11 ways to improve your running endurance
1. SHORT WORKOUTS CAN HAVE LONG GAINS
One way of emulating a tougher, longer run is to do an intense workout over a relatively short period of time. This is particularly helpful if you don't have much time on your hands as high intensity exercise can create similar fatigue levels to much longer, low level intensity exercise. I've often worn a heavy rucksack whilst on a cross trainer to replicate the muscle demands of climbing at high altitude, and if done properly, a high intensity, 45 minute workout can force your body into increasing your metabolism and boosting your respiratory rate.
The other great thing about a high intensity workout is the greater mental strength obtained; learning not to give up when things get tough. But remember, this only works if you really push yourself. Don't get tempted to rack up junk miles, that is, miles which don't have any real purpose as these will not help. Instead you must commit to stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself as hard as you can.
2. HEAD TO THE HILLS
Running uphill is hard, but they will make your muscles stronger and your body more efficient at dealing with lactic acid. I found the best method was to find a nearby hill (can be tricky in London) and then run up it as fast as you can, jogging back down for recovery. I found that repeating in 3 sets of 8 will show some gains. Or simply next time you are on the treadmill, rack up the gradient.
Another positive is that running up hill reduces the impact on your joints, although be careful coming downhill. This training really does work, and again not only makes you physically stronger but also increases your mental toughness.
3. BACK TO BACK TRAINING
We’ve all heard of celebrities that run 50 marathons in 50 days, but for most of us the thought of just running one is bordering on crazy. When I was training for the toughest endurance challenge I’ve faced, the Marathon Des Sables, I had to get my body used to running a marathon every day. The first time I ever ran 20 miles on a Saturday and then got up to do another 20 on the Sunday was brutal and I wasn't quick, but our bodies are very good at adjusting.
Whatever distance you are preparing for, the benefit of running back to back still applies to your training. Just make sure you fuel, rest and provide enough recovery for your muscles (such as massage) and give yourself some days off before you try another back to back.
4. HAVE A MORE ACTIVE LIFESTYLE (WORK LIKE A BARISTA)
If you spend all day on your feet rather than sitting down in an office, then not only will you be fitter but your stamina will increase significantly. Baristas have notoriously good stamina as they spend hours on their feet (they’re also able to make wicked coffee, great for those long night runs!).
But if you can’t change your career in the pursuit of greater endurance then try to just have a more active day at work. Stand more, walk on your lunch break and take the stairs. Small gains can take you great distances.
5. DEVELOP YOUR CORE STRENGTH
Your core muscles are absolutely vital to your ability to run effectively and efficiently and if you want to find out how good yours are then try going to a comedy club. Seriously; you’ll immediately discover those infamous deep core muscles if you start laughing. If you neglect your core, then you haven't really connected your legs to the rest of your body correctly.
If your legs can run for 50 miles and your core is weak well it’s going to be a tough day out there. Pilates is great for those transverse abdominis, as are exercises like planks and crunches. But for some good fun and a great workout, why not mix it up and put in some laughs too.
6. HIT THE TRAILS
I’m always shocked when I meet runners who have only ever run on treadmills. The world outside is an amazing place and it’s just waiting for you to explore it. Running off-road certainly reduces the amount of joint impact but don’t think that makes it’s a softer option. You can make it as demanding as you like and certainly provide a full body workout.
Running on the trails provides a varied surface which not only works a wider range of muscle groups, but also forces you to concentrate on your stride pattern and your breathing. Breaking up your routine will not only make your running interesting it will also increases your overall endurance.
7. LOOK AFTER YOUR BODY
You need to ensure that your muscles stay in tip top condition and a great way is to make sure you stretch correctly. Two of my favourite stretches are the soleus stretch (lower part of your calf muscle) and the adductor stretch (the muscles on the inside of your legs which bring your legs towards each other).
For the soleus put the leg that you want to stretch immediately behind the other as though you were standing on a line. Then move the back foot slightly further forward so that the toes on your rear foot sit slightly on top of the shoe of the front foot. Then slowly bend both knees keeping your weight over your back foot as though you were going to sit down. You should feel a nice stretch in the lower part of your calf muscle.
My second stretch focuses on the adductors and is great for watching TV. Sit down on the floor as though you were going to sit cross legged. Instead of crossing your legs try to put the soles of your feet together so that your knees are bent outwards. You can increase this stretch by gently pushing down and away on your knees. Make sure that you hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds and only do after you are warmed up or as part of your warm-down and stop if you feel any pain.
8. TAKE A HIKE
Put the running shoes down, running every day is not good for you. Your body needs rest. Hiking is a great way to explore the outdoors and also break up that intense schedule you’re working on from the points above. You’ll still build on your endurance as it also uses many of the same muscle groups as running, but with reduced impact. You might even learn something new, like how trees can be used as a compass (no, really they can).
9. USE THE RIGHT KIT
Keep things as comfortable as you can for as long as possible. If you have comfortable running gear including comfy, effective trail shoes, a light running pack and tasty nutritious snacks, will not only help you work harder; you’ll want to stay out for longer too. Whatever the weather there is always a comfortable bit of kit that will keep the weather out and you training hard.
10. GET THE ADRENALINE PUMPING
Adrenaline can go a long way, so keep things interesting by signing up to a zombie run, being chased by a dog (now you understand the relevance of the picture above!), preferably your own, or just running somewhere that gets the heart rate going (safely of course!). There is nothing like the intensity of a workout if it is engaged with a healthy injection of fear. There are also a number of training Apps that can make your training a bit more fun. My main point here is that similar to taking a hike or running on trails, it is vital to keep your runs interesting and varied.
Finally, rest is so very important. This is where your body has a chance to repair all the damaged muscle fibres and get stronger. If you don’t do this you will get weaker. The more you train the more rest you will need. Tapering is such an important part ahead of an endurance event. Go in fresh and ready for the challenge both physically and mentally.
So let’s put this all together. Increasing your endurance requires some hard work and dedication but it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. You can make it into an amazing journey with the opportunity to run some stunning trails from local footpaths to the high mountain ranges of the Alps. Along the way you will learn how to fight on through the pain to achieve your goal. If you train smart, you’ll run harder, stronger,faster; pushing the very boundaries of what you thought possible. So get outside and have some adventures, learn new skills and make new friends, it’s all out there.
Written by Simon James for Cotswold Outdoor