6 ways to run longer distances and a sample 5k training plan to build your endurance

6 ways to run longer distances and a sample 5k training plan to build your endurance
Staying consistent and patient is the key to running longer distances.pixelfit/Getty Images
  • To run longer distances, you should start every run with a slow jog and continue to run at a conversational pace.
  • You should also maintain proper form on runs and fuel yourself with a healthy pre-run snack.
  • The most important aspect of building endurance is to stay consistent with your running schedule and be patient with yourself.

It's normal for runners, both new and experienced, to have difficulty running for longer amounts of time. When you hit a distance plateau it may be because you feel bored, disheartened, or burned out — but here are six tips to help you push through, and start clocking more miles.

1. Start slow

Runners often try to run fast on their "easy days" to increase weekly distance, which in turn, only ends up hurting the progress they have made.

"It takes more muscle contractions and usually a higher heart rate when we start out too fast," says Amanda Brooks, an ACE certified personal trainer and running coach based in Colorado. This means that you will burn through your energy quickly, making it unlikely that you'll be able to cover much distance.
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Brooks says starting slow is the best thing a runner can do to improve their distance. "It helps your body ease [into] running and prevents frustration," she says.

Warming up with a light jog for five to 10 minutes before a run can help dilate blood vessels so oxygen can more easily get to muscles. It also naturally raises body temperature so you can run comfortably and efficiently.

2. Check your form

Maintaining proper form is essential to running efficiently, which in turn will propel you to run further. For example, if you're swinging your arms across your body or clenching your fists tightly, that exerts extra energy that could be used to push you through an extra minute of running.
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Poor running form can also cause injuries such as lower back pain, plantar fasciitis, or knee pain, which can keep you from progressing. If you notice discomfort during or after your run, check in with your form. To maintain good running form:

  • Keep your eyes up
  • Shoulders back
  • Core engaged
  • Hands relaxed
Also, opt for quick, short steps rather than long strides. Overstriding can cause your legs to stiffen which increases your risk for running-related injuries like hip, knee, ankle, or foot pain. If your foot is landing ahead of your knee, your stride is too long. To avoid overstriding lean forward slightly and slowing down your running speed.

3. Run at a conversational pace

When working on building mileage, speed shouldn't be the priority. In order to finish your long runs strong, you'll need to run consistently at a slower pace.
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"You only want to add one stressor at a time, so if you're adding distance, it's best to hold back on speed," says Natalie Dorset, a certified Road Runners of America running coach based in New York City.

The run-by-feel strategy is one technique that can help beginner runners learn to pace themselves. The strategy measures your pace by rate of perceived exertion (RPE) on a scale of one to 10. For long, easy runs, stick to an RPE of about one to two, meaning you feel a slight strain, but you still feel like you can carry a conversation through the workout.

4. Try running and walking

Alternating between walking and running reduces the impact on your legs and helps you conserve energy. "You get more time on your feet with less intensity," says Brooks. This can conserve energy so you can run further.
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For best results, take your walking breaks before you feel fatigued. If you take a break before you get too tired, you're more likely to finish your run strong.

For beginners, Dorset recommends alternating between two minutes of jogging and three minutes of walking for a total of 15 minutes. Sandwich this workout with a five-minute warm-up and cool down.

"It's a nice gentle way to start building your aerobic capacity and getting your muscles used to running without too much risk of injury," says Dorset.
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5. Fuel your body

"Nutrition can be more important than the run itself because eating foods that cause inflammation or don't fuel you properly will leave you feeling tired and struggling through runs," says Brooks.

Before running, you should avoid fatty foods because they delay gastric emptying, which is the time it takes food to move from the stomach to the small intestine. This disrupts digestion and prevents muscles from receiving optimal amounts of energy during a workout. It can also make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.

When exercising, your body pulls energy from glucose stores which form after you eat carbohydrates. That's why you should eat simple carbohydrates before a run, like fruits or toast, as these can easily be converted to energy.
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6. Be consistent and patient

The most important tip if you're aiming to run longer distances is to be consistent and patient.

Try adding a mile or two each week, Dorset suggests. For example, if you run seven miles on Sunday, aim to run eight or nine miles the following Sunday. To see progress, you'll need to run consistently. "Running for a week then taking a few weeks off makes it very hard to see progress," says Brooks. She recommends beginners should make a goal to run at least three times a week.
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Although everyone's experience will be different, you'll likely see distance improvement every three runs. "It takes about three attempts of the same workout for your body to adjust and be ready to move on," says Dorset.

Also, remember that not every run will be your best run. Don't be discouraged if you fall short of a goal or feel more tired than usual. What matters is that you keep showing up.

Sample 5k training plan to build endurance

Here is a sample training plan provided by Dorset for beginners to increase their distance to run 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).
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Try this workout three times a week on non-consecutive days.

Insider's takeaway

As a runner, it's easy to feel like you've hit a wall when it comes to increasing mileage. But don't be too hard on yourself. Staying consistent, patient, and fueling your body with the right nutrition can help you get to your goal distance.

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