As a runner, it can be frustrating to feel fatigued and out of breath after only a mile or less. That frustration can make you want to quit, but don't give up just yet. As with anything you want to get better at, practice makes perfect — or at least pretty good. Taking small steps to improve your cardiovascular fitness, choosing the right terrain, strengthening your mental resolve and making a few lifestyle changes can drastically improve your endurance and your enjoyment of the sport.
Start Small and Slow
Attempting to run 2, 3 or even 5 miles straight without building up the necessary endurance is a recipe for failure. Set weekly distance or time goals and gradually increase them every week or every other week.
Even if you can only run for one minute, do that several times a week for two weeks, then increase it to 90 seconds or 2 minutes. Eventually, you'll be able to run for 20 or 30 minutes straight. Record your improvements in time or distance on a chart or in a journal to stay motivated.
Controlling your pace will also help you run longer. If you start out at a sprint, you're not going to have much left for the rest of your run. Keep a "conversational" pace for the duration of your run. That means you could hold a conversation while running without gasping for air. It might mean running really slowly at first, but pacing yourself in this way will help you cover more distance before pooping out.
There is nothing wrong with alternating running and walking while trying to improve your endurance. If you can only run for 2 minutes straight without getting tired or winded, it doesn't mean you can't get in a good workout. Alternate periods of running with periods of recovery at a brisk walk. Repeat those intervals throughout your workout.
This is a form of interval training, which scientific evidence shows is highly effective for improving cardiovascular fitness and burning fat. Over time, you can increase the amount of time you spend running and decrease the periods of walking until you can comfortably run the entire distance.
Read more: The 8 Best Stretches to Do Before Running
Check Your Form
Running with poor form can be exhausting. Good form helps you move as efficiently as possible, saving you energy for longer distances and faster paces.
Good posture, with the torso erect and not hunched, helps you breathe better. Keeping your elbows at a 90-degree angle and swinging them forward and back — not across the body — in time with the opposite leg helps propel your body forward so your legs don't have to do all the work. Landing on your mid to forefoot instead of on your heel helps you spring more easily off the ground for your next step. A slight forward lean at the ankles helps point you in the direction you want to go and creates less resistance than a completely perpendicular stance.
Train on the Right Terrain
Hills are much harder to run than level terrain. When you're first starting out, run a mostly level route, which will be easier to conquer than steep ascents. As your fitness level improves, include more hills on your route. As you become more able to run up hills, running on flat terrain will be a breeze.
Mentally Prepare Yourself
Endurance is both physical and mental. Sure, you need the lung capacity and leg strength to get you through a long run, but you also need mental fortitude. Know that fatigue is sometimes mental, at least partially. Even when your brain wants to stop and go home and lie on the couch, your body may still have something left to give.
Running longer is as much about training your will as it is about training your body. Talk yourself into going just a little bit farther each time. Eventually, your mental muscle will get stronger and your runs longer.
Make Lifestyle Changes That Support Running
It almost goes without saying, but if you smoke, quit. Smoking depletes lung capacity and will slow you down. If you're overweight, work to shed some pounds. The heavier you are, the more effort it takes to move yourself along.
Of course, running will help you lose weight, but your diet also plays a role. Cut out junk food and eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy. These are good dietary habits to follow even if you're at a healthy weight, because these foods will boost your energy and keep you healthy.
And be sure to get enough sleep — 7 to 9 hours a night. The more well-rested you are, the more energy you'll have to power through your run.