How To Build Running Endurance: 5 Tips From Our Expert Running Coach

Increase your running stamina and nail that next PR!

Most runners, especially beginners, would love to be able to run longer without getting so fatigued that they need to stop. 

Increasing the number of miles or the amount of time you can run without stopping is a matter of building your endurance or increasing your running stamina.

To increase your running endurance, you must incorporate various components into your training, such as easy runs, speedwork, and strength training sessions, just to name a few.

In this guide, we will discuss the factors that contribute to your endurance and provide expert tips and training strategies for how to build running endurance and stamina no matter where you are in your running journey.

Let’s dive in! 

The word endurance silhouetted against the sunset and a person running.

What is Running Endurance?

Before we can effectively provide training strategies for increasing stamina, let’s look at what running stamina in endurance running is.

Your stamina for running is essentially your running endurance. Running stamina refers to how long you can run at a submaximal effort without getting tired or needing to stop and walk.

For beginners, running stamina is often the limiting factor to being able to run even a mile without stopping. You may become breathless, feel your heart rate rising exponentially, or your legs burning, and you will be compelled to stop and walk.

Over time, through consistent training, you can build endurance for running to run longer distances without needing to stop and walk.

A person running up a mountain.

How Can I Increase My Stamina for Running?

Several components go into how to build endurance and increase running stamina and your fitness level in general.

Running is a high-intensity, total-body exercise.

Your stamina for running relies on having both good cardiorespiratory endurance as well as good muscular endurance for running.

When trying to improve cardiorespiratory endurance, we need to improve the aerobic capacity of the body, also known as VO2 max.

This means that we have to improve the ability of the body to take in, deliver, extract, and utilize oxygen for energy while running and remove carbon dioxide waste products from the muscles and bloodstream. 

A person running on the road.

This involves the following functions of the cardiorespiratory system:

#1: Oxygen Intake

Increasing the efficiency and endurance of the lungs to take in enough oxygen without the respiratory muscles, such as the diaphragm and intercostal muscles, fatiguing. 

This involves strengthening the respiratory muscles and increasing the total volume of the lungs (the amount of air taken in with each breath).

#2: Oxygen Delivery

Then, we also need to increase the strength and efficiency of the heart so that it can pump oxygenated blood efficiently throughout the body. 

This involves strengthening the muscular walls of the heart’s ventricles so that more blood can be pumped for each beat. 

Another key component to increasing oxygen delivery to the muscles is building more blood vessels to carry oxygenated blood to the muscle fibers.

Consistent running or endurance exercise helps build more capillaries, the tiny blood vessels that interface with the muscle fibers to deliver oxygen.

A person running on a tile walkway.

#3: Oxygen Extraction

The more blood vessels you have around the muscles, the more “highways“ or pathways through which oxygenated blood can be readily available to all muscle fibers in the muscles used when running. 

So, here again, increasing the number of capillaries through endurance training will help improve oxygen delivery to working muscles.

#4: Oxygen Utilization

Another component in improving running stamina is increasing the efficiency and capacity of muscles to generate ATP (usable energy) through aerobic metabolism. 

This involves increasing the mitochondrial density in the Type I muscle fibers. 

Mitochondria are the small organelles that perform aerobic respiration to create ATP for the muscles.

A person running in grass.

#5: Waste Removal 

An often overlooked component of building running endurance is improving the efficiency of waste removal during exercise. 

The muscles generate metabolic byproducts such as carbon dioxide. 

Studies show that the relative concentration of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream is a large determiner of your breathing rate: the more carbon dioxide that accumulates, the faster you have to breathe.1Stanley, N. N., Cunningham, E. L., Altose, M. D., Kelsen, S. G., Levinson, R. S., & Cherniack, N. S. (1975). Evaluation of breath holding in hypercapnia as a simple clinical test of respiratory chemosensitivity. Thorax30(3), 337–343. https://doi.org/10.1136/thx.30.3.337

‌This will make running feel harder because you’ll feel breathless.

When you have more capillaries, the carbon dioxide can be shuttled out of the blood vessels and circulated back to the pulmonary circuit of the heart. 

There, the carbon dioxide is transported into the lungs. As your lungs get stronger, you can exhale carbon dioxide more efficiently.

A person running on gravel.

#6: Muscular Endurance

The other component to address when looking into building endurance for running is increasing your muscular endurance.

Muscular endurance refers to the ability of muscles to continually contract and produce force without becoming fatigued.

Running uses most of the major muscles in the body, particularly the lower-body muscles such as the quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings.

