Building up my trail running endurance…how do I get there?

So you’ve started running. You’re enjoying the trails, the way getting outside feels and the fitness it is giving you. But what about when you want to start going from 2 to 4 to 10 to 20 miles? How do you build up your endurance?

Image by Paul Nelson from Black Canyon Ultras

Maybe you’re looking for a magic bullet to get you there but the biggest key to strengthening your stamina is….

  1. Consistency. If you are consistent, you will see results. When you are training on a schedule, it teaches your body to adapt to the amount of work you’re putting in. If you’re only running once or twice a week, your body may not adapt as quickly as if you are running 4-5 times a week, even easy runs that aren’t demanding or stressing your body. The Run Experience gives a great example of building up your stamina: “if you’re running three times a week for 20 minutes, increase the amount of time you run and the number of times you run every week incrementally.For the first week, add one run (for a total of four runs) and add five minutes to each run. On week #2, add another five minutes to each run. You’ll be running for 40 minutes four times a week. For the third week, add five more minutes to each run, for 45 minutes of running four times per week. On week #5, add another run so you’re running 45 minutes five times per week. For the sixth week, bump up one of your runs to 60 minutes, and keep the others at 45.”In very little time, you’ve been able to go from 30 minutes to an hour of running without having to stop or needing frequent breaks.
  2. Slow Down. Yes. Slow your pace…slower….even slower. One of the hardest things to do, in my opinion, is strip the ego and get humble with yourself and the idea of needing to be “really fast” right off the bat. To endure for long periods of time and to be able to run for hours…you have to slow your pace to get faster. Does that sound silly? Maybe, but it works. Time on your feet is incredibly important for endurance and the only way that will happen is by lowering your fatigue in earlier miles to allow you the fitness to go further. The ability to run farther is based on the foundation of “easy running”. A great way to start practicing this is focusing on your heart rate. You want to build up your aerobic fitness, meaning you can run farther without raising your heart rate. When your heart rate rises, it taxes the body and slows down recovery when it is done repeatedly for long distances. If you’re running and breathing heavily, you need to slow down your pace. You should be able to hold a conversation as you’re running and maintain that — that is an easy effort pace and a great place to start as you build up your stamina.
  3. Build up slowly. Don’t try to jump from 3 miles to 16 in a few days span, allow your body to patiently adapt to the stress and changes you are putting on it while upping your distance slowly. Upping your distance gradually also lessens the likelihood of getting injured, as your muscles, joints and ligaments tackle entirely new territory. RunnersWorld expresses, “We like a program that adds 1 mile a week to your weekend long run, for example: 5 miles, 6 miles, 7 miles. Every 4th week, reduce mileage by skipping the long run. Rest and recover. The next week, start building again, 1 mile at a time: 8 miles, 9 miles, etc.”

    Image by Melissa Pozniak
  4. Say Hello to Tempo. What is a tempo run? The Run Experience shares, “it is a sustained effort run that builds up your body’s ability to run faster for longer periods of time. Typically you would find a pace that you can maintain for at least 20 minutes, but ideally for a 45-60 minute period of time. So, you want to be fast, but not all-out sprinting. If you think about it in terms of effort, on a scale or 1-10 with 1 being walking slowly, you’d look for a pace that feels like a 6-8 effort.” Runs like this, logically, will lead to your endurance pace feeling easier and much more manageable for longer periods of time.
  5. Cross-training. HIIT, Plyos, Elliptical training, swimming laps, biking or spinning  are all great additions to your endurance-building plan. There is a chance that, outside of these being great cardiovascular workouts, these bursts of high intensity moves can help running at a slower pace feel easier mentally, simply because it does not require the same intensity.
  6. Weights are your friends. I will say it and say it again, being strong and lifting weights is important for trail and ultra-running. For your body to hold up over long periods of time you need to have a strong core, back, glutes, hamstrings, quads….everything. If you’re pushing uphill and your lower back starts to ache over time…it may be a sign you need to incorporate more core work. To start upping your stamina, you should prepare your body for the toll it will be taking as well. Start focusing on training your body for the mountains and hit the gym, I promise it will pay off.
  7. Pay attention to your nutrition.  How much you’re eating (and what) is very very important as you begin upping your distances and endurance. You have to make sure you’re eating enough. Running torches a lot of calories, but if you’re not replacing those calories while you’re running you will hit bonk-ville. And if you don’t nourish and replenish your body properly after your runs, you will feel fatigued and experience diminished efforts during your runs. Need somewhere to start? Check out this article by MapMyRun and this one by REI.
  8. Get a running buddy or two or five. Find some pals that are committed to the long distances with you. Strip yourself of the excuses and start to voice, write down and share your goals. Tell your buddies, “I’m going to run for 1.5 hours on Saturday and I want to be able to talk to you the whole time with ease, do you want to come?”, then 2 hours, etc. — be specific about your goals and have others come to share in the miles so that the time passes with more ease!

    Image by Melissa Pozniak

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