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Running Tips

How to build running endurance over time

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If you're new to running, you might be wondering how experienced runners do things like run marathons — it seems so far away. But no matter where you are in your running journey, learning how to build running endurance is a skill you'll use for many years to come. And while miles and pace will vary, truth be told, the same basic principles apply to elites as they do for beginners when it comes to building endurance.

Every runner has different goals, especially when you're just starting out. But figuring out how to build running endurance is usually at the top of most runners' lists. Keep in mind that every runner is different, and what works for one might not work for the other. However, whether you're starting at a mile and working your way up or going from running a half-marathon to a full, there are certain standard principles that can help you gradually extend your endurance.

Once you've established a base for endurance running, you can take the next step — working to get faster for a longer period of time. But first things first: Here are some overarching guidelines for building running endurance.

Don't bite off more than you can chew

The secret to building running endurance is to approach it gradually, rather than diving in. You've discovered you actually like this thing called running, right? The fastest way to end up on the injured reserve list is to run too far, too fast, too soon.

Instead, make a plan for the slow build. If you are able to run a couple of miles at a stretch and do it consistently a few times a week, try adding on an extra five to 10 minutes of running the next time out. A week later, do the same for one or two of your runs. Before you know it, 2 miles will have become 4 miles.

Once you have a couple of months of consistently running at least 3 miles or 30 minutes at a stretch, pick one run a week to focus on developing a longer run. This will be your key workout each week, and by slowly adding on a mile or so to it each week, you'll build solid endurance.

Slow as you go

A word on pacing — easy is the way to go, especially while you're building in a longer run each week. One of the most common mistakes even veteran runners make is placing too many of their miles in a speedier running zone. As hard as it is, hold back when heading out, especially while building your endurance.

Lots of good things happen when you run at a steady, easy pace. Your muscles start building more mitochondria, the "powerhouse" of a cell. More mitochondria lead to better conversion of nutrients into energy. That translates into more endurance — exactly what you're after.

To keep yourself in check, aim for getting in most of your mileage at about 80% of the speed you could race at a given distance. Say you recently ran a 10K at a 10-minute pace, for instance. If you're headed out for a 6-mile training run, slow that pace down to about a 12-minute pace.

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Strength train

No matter how you slice it, strong muscles add up to less fatigue. Runners are notorious for neglecting time in the gym — after all, you want to run. But a good strength session two to three times each week will help you stay healthy, and also, keep your muscles in the game for longer.

Strength training doesn't have to be complicated, however. There are a few key moves that will give you the most bang for your buck. Deadlifts, squats, farmer's carries, and upper body moves like pullups and pushups can go a long way toward building a stronger, longer-lasting body. Don't forget your core, either, and dedicate two to three sessions to it per week.

If strength training is something new to you, check in with a qualified trainer or coach for tips on how to build a solid routine that includes proper form and a path to progress over time.

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Add in some tempo

As you progress, you'll want to challenge your body a bit more. A great way to do that is by adding in some tempo running.

Defining tempo can be tricky, but think of it like this: a sustained period of running at about 20 seconds slower than you'd race a 10K. Begin with a good 2-mile warmup at an easy pace, then run 10 minutes at this slightly faster pace. Do this run once a week and after a few weeks, add another five minutes to your tempo. Depending on your race goals, you can tap out on tempo at around 20 minutes total. This will teach your body to sustain a faster pace for longer, resulting in better overall endurance.

Put it all together

Training for your first long race can feel like an overwhelming process, but by following a structured routine, you'll be well on your way to building running endurance and crossing that finish line. It's important to remember, though, that some strategies will work for some runners and others will work for other runners; it's about finding what works for you. Consistency is the name of the game, and before you know it, what once seemed like an impossible distance to cover will be part of your weekly routine.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
Amanda Loudin

Health and science writer

Amanda Loudin running in a forest

I've been a runner for more than two decades and a journalist for just as long. I'm also a certified running coach and nothing makes me happier than marrying up writing and running. Find me on the trails with two- and four-legged friends.