Therefore, when you want to incorporate the best strategies for how to increase running stamina, you will want to address both the cardiorespiratory endurance and the muscular endurance aspect of long-distance running.

A person running along a river.

How to Build Running Endurance

Now that we have discussed the components of building cardiorespiratory endurance for running let’s look at specific strategies for building running endurance to induce these physiological adaptations.

So, what are the best training techniques to enhance running endurance? Here are our top expert coach tips:

#1: Gradually Increase Distance

To build stamina for running, you must train your body to run longer. The best way to do this is to have one long run per week in the mix of your training program.

The goal of the long run will not be to run fast but rather to run for a long period. In fact, you want to slow your pace and run at an easy pace and intensity for your longer runs. 

Otherwise, running too fast will make it harder to run for a longer period of time without getting tired and significantly increase the stress of the long run on your body. This can contribute to developing running injuries or overtraining syndrome.

Gradually increase the duration of a long run in minutes or miles/kilometers.

Aim to increase by no more than 10% from week to week. 

For example, if you can currently run 30-minute training runs without stopping, increase it to 33 minutes next week. If you can currently run 5 miles without stopping, bump it up to 5.5 miles for your next long run.

A person running on a run path.

#2: Do Running Workouts

While it is true that one of the key components for how to build running endurance successfully is to increase the length of your runs with a long run, it is also important to add interval workouts, tempo runs, and other forms of speed work (fartleks, hill sprints, etc.).

Studies have found that incorporating HIIT (high-intensity interval training) such as fast intervals into your running plan effectively improves aerobic capacity, running endurance, and running economy.2García-Pinillos, F., Soto-Hermoso, V. M., & Latorre-Román, P. A. (2017). How does high-intensity intermittent training affect recreational endurance runners? Acute and chronic adaptations: A systematic review. Journal of Sport and Health Science6(1), 54–67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2016.08.010

‌Consider adding one or two different speed workouts to your weekly training plan. For ideas on different types of running workouts, check out our guide here.

#3: Strengthen Your Lungs

The first component discussed for improving cardiorespiratory endurance was improving the strength and efficiency of the breathing muscles and lungs to take in oxygen. Your lungs also play a key role in eliminating carbon dioxide waste.

You can perform deliberate breathwork exercises to increase lung capacity and respiratory stamina. 

For example, according to the Cleveland Clinic, diaphragmatic breathing training can increase the amount of oxygen in your blood and enhance carbon dioxide removal.3Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Diaphragmatic breathing exercises & techniques. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9445-diaphragmatic-breathing

‌Additionally, you can try a respiratory training device, such as the Airofit PRO 2.0.4How does Airofit work. (n.d.). Airofit. Retrieved January 10, 2024, from https://www.airofit.com/how-does-airofit-work/

‌The device provides resistance as you perform specific breathing exercises that are guided through a companion app, so it’s basically like strength training for your breathing muscles. 

Two people trail running.

#4: Check Your Form

An efficient running form will improve your running economy, decreasing the oxygen cost of running at any given speed.

The best option is getting a running gait analysis at a running shoes store. This is usually a free service, and the shoe fit experts can give you pointers on your form.

#5: Start Strength Training

For distance runners to improve the muscular endurance portion of running stamina, you need to strengthen your muscles.

Strength training 2 to 3 times a week will help your muscles build strength and endurance so that running no longer feels as taxing because your muscles can handle heavier loads.

This will enable you to run longer without feeling like your legs are heavy, burning, or exhausted. Adding strength training to your training plan will also help reduce your risk of injury.

Include exercises like squats, lunges, step-ups, hip thrusts, push-ups, pull-ups, planks, and plyometrics exercises in your gym sessions.

Looking for a half marathon or marathon training plan to get you started on building your endurance? Read through our free half marathon and marathon training plans for all abilities.

A class of people at the gym lifting kettlebells.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

4 thoughts on “How To Build Running Endurance: 5 Tips From Our Expert Running Coach”

  1. Great article! So comprehensive, yet such a short read. Even though I am a long time runner, I learned a lot, and affirmed many thoughts I had regarding factors that affect endurance. Thanks for putting all this together in a nice package!

    Reply
  2. Thank you very much Amber for such a wonderful and candid piece of writing. I’m an experienced runner but not a professional runner here in Uganda (Kampala). I’m also a trained sport scientist. I would like to thank you for your wonderful piece of column which is so educative, encouraging and motivational. Thank you….

    Reply

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