As runners, we all want to increase our endurance, but we’re often referring to different things. While the beginner often wants to go further – from two miles to four miles, then to six, more experienced runners don’t see much point in running further. (Isn’t 26.2 miles far enough?) Instead, they want to improve their speed endurance – the pace at which they can cover substantial distances.
Fortunately, you can have it both ways. You can follow training plans that build the length of your long runs, and others that improve your speed endurance. Thousands of runners have dramatically improved their endurance this way. Craig Beesley, a beginner runner, extended his longest run from 30 seconds to nearly three hours. Doug Underwood, a successful marathoner, wanted to lower his personal best from 3:50 to 3:30. And Deena Drossin, the American 10K and cross-country star, wanted nothing less than to run the marathon faster than a legend – Joan Samuelson.
All three runners achieved their goals. Each used a different method. Which raises the point that exercise physiologist Kris Berg explains in his recent article, ‘Endurance Training and Performance in Runners’, published in the journal Sports Medicine. “After decades of studying ways to improve endurance,” says Berg. “I’m encouraging runners to do what feels right.”
In other words, there are different strokes for different folks. Genetic researchers refer to ‘high responders’ and ‘low responders.’ Sometimes we need to take different paths to reach our goals. Read on and you’ll find seven endurance-boosting strategies that have worked for a range of runners. Not all will work for you. But one or more will, and that should be enough to significantly increase your endurance, which means you’ll run stronger and easier than ever before.
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Plan One – Take one step at a time
If there is one over-arching principle of building endurance, this is it. Call it gradual adaptation. That is, be consistent, be patient and build up slowly. This principle applies to all circumstances and all runners – the beginner who’s trying to make it around the block four times, as well as the 36-minute 10K runner who’s training for a first marathon with long runs that stretch to 12 miles, then 16, then 20.
The gradual-adaptation principle is deeply rooted in human physiology, and has worked for about a billion runners since Palaeolithic Man started stalking wild animals in East Africa 150,000 years ago. It still works today. Craig Beesley is proof of that.
When Beesley began running two years ago, he could only manage 30 seconds at a time, followed by four and a half minutes of walking. But he didn’t let his lack of fitness discourage him. He simply repeated the cycle eight times (for a total of 40 minutes), and made sure he did three work-outs a week.
Thirteen weeks later, Beesley was running 30 minutes at a time, and by last autumn he had completed his first half-marathon in 2:12. But Beesley didn’t stop there. He kept running outdoors through the winter months, despite temperatures that dropped to well below zero, and last spring added speedwork to his routine. By May, he was running long runs of two hours 40 minutes, doing six 400m repetitions in 1:45, and had set his sights on a first marathon.
A programme can’t get any simpler than Beesley’s, or any more successful. “I’ve increased my endurance and my speed, and I’ve done both without any injuries,” he says. “My family describe me as a very patient man. Patience combined with persistence is a great combination for success in running.”
What you should do Whatever your present endurance conditioning, build it slow but steady. We like a programme that adds one mile a week to your weekend long run, for example: five miles, six miles, seven miles. Every fourth week, reduce your mileage by missing out the long run. Rest and recover. The next week, start building again, one mile at a time: eight miles, nine miles, etc.
Plan Two – Run Yasso 800s
We learnt about this amazingly useful work-out in a casual conversation with RUNNER’S WORLD USA Race And Event Promotions Manager Bart Yasso, and first wrote about it nearly a decade ago. Since then, literally thousands of runners have told us, at pacing runs or in e-mails, that the programme has worked for them. With the Yasso system, you run 800-metre repetitions on a track in the same minutes/seconds as your hours/minutes goal time for a marathon. (So if you’re looking to run 4:30, do your 800s in four minutes and 30 seconds.)
Runners are drawn to Yasso 800s by Bart’s unforgettable name, the simplicity of the work-out and the word-of-mouth success stories.
Doug Underwood is a self-confessed Yasso fan. A runner for just three years, Underwood completed his first two marathons in 3:55 and 3:53, and then was bitten by what he calls the ‘London bug’. He wanted to achieve a ‘good for your age’ time for the Flora London Marathon, and was willing to train harder to get there.
The core of his programme was Yasso 800s. Since Underwood needed to run a 3:30 to guarantee a place, he ran his Yasso 800s in 3:30, building up to 10 of them in a single work-out, taking a 3:30 recovery jog between the fast 800s.
Underwood finished his qualifying race, in a time good enough for a race entry to London. “I credit the Yasso 800s with getting me there,” says Underwood, who also made sure to log plenty of long runs. “They are tough work-outs, but they do the job. If you can run 10 of them at your goal pace, you have a great chance of achieving your marathon goal time.”
What you should do Run Yasso 800s once a week. Start with just four or five of them at your appropriate pace, then add one a week until you reach 10. The first several weeks should feel quite easy. The last several will be hard, but hang in there. This work-out builds focus and concentration, as well as speed endurance.