Three friends running together for a long endurance run, listening to music.

Running: how to improve endurance and build stamina for long runs

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6 ways to improve your endurance and stamina so you can run without stopping. 

What does it mean to be a good runner? For some, it means getting out a few times a week to clear their head. For others, it’s being able to run a speedy 5k. But running well also means building up the stamina to get through longer runs

While the sub-30-minute 5k Strava screenshots from lockdown 1 may be seen as the most impressive, being able to maintain a slower pace is no mean feat. But what does building endurance really mean? 

Endurance running is simply a form of continuous running, where a runner is aiming to maintain a constant, physiological effort for a prolonged period of time and withstand fatigue whilst covering an increased amount of distance,” says sport scientist Anna Kosciuk from smart insole brand NURVV. “While keeping that physiological effort up, the runners should be exercising in an aerobic state – meaning they are using oxygen as their fuel source.” 

How to improve running endurance

“Sadly, there are no shortcuts when improving endurance and stamina in running – the key to endurance running and reaching the results that you want is consistency, regularity, and patience,” says Anna. “Every runner is different, so it is common for some to progress quicker than others. There will also be runners who will seriously struggle to see results in the first few weeks when working on endurance, especially whilst they are also working on building their overall fitness.”

Go slow 

“First of all, when working on your endurance and the ability of running further at the same or lesser effort, all runners should build up their running mileage gradually to avoid spikes in training load and prevent themselves from doing too much too soon,”  says Anna. “The human body needs a certain amount of time to adapt to higher training load and it will vary between individuals, depending on their age, level of fitness, muscle mass and running experience.” 

Adrienne Herbert, a runner from the Strong Women Collective, has previously suggested that the best way to increase distance is by adding on 10% each week. That means if you’re used to running 5ks, your first longer run should only be 5.5k, and the next week, just over 6k.

A woman running through an urban city street listening to music.
Running: it's best to build endurance slowly.

Mix up your sessions

That doesn’t mean you should just run one long run a week though. “If you’re looking to improve endurance, a good aim would be to do one really gentle run, one tempo run (which is a short, speedy run) and one longer, steady state run a week,” says Miranda Larbi, marathon runner and Strong Women Training Club editor.

Anna suggests that endurance has to come from improving fitness, and a good way to do that is byintroducing interval sessions. This sees you running intensely for short bursts of time, then jogging or walking, and repeating. 

Stay on your feet 

While adding in shorter runs will improve your overall fitness, “to run for longer, you’ve got to spend more time on your feet,” says Miranda. “It’s so important that you’re physically able to stay on your feet for say, two hours, if a half marathon is your goal.” 

That might sound daunting to start with, but you don’t need to be running for the full two hours to start with. Remember, increase your distance gradually, and give yourself breaks during longer runs if necessary. 

Pace yourself 

When it comes to running without stopping, pace is crucial. “Experimenting with pace and trying to find your sweet spot, especially across longer runs, will be beneficial in knowing where you should be in respect to your race and performance goals,” says Anna. 

Naturally, your longer runs will be run at a slower pace than your shorter runs. The key is to not dismiss the slowness as ‘too easy’ over the first few kilometers and run too fast. A consistent pace throughout your run will help your stamina and mean you can go further more easily. 

Three young women running through a park in activewear.
Running: build endurance by running with friends.

Learn to talk 

“When I went to university, I went from only ever running on my own to leading a group run every week for my boat club. I had to chat to the people who were struggling and yell out instructions and I found that my running really improved,” says Miranda. “Now I run with my partner and we make sure that we do at least one easy run a week where we chat nonstop for up to 10k.” 

Talking simply adds another element of challenge onto your running, testing your cardiovascular (and mental) fitness. “If you can run and chat, you’ll find that the runs you do with your mouth shut and full concentration will be so much more energetic. I also think that chatting helps with cadence – you’re less likely to slow down or speed up if you’re maintaining a conversation.”

For Miranda, it’s also about relaxing into the run. If you can head out with good friends and have a catch up, you’ll probably feel a bit calmer, have more confidence and be nicely distracted from the extra distance you’re hoping to cover. 

Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.

Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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