5 Ways to Improve Your Stamina as a Runner

Whether you've just started running or you already have a few 5Ks under your belt, there's one area runners can always improve on: stamina (that would be your ability to actually go the distance). We're not talking speed here, but rather, endurance — the ability to run longer without feeling completely bushed at the end.

It's certainly easier said than done, as anyone who's tried to add time or distance to a run knows (one mile can feel like 100 if your body isn't ready for that extra bit!). What you need is advice from a runner who really knows what she's doing — so, we tapped Danielle Hopkins, a running instructor and the group fitness manager at Equinox, for some words of wisdom. Follow her expert advice on your next run, and you'll be amazed how long you can last.

Get Outside

"Treadmills are great for structured interval training, but it's too easy to cut the run short when you feel tired," Hopkins says. "Outdoor running will always trump treadmill running in terms of biomechanics and training for real life. You also get the added benefit of being more mentally engaged by the scenery, and responding to changes in your running terrain."

Run With a Plan

"Whether you run in or outdoors, you should always be armed with some kind of goal for the run," says Hopkins. "If it is just a specific distance you are after, make an 'out and back loop' and know exactly where your turnaround point is."

She suggests alternating between moderate effort and hard effort, such as doing a mile of each for four to six miles total. Another favorite structured session is what Hopkins calls the negative split drill: track your time for half your run, then try to beat yourself on the way back. You can use an app or fitness tracker to keep track of pace and mileage.

Run Sprints

"I mean all out, breathless, knock-the-wind-out-of-you, cry-for-your-mom sprint intervals," Hopkins says. The best way to improve the volume of oxygen you can consume while exercising at your capacity, called your VO2 max, is by running short, challenging intervals. "Throw one or two of these sessions into your program each week and I guarantee you will be running faster and longer with ease. Think five to six sets of 20 seconds as fast as you can run, alternated with 40 seconds of walking at an incline. Or quarter-mile sprint repeats done 4-6 times."

Yes, you can get back on the treadmill for this one.

Run With Other People

"Runners tend to go solo a lot. There's nothing wrong with that, but running with others will keep you accountable," says Hopkins. "I used to meet a friend at 6 a.m. twice each week to run. Knowing she was there waiting for me created accountability and kept me from hitting the snooze button. I also picked her as my running buddy because she was a touch faster than me. By using her to pace me, I was able to shave 15 seconds off my 10K splits. Use the group dynamic to push you to perform."

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Recently, a study came out saying if you just lift your gaze and focus on the finish line (or an end point), your run will feel shorter and easier. When researchers had study participants walk 20 feet towards a finish line while wearing ankle weight, the people who focused on a traffic cone at the finish line though the distance was short, walked faster, and thought the whole exercise was easier than those who looked wherever they wanted throughout the exercise. Basically, focusing on your end goal won't quite make your run easier, but it will trick your mind into thinking it's easier. Win!

Image: lzf/Fotolia