A Pro Runner Explains How to Build Endurance—in Sport and in Life

Building Endurance Is Key To Running

I first learned the origins of the word “endurance” while reading the stories of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic Greek poem The Odyssey. The Greeks viewed endurance as the ability to bear suffering and remain steadfast. This definition made sense in the context of the Ancients; after all, the name Odysseus means “man of pain.”

Although we apply the term a bit more loosely these days, the attributes of endurance remain unchanged. Having endurance requires a dogged stick-to-itiveness and an unwavering determination that helps an individual prevail against difficult odds.

How does one go about building endurance? Having run countless marathons and ultramarathons, I can tell you that acquiring endurance doesn’t require a giant leap but taking a series of tiny steps. It means doing everything 10 percent better. It’s that little extra effort, that final push, that additional rep or two, done consistently, that cumulatively create improvements.  I use my Fitbit Ionic to keep myself honest. By tracking my workouts, diet, and sleep patterns, I can make sure I’m always putting in that extra 10 percent.

All of this begins well before any starting gun goes off. Developing endurance originates with consistency in training, even on those days when you don’t feel like training (especially on those days you don’t feel like training). Self-discipline is an essential skill. While getting out of bed requires motivation, getting out the doors requires discipline (particularly in the winter months!).

Of course, even someone with tremendous discipline will find it challenging to pursue a goal if that goal is not tied to a larger reason, something meaningful that drives them. Without that underlying drive, the work required to build endurance becomes drudgery. Aligning your passions with your pursuits lowers the barriers to success. Look inwardly to identify what you love. Follow that drive, and you’ll have unstoppable endurance.

Running a marathon teaches you about endurance. There’s no quick way to reach the finish line. Endurance is required of both your body and your mind. Tools like your Fitbit device can help you measure progress and monitor your heart rate, but the lessons learned along the way instill the greatest education.

Struggle, hardship, and adversity surmounted during the journey; these are the best teachers. This is how you develop the constitution necessary to persevere, by continually putting one foot in front of the other and pushing onward until you eventually cross that distant finish line. The training and preparation are important and essential, but ultimately endurance comes from enduring.

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  • It took me 6 months to train for my first race, it was a marathon. I followed this advice to go from 0 to 26.2 miles at the age of 46. Every week I added 10 percent.

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