ask a runner: how to build endurance

how to build endurance for running

lululemon: ask a runner

you asked

I am 63, and I started running about a year ago. I am committed to running a half marathon in December 2010. I can run 3 miles, no problem. At the end of 3 miles I am physically ready to stop. How do I stretch myself to run further and build my distance? - Karen

a runner responds

I would suggest that you to add walking breaks to your runs. The key to building running endurance is to build gradually. Instead of just running your usual 3 miles, try a 2 minute run followed with 1 minute of walking. Just by adding the walk break, your body should easily break past that 3 mile barrier no problem. Distance, not speed, is what your training goal needs to be at this point, especially if you’ve got a half-marathon on the horizon. Continue experimenting with run/walk intervals, with your walk breaks decreasing gradually and your run intervals increasing gradually – then see where your body feels the most comfortable! I know a lot of speedy runners who still stand by their 10 and 1s. Also, be sure that you are fueling every 30 minutes or so once you start running more than 3 miles.


you asked

I run all the time but I always find that I can never run more than 2-3 minutes without feeling like I’m ready to die. My legs are jiggly, and so are my calves, despite the fact that I try to run every other day. How often should I run, and for how long, in order to build definition in my legs? Is there something wrong with me if I can’t run for more than 2 minutes? - Tiffanie

a runner responds

My advice is this: stop running to the point of where you feel like you’re going to die! Run 30 seconds, walk 2 minutes. Run another 30 seconds, walk 2 minutes. Try this for 30 minutes. Do this 3 or 4 times, and then try running for 45 seconds and walking 2 minutes. Do this 3 or 4 times, then try running for 1 minute then walking for 2. See the pattern? The key is to build slowly and gradually. Don’t just head out the door and run until you cannot run anymore – this is the surefire to become discouraged, and also injured. The definition will come. Make sure your diet is in order – this is huge, both for your body composition and also your performance. Add in a little weight training (think squats, lunges, Bulgarian squats, step ups), and you are on your way to a sculpted lower body!


you asked

I enjoy running, however I do have asthma that is under control. I find that when I start running longer than 3-4 min my chest is tight, breathing gets rough and I have to start walking. What can I do to get past this point, to run for 10 min!?!- Sadie

a runner responds

If you say that your asthma is under control but in the next sentence tell me that your chest is tight and your breathing gets rough, then your asthma is not under control. Talk to your doctor about it, and add walk breaks to your running program. Start doing 1 & 1s or 2 & 1s (run to walk ratio, in minutes), and see if that helps you. Good luck!


Ainslie is the first run expert featured in our Ask a Runner series. Check out her website to get to know her better.

Upcoming run posts from Ainslie:

- What to do about chafing – May 21
- Nutrition tips for runners – May 24
- Marathon training – May 26
- What kind of running shoes to wear – May 27
- How to stay motivated – May 28

read more related posts:


@Sadie – I had asthma as a kid and still get mild asthma, but not to the point where I need to carry an inhaler. Running and yoga (especially pranayama breathing exercises) have taught me how to regulate my breathing, which has alleviated my asthma a lot. Lately, my asthma is only triggered by high intensity intervals combined with either stress or heat. If I start getting an attack, I just have to sit down and stop freaking out and it subsides in a few minutes.

Something that I feel really helped me with my asthma was experimenting with synchronizing my breath to my steps. E.g. breath in for two steps, out for two steps (or three steps, or whatever feels right to you). I think it prevents me from breathing too shallowly. It’s also a good way to judge your exertion level. And, it makes your runs a little bit more relaxing. I bet it helps increase your lung capacity too.

It might be difficult at first, but doing the walk/jog intervals will increase your stamina, which will make breathing easier too. Just stay calm and try to enjoy the process as much as possible! The breathing cadence will become second nature after enough practice.

Comment by elaine! — May 19, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

Ainslie! What a great set of answers. I’m so glad you mentioned weight training as well. I find that my strength training, yoga practice and running all work together and improve eachother! I’m also guilty of burning myself out too early when training up my endurance, breaks are so key, and yet we always forget we should take them to avoid total exhaustion! Thanks for another great “Ask a runner” =)

Comment by Amber — May 21, 2010 @ 8:25 am

I just recently ran a half marathan (may 8th) the weather (we are in Minnesota) was snow, cold and extremely windy, I raced my worst time ever 2:10 and I am 50, however that is NOT the problem, my problem is I started running again about a week later, giving my body some time to rest, I cannot go 2 miles without feeling like I’m done…..what gives? I haven’t had this happen before?

Comment by pat — May 24, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

I’ve been working out for the past three years. I got really into it, doing “hard core” work outs with a friend of mine. Running a min of forty-five minutes, fast-paced before doing weights.

About eight months ago, I shattered (in one area) my shock in my knee, I have a huge cyst and couldn’t walk for months. My doctor told me working out is crucial before surgery so I’ve been working out for the past three months.

I’ve been cycling, not running for 30-40 minutes. Why is it I feel like I’m not getting the workout I got from running? And I get tired after only one-third of the time I can now cycle. Is this just a mental thing?

Thanks, Ally

Comment by Allyson — December 19, 2010 @ 10:28 am

Some fantastic info about pure endurance. Love it!

Comment by Chris — January 20, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

Ainslie I hope that you are an asthmatic in answering Sadie’s qn. I found your comment to Sadie quite disappointing and typical of one that doesn’t know or have asthma.
Your comment “If you say that your asthma is under control but in the next sentence tell me that your chest is tight and your breathing gets rough, then your asthma is not under control.” In this I think you are completely off the mark. These are just symptoms of asthma and have nothing to do with asthma being out of control or not. I personally get this exact symptonm and my asthma is well managed by a dr.
Here is my suggestion as an asthmatic who struggles with exactly the same thing as Sadie. 1) be aware of the time that you run and the seasons. Cold air, dust, and even storms can hinder some asthmatics. Learn to recognise these times and adapt your program. 2) mix it up. Run/walk at different tempos, but also mix up the speed, run fast for a session then run slower. Doing this buliding the lungs up gradually for a higher exertion level. 3) cross train at a increased time and intensity with the same breathing pattern – to get the lungs working with other sports but also get your lungs use to breathing a certain way. Also if you use legs then your legs don’t tire and you can focus on increasing the distance you cover before your breath changes. 4)do push yourself – don’t use your asthma as a weakness but respect it and yourself. Push yourself to go that little bit further, but if enough is enough take the hint and stop. Even if to just gather your breath.

Comment by neen — May 25, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

Well this was very informative for me as a new runner. I thought stopping to walk meant failing to run. I now see that a set routine of walking combined with running will achieve the result I want, distance. Thank You

Comment by AJ the Muay Thai Gear Girl — June 24, 2011 @ 9:54 am

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