How Long Does It Take to Build Running Endurance? Must-Know Tips

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and long-distance runners aren’t created overnight. We are part of a society that appreciates and nearly insists upon instant gratification. Especially in this age of texting, email, and the constant barrage of messages coming at us from various social media outlets. We want answers, and results, as quickly as possible if not sooner.

However, that sort of mentality just doesn’t work when it comes to training oneself to be a runner. There are no shortcuts or life hacks that I know of to building endurance. The only way to reach a fitness goal is through an investment of time and effort.

So, how long does it take to build running endurance? For a beginning runner, it will take longer than average to build up a base level of fitness. Usually, it takes 8-10 weeks of regular running before the body will begin to show the results of that training.

If attempting to take on a longer distance event such as a Half marathon or marathon, plan on investing even more time. Most marathon training schedules are 18 weeks long, and those assume an existing base level of endurance. Adding the 18 weeks on top of the initial base building period means around 6 months of training to prepare for that kind of event.

How Long Should You Run to Build Endurance?

You don’t have to run a long way in order to build endurance. The benefits of regular running can be observed even when running distances of 2-3 miles.

It’s not so much the distance itself that matters. What matters more is the number of days per week and number of weeks. The runs themselves don’t have to be super long. After two months of running for 25-30 minutes four to six times a week, you will find those runs become easier. The greater the number of weeks that consistent training takes place, the more endurance is built.

If you have the time and desire to run even longer distances on a regular basis, that’s even better. Running longer once or twice a week can increase the rate at which the running muscles and cardiovascular system will get stronger.

On a side note, we recommend that you check out our post titled Can You Be Naturally Good at Running? (Contributing Factors!)

Is It Ok to Run Every Day?

It is generally not recommended to run every day. Running every day taxes the body too much to make it worth the risk of illness or injury.

See this previous post on taking rest days. Most running schedules propose 4-6 runs per week, especially for those newer to the sport. Sprinkling regular days of rest throughout the week will help the body time to recover from the efforts of training. An athlete that is adequately rested is better suited to take on the next challenge with less chance of getting hurt.

If you absolutely must do a workout every day of the week, make sure to incorporate one or two days of non-running activities such as cycling, swimming or a long walk. Your mind and your running-related muscles will thank you for the variety.

How Slow Should Long Runs Be?

Long runs should be taken at a pace low enough that you can hold a conversation while running without gasping for air.

Save the all-out efforts for race day. During your long run, you should aim for a pace that is at least 60-90 seconds slower than you would expect to run in a race. I know it seems counterintuitive, but there are decades of science behind this tactic.

Running as fast as you can during every long run is equivalent to racing every week, and the human body is not built for that type of stress. One rule of thumb is for every 10 miles or 10 Km of a race, it takes a day to recover. So after completing a 40 km training run at a racing effort, the body would barely have recovered by the time the schedule calls for the next long run.

How Long Does It Take to Lose Your Running Endurance?

We start losing some levels of fitness as quickly as taking even a few consecutive days off. However, it takes a week or more before most of us would see any noticeable decline. (Source)

Don’t worry, it doesn’t all disappear at once! After a week without running, one would only expect to be a few seconds per mile slower than they were previously. The bigger risk of taking time off is getting out of your rhythm and losing the habit of working out regularly.

Some estimates are that we lose endurance twice as fast as we gain it !

Those losses of endurance will compound as the break from running continues. At that rate, if someone spent six months building up running endurance, it would take 3 months of inactivity to lose that base. 

The best way to combat that loss of fitness is to avoid complete periods of inactivity. If unable to run due to injury or some other circumstance, then try to switch to some other method of exercise. There would still be some loss of running endurance, but the amount of fitness lost would be far less.

***Of course you should make sure to check with a doctor, therapist, or trainer before attempting something that could make an injury worse. ***

How Can I Run Longer without Getting Tired?

Some tactics for running longer are to decrease running pace, insert walking breaks, fuel up before the run, and make sure to get plenty of sleep.

The first suggestion is simple — slow down in order to run longer. If you can run 3 miles at a 10 minute per mile pace, you could decrease that pace to 11 minutes per mile in order to run 4 or 5 miles. Decreasing your pace allows your heart to beat at a lower rate and it can more effectively distribute the oxygen throughout the body that the leg muscles depend on.

For a good idea on distance vs speed, check out our article titled How Fast Are Marathon and Ultramarathon Runners? The Average, Fastest & Slowest!

The same effect comes from inserting regular walking breaks. By alternating between running and walking, you are giving your system a chance to recover for a short time. These short rests will allow you to extend the distance of a limit.

We also recommend that you check out our post “Is Running At Night Bad? What Road & Trail Runners Should Know!

Fueling up, or eating and drinking is one of the more commonly overlooked aspects of becoming a runner. All those miles that you spend on your feet running around the neighborhood require energy. If you aren’t eating and drinking enough good-quality foods, then the length of your runs will be limited. You wouldn’t jump into a car and try to drive for an hour without making sure it has enough fuel. Make sure you treat your body the same way.

Try eating even a small, healthy meal and drinking plenty of water before heading out for a long run. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to digest the meal before running.  One hour should be sufficient for a light meal. This will ensure there is enough in the tank to carry you through to the finish. (Source)

Getting enough sleep is another crucial aspect of being an endurance athlete. It’s not realistic to expect your body to be able to go out and run long distances after you have been up all night. This is the same whether you were cramming for exams or out dancing in the clubs. The body needs not only rest, but plenty of sleep in order to recover.

On a side note, check out our post on ” Why Can’t You Run as Far Anymore ?! (5 Major Reasons)

We would also recommend that you check out our post titled “Why Does It Feel Like You Are Stomping when Running? Proper Running Technique Explained!

Does Jogging Increase Stamina?

Jogging is running and will do just as much for endurance as if you were going at a faster pace and will increase the individual’s stamina. Walking also increases stamina, it just doesn’t build speed.

It really doesn’t matter whether you run, jog, cycle, swim, play tennis, or go for a brisk walk. All exercise will help to build cardiovascular endurance, but just at variable rates.

The fastest way to build running endurance is to make sure the majority of your training consists of running at a medium effort. Jogging, otherwise known as running at an easy pace, is the next best option. For more on this, check out our post What Speed Is Considered Running? Running Vs Jogging Vs Walking Vs Sprinting!

Other non-running exercises can eventually get you to your desired fitness level, just not as quickly.

So building running endurance is just a matter of dedicating the time to run several times a week. The more consistent we are, the faster that endurance will accumulate. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to take on your goal race (and maybe the world)!

Brad Birky

Brad Birky is an endurance athlete and trained chef who has qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon as well as multiple Ironman distance triathlons

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