mindset. Otherwise, don’t bother reading on. You will be setting yourself for failure and blame it on me!
I’m warning you here.
Proceed with caution…
So before you take your first steps, take an assessment of your current physical fitness and training goals, and ask yourself these questions:
- What to do I want to achieve?
- Is it realistic?
- How should I go about it without hurting myself?
- What’s a proper running stamina level for me?
- What is my current physical fitness level?
- Do I have any injuries or health worries that should be addressed first?
Be thorough and leave no stone unturned.
2. Run Walk
The run-walk method can help you cardio base without doing too much too soon—which is the root-cause of trouble for beginner runners.
Plus, this method is safe on your body and can be scaled—up or down— to meet your own specific needs and fitness level.
To learn how to start running using the run-walk method, check my two posts on the subject:
Or take this 30-Day Beginner Running Challenge if you think you are up to it…
3. Run Long
To run more, you will have to simply run more—plain but true.
The more time you spend on your feet, the more lung power and endurance you are going to build. Practice makes perfect. No doubt.
The Benefits of Running Long (and Steady)
Long runs help you build a strong fitness base, thus increasing your capacity to run farther than you could before.
And here is how that happens:
By spending more time on your feet, you will be able to train your body to become efficient at burning fat as its primary fuel source.
Also, long runs help boost the size and number of muscle capillaries and mitochondria—key factors in facilitating aerobic activity.
In addition, these long runs can also sharpen your mental toughness and relieve stress.
How to start
As a general guideline, stick with the 10 percent rule. This means that you should never increase your running distance by more than 10 percent from one week to the next.
The ideal pace for long runs should be easy, but the effort consistent. You need to keep it up.
Therefore, be sure to keep your heart rate below 70 percent of its max. Otherwise, you are pushing too much and won’t be able to sustain the pace too far.
Worse, you will be overtraining, which is always counterproductive.
For more on long runs, check my full guide here.
4. Tempo Runs
Once you feel comfortable running for at least 45 minutes without much huffing and puffing, then aim to add some speed to your runs.
You will be doing what’s known as the tempo run. And it’s the ideal approach to adding some challenge and speed to your workouts.
Note: Keep in mind that your goal first is to add distance, then speed.
What is the Tempo Run?
Tempo runs are a vital part of any running program, whether you are running for fat loss or aiming to hit a personal record.
A tempo run is is done at a low-intensity sprinting speed—anywhere between 60 to 70 percent of maximum effort.
They exist between two extremes: running comfortably and going all out. It’s the middle ground.
In other words, you basically run at a comfortably hard pace—a fuel-injected version of your three-mile jog.
Tempo runs increase stamina because they train your body to process and clear lactic acid—a metabolic by-product of exercise— that causes your muscles to “burn”, which can force you to slow down the more it accumulates in the blood.
Every runner has a threshold at which blood lactate drastically increases, and the good news is that tempo runs can help push back through your lactate threshold, thus helping you run farther and faster with less fatigue.
Furthermore, tempo runs build both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers—keys for speed and endurance.
They also help you develop capillary beds, which is vital for delivering maximum oxygen to the working muscles.
How to Start
Tempo runs can last for anything between 20 to 30 minutes, even more, depending on your fitness level.
Start your tempo run with a 10-minute warm-up of easy running, then gradually increase your pace for 20 minutes. You are doing it accurately if you can hardly talk.
Last up, end the run with a 5-minute of easy jogging as a cool down.
I know this is just the simplified version, but it should give you an idea on how to proceed.
5. Interval Running
After building enough cardio base, and distance, add speedwork into your running stamina training program.
Here come intervals.
Interval training is a scientifically proven way to improve not just speed, but stamina and endurance as well.
In fact, these quick bouts of intense running improve endurance hand in hand with other running routines such as tempo runs and long runs.
The Structure of an Interval Run
Basically, a typical interval run session is just a mix of sprinting, jogging and/or walking for recovery.
The length and intensity of each interval depend, mostly, on your fitness level and training goals. Beginner runners have to start with shorter sprints at a moderate effort, while competitive athletes can tailor the specific interval workout to meet their own needs and racing goals.
Here is how to proceed on your next interval run.
Head to your local stadium track and do the following.
Start the workout with a proper warm-up. Jog slowly for 5 to 10 minutes to get your body ready for the task ahead, then go for your first sprint at no more than 70 percent of your max for 30-second, then take slowly and jog for one minute to recover.
Repeat the cycle six to eight times, then finish up the workout with a proper cool-down. Jog slowly for 5-minute and stretch your body afterward.
For more interval workout runs, check this blog post: 6 Fat Burning Running Workouts.
