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5 Ways to Train for an Endurance Run (Besides Actually Running)

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    The Secrets of Endurance Training

    "You can definitely build running endurance without running every day," says Bill Pierce, professor and chair of health sciences at Furman University, and lead author of Run Less Run Faster. In fact, not running every day could increase the quality and quantity of your runs, since days off give your body time to recover, and running on consecutive days is one of the best predictors of injury, says Pierce. Read on to learn the secrets to endurance training.

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    Focus on 3 Quality Runs a Week

    Pierce recommends running three days a week, no matter how long the race is that you're training for. First, schedule a speed workout, like sprints on a local track. Your next run should be a tempo run, where you run at your 5K pace for 20 to 30 minutes. Finally, the sacred long run you've likely heard die-hard runners talk about. Its distance should be at the top end of your race's mileage. For a marathon, for instance, the long run should be 20 miles, Pierce says.

    Don't schedule the runs back-to-back. Instead, sandwich them between days of non-running exercises (see the following slides for ideas) and rest days before long runs. You'll actually run faster and longer as a result. "That increases the quality and most likely the distance of your long run," Pierce says. It also enhances your ability to develop endurance, he adds. "You're able to recover your legs, your muscles aren't as fatigued, and your energy level's higher." You'll be more than ready to hit the ground running when it's time.

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    Increase Your Cardiorespiratory Fitness

    This is basically how well your body delivers oxygen to your muscles during a workout, as measured by your VO2 max. You can improve it by cross training, which gives your running muscles a break while still getting a solid training session in. "Your cardiovascular system doesn't know if you are biking, swimming, rowing, or running, so you can increase your cardio fitness while reducing the risk of injury [by not running]," Pierce says. "In particular, we like non-weight-bearing activities like biking, swimming, and rowing." Those are easier on your running muscles while still challenging your heart and lungs. One study from the University of Montana found athletes who participated in deep water running applied a similar intensity as they did when they ran on a treadmill.

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    Prioritize Strength Training

    Pierce sees this all the time: Runners aren't always as strong as they seem. "They have weak core muscles, which contribute to poor running form and poor running posture," he says. "Also, it reduces the power of their stride and being able to push off." Of course, being sidelined by an injury isn't going to help build your endurance, so add core exercises as well as strength moves to your training plan if they aren't on there already. Researchers in Finland found runners improved their running endurance after eight weeks of resistance training. Bonus: The heavy lifters got faster, too.

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    Substitute a Long Run with Sprints

    Okay, this tip involves running, but it significantly cuts down on your time commitment. Let's say you don't have time to dedicate your Saturday morning to a long run. Head to the track for some sprint work instead. Canadian researchers asked men and women to run four to six 30-second sprints with four minutes of rest in between. After performing the workout three times a week for six weeks, the sprinters had similar VO2 max—the measure of endurance that rates how the body consumes oxygen during exercise—compared to endurance runners who ran for 30 to 60 minutes. The sprint groups also lost 12.4 percent of their fat mass compared to 5.8 percent for the endurance runners.

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    Mimic Running on the StairMaster or Elliptical

    If you're unable to run—say you're nursing an injury or the sidewalks outside are covered in ice—head to the trusty cardio machines at your gym. "The StairMaster and elliptical are good substitutes when you're unable to run," Pierce says. That's because you're mimicking the movement of running, he says. Whichever machine you choose, aim to reach the same intensity you do on your runs. "You need a level of intensity in order to stimulate an adaptation," Pierce says. "That's what we do when we train—we try to stress the body enough to where it will adapt." To push your body to be able to run farther, you need to get in there and make a solid effort on non-running days, he says. If you put forth the same amount of energy on an elliptical machine as you do on a treadmill, you'll see similar levels of oxygen consumption and energy use and an even higher heart rate, according to researchers from Nebraska.