Improving aerobic endurance is a painstaking process. After all, aerobic endurance is forged from years of consistency and countless miles. While the mileage and speed work are the two aspects of training that get the most attention, there are little things you can add to your weekly routine that will pay off. Periodically add these 3 elements to your training and it will pay off:
Short Hill Sprints:
I love to do these following an easy run; especially the day before a speed session. Not to be confused with ‘hill repeats’ which can be an effective means of improving VO2 max - but hill repeats can impact recovery or the next day's workout. Short hill sprints, typically 10-20s in duration on a 4-6% grade give you a lot of bang for your buck. While they don't typically last long enough to make your legs heavy the next day, they do provide a stimulus in the form of a runner-specific strength workout. While weight training is effective, this type of training is runner specific and improves your ability to generate and sustain power output. These sprints improve your running mechanics and strengthen your lower leg tendons and muscles, hamstrings, quads, glutes and hips making you more resistant to overuse injuries. Being more resilient means that you may be able to train harder and longer while recovering better. As a bonus: there is evidence that short sprints like this improve a neuromuscular connection, allowing you to run more efficiently at faster paces and better recruit muscle fibers during activity.
Periods of faster-paced running injected into an existing easy run. For example, I typically have pickups prescribed a few times weekly in my 10-12 mile runs. I’ll usually do 4-6 x 30 seconds of pickups with at least two minutes of easy running before the next one starts. The practice of doing this essentially forces your body to adapt to the physiological demands of running faster, without being long enough to build lactic acid or develop heavy legs for the next day. I aim for 1 mile to-5k estimated race pace by feel to really get my legs turning over. The runners who add pickups to their run improve their mechanics and positively impact their running efficiency. Simply put, pickups make you more comfortable running faster.
Running downhill generates more than 50% more force than normal running. It beats up your quads, and glutes, but if you master it, you'll see much improvement come race day. In fact, elite runners run downhill much more efficiently than the average runner. Downhill Sprints of 10-20s on a 4-5% grade help you improve speed and neuromuscular connection like short hill sprints. As a start - aim for your 5k pace by effort for the short bursts. Usually 6-10 downhill sprint repeats is enough to provide the necessary stimulus. As an added bonus, downhill sprints get you more comfortable with running downhill leading to faster race times from that aspect as well.
Get faster and fitter by becoming stronger.