Running Starts: How To Build Endurance

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

What exactly is endurance, and how do we develop it?

The dictionary defines endurance as the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity, especially the kind required for marathons, ultras, and the overall challenge of transitioning into longer, tougher distances on trails. It’s also defined as the act or instance of enduring suffering. We could throw in goal setting, acceptance, and a resilient mindset, and trail running would demand all of it. Whether you’re looking to extend your distance or time on feet, you’ll also need to cultivate endurance beyond the body. It’s almost a cliche at this point, but endurance is as mental as it is physical.

Here’s are a few strategies to help you go the distance.

Define your goals.

This one might seem excessive, especially if you’re new to trail running and simply want to get outdoors and run for the fun of it, which is a worthy goal in itself. However, if you’re feeling moved to increase your distance, or run more often, then it’s probably time to start putting a plan together. Your goals needn’t be lofty, but they should be clear enough to keep you engaged and focused on where you want to go and how you intend to get there. Defining your why and how also empowers you to seek support for reaching goals that matter most to you. Goals offer a huge assist to building endurance by instilling a sense of purpose in your workouts, which, in turn keep you accountable and extending beyond your previous limits.

Ramp up your resilience.

Resilience is defined as the capacity to adapt to change, recover quickly, and respond well to challenge. And that’s why it’s so critical to building endurance. For instance, how attuned are you to your body’s request to rest, rather than push? It’s easy to feel defeated realizing that the same sixty minutes you ran on the road doesn’t get you as far on the trail. Practice positive self-talk, especially on bad days.  When you’ve taken more time away from the trail than expected, what’s your strategy for getting after it again? The way you respond to these questions will directly impact your ability to come back stronger than before. As toughness is sometimes required to power through the rigors of trail running, the flexibility of recalibrating expectations gives us permission to change course when we must, and to retool overambitious planning. Being flexible and resilient means we don’t give up on our goals, we give ourselves a break lest we break ourselves in the process.

Being flexible and resilient means we don’t give up on our goals, we give ourselves a break lest we break ourselves in the process.

Embrace fatigue.

When you’re exhausted after extreme mental or physical exertion, by definition, you’re experiencing fatigue. When you’re building endurance you can expect to run and train through some measure of pain. That’s because running breaks down muscle fibers and recovery builds them up stronger than before. This process increases aerobic endurance, which is fundamental to improving your fitness. It also means you’ll inevitably be hitting the trails while your muscles are still recovering. So, learning to not only expect fatigue but to welcome it as a sign of progress can help improve your running.

Shift your self-talk.

Whether you’re breaking out of a running rut or following a more structured plan to increase your trail running endurance, mental training is an important aspect of your overall plan. As humans, we skew toward negative thinking as a default. Psychologists refer to this as the ‘negativity bias,’ and it takes conscious action to counter these leanings when the running gets tough. If you find yourself held hostage by negative thinking on your runs, it can also have a negative impact on your form, enjoyment, and performance. Reach for uplifting mantras, visualizations, and tune in to your body when you’re feeling challenged – all of which are great practices off of the trails too.

Endurance takes into account your ability to withstand the hard times that will challenge not only your body, but your mental resolve, emotional outlook, goals, and more. In fact, there are lots of moving parts to pay attention to if you want to build a healthy trail running habit over time. Remember to count on the fact that it won’t always be easy. And as long as you keep putting in the work, you’ll start noticing the gains you’ve made.

That’s endurance at work.

Kriste Peoples is a self-described outdoorist,  sunshine enthusiast and a Denver-based women’s trail running coach with Lifes 2 Short Fitness.  More than just running, she uses activity to connect with her community and her environment while inspiring more women to take up space and run. 

Want to Know What It Takes to Finish at Western States? Just Ask Hellah Sidibe.

Find out what happened when this six-year run streaker and HOKA Global Athlete Ambassador took on an iconic ultramarathon in California's Sierra Nevada