Have you ever watched the long distance runners on the Olympics? When I was younger, my mind could never quite comprehend how those people did it. I knew that if I tried to run a marathon, I would probably collapse a third of the way through.
Now that I’m older, I have found that I really, really enjoy running. Like a lot. It makes more sense how long distance runners build up such an incredible endurance. The major keys are:
Discipline & Patience
Both of these, in my opinion, are the cornerstones for improving your endurance. Is it easy? No. But is it doable for someone (like me) who is naturally NOT a long distance runner? Absolutely.
Keep reading for tips on how I improved my endurance from less than a mile to over four miles, all within 5 months.
Slowly Build Up
For all those go-getters out there, hold your horses! Don’t let go of the reigns too quickly. Long distance running is an activity that requires patience to master. Building up too soon almost guarantees you an injury. It’s not something to fly through.
For those who don’t know, two summers ago I developed shin splints because I tried to build up my endurance too soon. Even though at the time I didn’t think I was progressing that fast, looking back, I can see where I messed up. Here’s a list all the DON’TS I should’ve paid more attention to.
- DON’T run on bad shoes
- DON’T run every day
- DON’T push through unusual pain or “discomfort”
- DON’T mistake pain for muscle fatigue or soreness
- DON’T forget to stretch
One more I should add is don’t ever feel bad for taking a day off. Sometimes your body just needs a little extra time to recover…and there’s nothing wrong with that!
I know sometimes it’s easy to get into an “all or nothing” mindset and want to push through everything. I’m very much like this, however have learned (the hard way) that stubbornness isn’t always a good thing. Missing a day here or there is not going to hurt you, however running for six days straight might!
Just take this into consideration when you start training.
Don’t Skip the Weights…
When I was younger, I never gave weight training a second thought. I liked to just stick in my headphones and go. But looking back, I now see how much more I could’ve improved my endurance and stamina had I spent more time lifting weights.
When you improve your muscle strength, it speeds up your metabolism. This, in turn, speeds up the rate that your body converts carbs into energy. For long distance runners, this helps them utilize their energy more efficiently when running – therefore, improving performance.
One thing that was unclear to me up until recently was the question of WHEN I should lift weights. Did it matter if I trained cardio before weights (or vice versa)? After doing some research online, I found that it’s actually more beneficial to weight train BEFORE cardio.
The reason being…weight training relies on glycogen (which breaks down into sugar) for fuel. If you use all your stored glycogen during your run (it burns through glycogen much quicker), then you won’t have the energy to weight train as hard. Over time, you build less muscle this way because your body is already fatigued BEFORE you start the weight training. Get me?
If you’re planning to mix up cardio with weights, I’d recommend lifting weights first, going for a run, then stretching as part of your cool down. Not only will you effectively strengthen your muscles, but you will also increase your body’s EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and fat-burning potential by running at the end of your workout.
For more information on when to lift weights, read Should Cardio Come Before or After a Workout?
…and Don’t Skip Sprints
I know if might sound counter-intuitive, but sprinting is one way both short and long distance runners can improve performance. It’s often neglected because it forces you to adopt a completely different mindset. Instead of running at a steady pace (often times slower), it requires you to kick into overdrive and recruit muscle fibers that you normally wouldn’t use. Some would even say that sprinting is harder than long distance running.
Check out Low Impact Exercises for Bad Knees
When you sprint, you are specifically targeting type II muscle fibers (fast twitch). This improves your long distance running because it taps into your whole muscle instead of just the slow or fast twitch fibers. The next time you run for a longer distance, it won’t seem as challenging.
Because in the process of training your type II muscle fibers, you are training more of your muscle as a whole. This means you’re more conditioned overall, decreasing the amount of work your type I (slow twitch) muscle fibers have to do to allow you to run longer. The science behind it boils down to this:
Strengthen your muscles as a whole so they don’t have to work as hard for moderate-paced activities
It’s true! Whether you realize it or not, you’re also improving your cardiovascular strength. The amount of oxygen needed during a 90% effort sprint is considerably more than a 50% effort jog. All you have to do is incorporate sprints into your workouts. Before long, running at a slower pace won’t leave you gasping for air. It might even seem easier.
Check out the Physport Resistance Parachuteon Amazon for a great way to increase the intensity of your sprints!
If you’ve ever heard of people eating exorbitant amounts of pasta before a triathlon or marathon, there’s a darn good reason! Carbs are your body’s fastest source of digestible energy. They are broken down and utilized much faster than proteins, fats or sugars. That’s why they are recommended to be consumed before you run.
For long distance runners, this is even more important. You can train all day long, but without the proper fuel, your body simply won’t go as far as you want.
Forget those 5Ks where there’s donuts or beer at the finish line…unless you want to vomit, of course. If you truly want to get better at running long distance, then you will have to be more selective about what you eat. This holds true for before and after your run.
Tips for Long Distance Running – Conclusion
Coming from someone who loves to run, but was never naturally talented when it came to long distances, taking care of yourself and being patient is essential. Slowly build up your endurance, vary your training and eat right. Long distance running is not an easy activity, however can be improved upon with the right mindset and determination.
In just one year, I was able to up my endurance from less than a mile to 4.2 miles. The key is consistency and patience. If your goal is to run a half-marathon or even a full one – GREAT! Start training now and reap the many benefits cardio gives.
And if you ever get discouraged, always remember that regardless of how long or short your mile time is, you’re taking care of your body. That’s always a good reason to get out and run.
Have any tips for running long distance? Comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.