Training for a marathon? Experts explain how to improve your running endurance

Thousands Of Runners And Spectators Take To the Streets For The London Marathon (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Thousands Of Runners And Spectators Take To the Streets For The London Marathon (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Beat your goal time and avoid 'hitting the wall' with these expert long-distance running tips, says Liz Connor.

The London Marathon is fast approaching (Sunday April 28), which will see more than 40,000 runners put their months of hard work and training into practice on the fearsome 26.2 mile course through the capital.

Strength training is a great idea for all runners

Strength training is a great idea for all runners

Whether you're looking to score a record time at this year's marathon, or you're just hoping to finish, endurance is the key to shaving valuable seconds off your PB and avoiding burning out on your run.

With this in mind, we spoke to experts to find seven top tips for those looking to boost their race day running stamina.

1. Rest and recovery is king

"A common error that many new runners make is to try and achieve too much, too quickly. The body takes time to adapt to the stresses of running," says Dr Ademola Adejuwon, consultant in sports and exercise medicine, at ISEH (operated by HCA Healthcare UK).

"All the positive results - such as muscle growth or tendon and ligament strengthening - need a period of recovery to allow your body to get stronger."

Rest doesn't just involve spending an evening on the sofa though. "Getting the right amount of sleep is crucial for runners looking to build up endurance - especially those who are training for a marathon. The average active adult should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night to help aid effective recovery," Adejuwon says.

Fuelling your body after a run is also an important part of the recovery process. "A carbohydrate and protein rich meal or snack will quickly replenish the body's fuel stores and stimulate muscle recovery," he says. "Rehydrating with water and electrolytes, especially if you're a heavy sweater, will also aid the process. "

2. Fuel your body

To be able to run long distances, experts say that slow release sources of fuel are ideal. "The nutritional choices you make in the last week, pre-race, can be crucial to crossing that finish line feeling strong," warns Lisa Scheepers, a nutritionist from Fresh Fitness Food (freshfitnessfood.com).

"Our glycogen stores are the most accessible way for the body to access glucose, which can be used as energy on a long run," says Scheepers. It's the moment when our glycogen storage runs out, that runners hit the dreaded 'wall'.

"In order to ensure your glycogen storage is at full capacity for race day, start to increase your carbohydrate intake three days prior to your race," says Scheepers. "Aim to keep your total calorie intake for the day in line with your normal intake - but swap fats for more carbs."

She advises you try to get around 70% of your intake from carbs. "For people that struggle to eat such a high amount of carbs in their meals, it can be handy to schedule multiple snacks around your meals, like granola bars, fruits, smoothies, bagels with jam."

For races longer than 90 minutes, Scheepers says that it's best to consume something extra along the way, such as sport gels, sports drinks or an energy bar. "Test the products in your training runs before you try them out during the race though, as not everyone digests these in the same way and you could experience some gut discomfort," she warns.

3. Cross-train

Clocking up enough training runs is an obvious way to improve endurance, but supplementing your workouts with extra sports can also help to move your progress along.

Adejuwon says: "It can be beneficial for runners to mix up their training twice a week by incorporating other activities like swimming, cycling, or elliptical jogging [on a cross-trainer] into their routine.

"Not only will this provide a respite from running, and reduce the risk of injury, but it can provide additional benefits that will contribute to overall running endurance."

4. Don't ignore your strength work

Strength training is a great idea for all runners, whether it's your first or fifth marathon. "When possible, strength work should be carried out twice a week," say Adejuwon, who adds that this can be done in place of cross-training if needs be.

Strength training should target the muscles that are most needed for running balance and propulsion, such as the core, thighs, hamstrings, and calves.

"This type of training prevents injuries, improves neuromuscular coordination and power, and aids running efficiency through muscle control and stride efficiency," he adds.

5. Be consistent

It's as simple as this: if you don't put in the work, you won't reap the benefits.

"The more consistent someone is with their running, the more effective the cardiovascular system adapts to increasing your aerobic capacity," says Adejuwon. "This is the ability to keep running without a build-up of lactic acid, which is the major cause of the burn felt in the legs after a sprint. Aim for three to four runs per week, with one run being a longer run than the others."

6. Bring in some tempo runs

Tempo running involves training at a faster speed than normal, but for shorter distances. Adejuwon says: "This is a good and effective way to combine cardiovascular training and neuromuscular adaptation.

"Tempo runs train the body to clear the lactic acid quicker which means people can run longer, and more easily when they revert to their normal race pace."

If you want to learn more about health and running, listen to to HCA UK's podcast Health Fact vs Fiction on iTunes or Spotify hcahealthcare.co.uk/podcast