How to: Build Endurance and Gain Speed

>> Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Anna writes: "I definitely don't run for speed, but endurance. When I used to run.. My speed was about 5.7 mph for about 35-40 minutes. Now I can barely do 5.0 for 15. Any tips on how to build endurance and gain a little extra speed? Also what do you eat post work out? I'd love some suggestions."

Hey, Anna! Thank you for writing us with this great question. It's no surprise to us that all the running-related inquiries we've received lately have revolved around this topic of building speed and endurance. That's really the foundation on which the whole sport is built.

Assuming you haven't been running over 15 minutes in a long while, the way you'll want to approach your training is as if you're starting from square one. Many are surprised at this answer. And it can be difficult to hear -- especially with your previous running history of busting out some awesome 40 minute workouts -- but you'll be thankful you took it slow. Before you can work on pace and distance, just get comfortable (and regularly) running again. Take a few weeks to head out on at least three runs of whatever length feels good to you. When you get into a routine, feel confident that you can push it a little harder without injury (no terribly sore shins or muscles, etc.), then you can start worrying about distance and speed.
  • Our favorite way to train is to set a goal. Sounds like you may want to start with a 5K. So, put on your searching goggles, and pick a plan that looks like it's something you can handle. I have noticed that the emphasis in the running community can revolve much more around distance over speed. But if you're looking to work on your pace -- concentrating on the shorter distances makes sense. You need not run a marathon this month, year, or even two years. It took me over 3 to sign up for my first half marathon. But in the meantime, I built up my pace. I had more time on my feet at shorter distances (5K, 10K, 15K), and I think it ultimately helped my distance training.

    Whatever plan you choose, you should look for one that varies from training day to training day. A short, easy run. A somewhat more difficult workout. A run of longer distance. A good mix will ensure you don't get burned out mentally or physically.
  • Once you get started, you'll likely want to incorporate speed work. Some of you may remember that I’m not a fan of traditional speed training . . . where you go to your local track and run 400s, 800s, etc. It drives me insane running in a circle. So, if you'd like to learn how I get my body moving faster, check out our post on Running for SPEED!
  • Running long is somewhat related. Again, increasing your weekly mileage should be done gradually to avoid injury. And some may be surprised to find out that marathon runners aren't the only runners who need to run long (LSD: long slow distance). In fact, "long" is an extremely subjective term with extremely different meanings depending on how many years you've been running, how many miles you log each week, and what your training goals are. To read more about this topic, just visit our post on How to Run LONG.
Tip #7 on this post also answers your recovery fuel question.

Step #7: Recover smart. Just as it's important to treat your body right BEFORE the run . . . it's just as important (if not more) to recover properly. This means you need to consume something as soon as you can -- especially fluids. I have trouble eating after a long run. I can't seem to stomach whole food, so I go with smoothies or chocolate soy milk. Get a mix of carbs and protein in there, if you can, as that's what your body desperately needs and craves.

Here's my favorite post-run smoothie recipe -- just throw together and blend!
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tablespoon chocolate protein powder
  • 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon flax meal
  • 1-1/2 cups soy milk
So, we hope this answers your question. I know I sound like a broken record, but the key to all of this is to increase your intensity -- whether speed or distance -- gradually. Listen to your body. Set your own goals. And if anyone else out there in blogland has a burning running question for us, we'd be happy to help! Just leave a comment or email us at

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