Or my full guide to interval training here.
6. Cross Train
Running does not have to be the only endurance increasing strategy you have on hand. The fact is, you also need other “endurance building tricks” up your sleeves to help you keep on improving when you can no longer run, whether it’s due to injury, weather conditions or when you are just fed up with your running program and want something else to spice up your training program.
I understand. I have been there.
I know how it feels like when the last thing you want to do is lace up your shoes and go for yet ANOTHER run.
Of course, to be a good runner, you will have to run a lot. You will have to follow a well-rounded program that includes all kinds of runs: long runs, intervals, speed work, hill work, fartlek and recovery runs.
But running will only take you so far. You’ll also need a comprehensive cross-training program. And here are four activities to consider:
Swimming: This low-impact activity is a total body endurance and strength workout per excellence. As a result, make sure to learn proper technique, and do interval swims—Speed work swimming—to improve your aerobic power. Ideal if you are recovering from an injury.
Biking: Cycling is a great cross-training sport for runners because it involves similar motion in the lower body. Whether you prefer road biking or mountain biking (my favorite), make sure to make safety a priority and always have your protective gear. Approach your biking the same way you approach running—do long weekend bikes, interval bike workouts, hill rides and recovery rides.
Strength Training: Resistance training strengthens the bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, thereby helping you increase performance and prevent injury. Make the most out of it by doing plenty of total body exercises—think squats, deadlift, and pull-ups—and by combining aerobic exercises with bodyweight, kettlebell and dumbbell exercises to boost stamina.
CrossFit: CrossFit involves all of the above and some more. CrossFit is all about non-specificity and working on improving all facets of fitness: cardio, endurance, strength, speed, agility, flexibility, you name it. I can’t suggest a better cross-training activity for runners than CrossFit.
My running has changed drastically since I started crossfitting on a regular basis.
7. Do Plyometrics
Plyometric is another cross-training exercise that needs its section in the blog post because I believe it to be one of the ways to boost athletic endurance in the shortest time possible.
So what is plyometric training? And what’s the secret behind it?
Also known as explosive training, Plyometric is largely high-velocity movement that depends on power produced through what’s known as the “stretch-shortening cycle.”
I know I’m losing you here, but bear with me.
Don’t give up yet.
Enough with technical jargon.
What has this to do with running stamina anyway?
Here is a study
According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, middle and long distance runners who opted for a six-week of Plyometric training improved their 2400-m race time by roughly 4 percent.
The six-week Plyometric training program was followed in addition to their regular training routine, while the control group runners were of similar fitness levels, continued with their normal training routine.
It is believed that the endurance gains are the result of an increased ability to recruit more muscle fibers. This ability translates to improved running economy and faster fitness gains.
Plyometric training also challenges your strength, stamina, and endurance simultaneously. Once you become more explosive, you will notice that you’re moving faster without putting in any extra effort. This is exactly what happened to me after I caught the bug of explosive training.
After just a couple of months of Plyometric training, I noticed a huge change in my running mechanics and the way I carry myself on my runs. I started feeling a bit lighter—as if I was spending “less time” on the ground. Not only that, my stride efficiency and stride frequency improved as well.
It’s really amazing. I think you should try it. And it’s not that hard.
Plyometrics for Runners
Add a Plyometric training session to your training program. Preferably twice per week. Do plenty of jump roping, box jumps, burpees, walking lunges, jumping lunges, jumping squats, skipping drills and high knee sprints through a rope ladder, and other “fast feet” exercises.
Here is a plyo routine to consider.
8. Get Good At Recovery
To go faster, Sometimes you will need to slow it down. That’s the recovery principle at work.
To improve running stamina for the long haul, you will have to take a step back and allow your body to recover from the training load. Otherwise, forcing your body to “develop” stamina will only get you hurt.
You will reach a certain level, but then you will have to stop, step back, and let your body build a base on which you can go to the next marker. That’s how it goes.
Trying to reach perfection with your running program is the recipe for failure and burnout.
In fact, perfectionism is one of the reasons many runners—and fitness nuts—stop exercising in the first place. It’s a trap that can hinder performance and compromise fitness and health.
Therefore, don’t run hard every day.
Do plenty of easy recovery runs—especially between hard workouts. Plus you can also schedule recovery weeks into your training program by taking a rest from running every fourth or fifth week, and doing nothing but short runs and light yoga.
That’s all you need to know about improving your running stamina—both for the short run, and the long run—literally and figuratively.
So hopefully you are going to put into practice what you have just learned.
And please feel free to leave your comments below, or send me through your questions and suggestions.
Thank you for reading my post.
Image Credit – Flickr through Flugufrelsari