Building stamina when running

Building running stamina is an essential part of any marathon training programme. Whether you’re aiming to beat your PB or simply cross the line on your first-ever race, upping your endurance levels is super important.

Let’s look at what exactly we mean by stamina, and then look at how to increase running stamina and speed for your marathon.

What is stamina?

Stamina simply means you have the energy to do a tiring activity over a long period of time. When it comes to running, increasing your stamina is about changing your body’s processes on a biological level. Improved stamina is about:

  • Making your body’s transfer of oxygen from the lungs into the bloodstream more efficient
  • Increasing the amount of blood being carried to the muscles every minute
  • Becoming more efficient at turning glycogen (carbs stored in your muscles) into energy
  • Your body’s ability to flush out the by-products of exercise, such as lactic acid
  • Improving other processes too

To improve your stamina, it’s important to understand what homeostasis is. Essentially, it’s when your body attempts to keep all its systems running in the same range (be that heart rate, temperature or anything else). When you exercise and go above the range your body finds ‘comfortable, your body reacts by making your muscles bigger, your lungs more efficient and so on, so the next time you reach that level, it’s better prepared. Over time, you’ll feel more comfortable functioning at more intense levels of exercise – and that’s what we mean by improving stamina.

How to build stamina for a marathon

When you’re training towards a marathon, you want to focus on adapting your body to particular kinds of exercise designed to make you more comfortable running long distances. Here’s how to build stamina for a long distance race:

1. Build different kinds of interval training into your programme

Interval training is a great way of building running stamina. Fundamentally, interval training involves carrying out alternating periods of high-intensity and low-intensity exercise over a period of time. There are plenty of variations in interval training, including standard intervals, ‘pyramid’ training, and many more.

Simple interval training for building running stamina:

  • Find a gentle hill or incline of around 100 metres
  • Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes alternating between fast walking and a light jog
  • Return to the base of the hill, then sprint 100 metres upwards
  • Come to a stop, then turn around and walk back down to your starting point
  • Repeat three times

If you include one set of interval runs like this into your training session each week, you’ll notice you can gradually increase the number of sprints you do before feeling completely worn out.

2. Incrementally increasing long, slow runs

Since a marathon is all about running long distances, your training will require a lot of this too. Typically you should be doing one long, slow run every week over the course of a 16-20-week training programme, increasing the distance by one mile per week until you reach around 18–22 miles.

So, for example, on week 1 of your training, your long run might be two miles. On week 2, you’d shift up to 3 miles, and so on.

3. Add weight training to your programme

More muscle equals more strength, and a marathon is all about strength. At least once per week during your training, include some kind of all-body muscle-building activities into your programme. The idea here is not to become a bodybuilder – rather, it’s about doing a series of free weights and exercise machine workouts to increase your running economy. Building muscle also means you become less susceptible to injury.

Weight training to help with building running stamina includes:

  • Weighted squats
  • Weighted lunges
  • Deadlifts
  • Kettlebell swings

4. Tempo runs

Tempo runs are a popular way to increase stamina for long-distance runners. A tempo run is about running at about 90% of your personal ‘racing’ speed – this gives your body just enough time to remove all the lactic acid you produce without it becoming painful (although it will still feel hard). When you really sprint, your body cannot remove all the lactic acid produced and this eventually forces you to stop. With tempo running, on the other hand, you run just below that threshold. As a result, your body gets better at going faster for longer, and it becomes more efficient at eliminating lactate.

5. Skipping and cycling

Mixing a range of other types of exercise into your training programme not only avoids some of the boredom you might experience from doing the same activity over and again, but you also further condition your body.

Skipping is one easy-to-do plyometric exercise which is great for building endurance and forces you to keep your feet off the ground. Build up from circuits of 100 rotations towards 1,000, uninterrupted.

Cycling on exercise bikes is another way of building up stamina and varying your routine. Setting the bike at incrementally higher resistance gives your legs a serious workout – without the impact on your joints that running can have.

Techniques for building running stamina

By using a range of techniques for building running stamina, you’ll notice how your body gradually gets fitter and more able to take on the endurance of the marathon race. By building up your stamina in training, you’ll find the final race much less taxing – and that you enjoy it a lot more.