Fundamental endurance: a key to running progress

Building endurance is a crucial aspect of running training. Engaging in slow, steady endurance runs lays the groundwork for your overall training program. These runs enhance the cardiovascular system and facilitate your body’s adaptation to increased training volumes. Interestingly, running at a slower pace can, in fact, contribute to more significant progress in both the medium and long term.

The benefits of fundamental endurance

The main mistake made by beginner runners is running too fast and at a constant pace. It is important to have runs where you go slowly and others where you do interval training to work on higher intensities. Each type of training has its own benefits.

Key advantages of fundamental endurance for runners:

  • Enhanced Cardiac Efficiency: It leads to an increase in cardiac output and a reduction in both resting heart rate and exercise heart rate.
  • Improved Muscle Oxygenation: This training increases the number of capillaries and mitochondria, resulting in better oxygen delivery to muscles.
  • Optimized Recovery: Slow running aids in more efficient recovery.
  • Better Oxygen Transport and Utilization: Consistent slow running over time significantly improves the transport and utilization of oxygen to muscle cells.
  • Efficient Energy Usage: During these slower runs, the body predominantly utilizes lipids for energy, as opposed to carbohydrates which are more commonly used during faster paces. This is particularly beneficial for marathon runners, as it can help delay the onset of ‘the wall’ – a marked decline in performance typically occurring around the 32nd to 35th kilometer.

Identifying the ideal pace for fundamental endurance

The optimal pace according to your Heart Rate and MAS

The optimal pace for fundamental endurance training is closely linked to your heart rate and Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS). It’s crucial to monitor that you do not exceed 70% of your maximum heart rate (HRMax). Generally, this equates to staying below 130-140 beats per minute, assuming your heart rate monitor is accurate. In terms of speed, this pace aligns with approximately 60-65% of your Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS).

To calculate the HRMax for fundamental endurance not to exceed:
Your Maximum Heart Rate (HRMax):
beats per minute (bpm)
The maximum heart rate for fundamental endurance not to exceed:
0 bpm

Ironically, runners often find it challenging to maintain the recommended effort zone for fundamental endurance training, as the pace can feel deceptively slow. This slower pace may initially feel uncomfortable, almost like 'treading water.'

For instance, a runner with a Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) of 20 km/h typically maintains a fundamental endurance pace around 12 km/h. Similarly, for a MAS of 15 km/h, the pace would be around 10 km/h, and for a MAS of 13 km/h, it would be about 9 km/h.

In my experience, with a MAS of 21 km/h, I find that running my fundamental endurance sessions at 12 km/h is optimal. These paces are comfortable for me and seem to facilitate effective recovery between sessions.

The sensations you should respect

In simpler terms, during your fundamental endurance training sessions, you should maintain effortless breathing and be able to have a conversation with your training partners without becoming breathless. If you start to breathe heavily, you are leaving this zone.

After several weeks, you will notice an improved ability to maintain this pace. These improvements will allow you to slightly increase your pace while keeping the same heart rate.

To keep your heart rate below 70% of your maximum heart rate, you can also engage in activities like cycling, walking, hiking, cross-country skiing, or other sports.

How much fundamental endurance should be included in a training plan?

It's generally advisable to dedicate approximately 60 to 70% of your weekly running distance to fundamental endurance pace. How can you effectively integrate this into your routine? Here are some strategies:

  • Warm-Up Jogs: Include them before your main session, typically lasting between 15 and 25 minutes.
  • Cool-Down Periods: Utilize them after your workout, usually spanning 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Recovery Jogs: Schedule these between more intense sessions, often ranging from 40 minutes to an hour.
  • Long Runs: Plan for these to last anywhere from 1 to 2.5 hours.

Fundamental endurance pace is not just a training tool; it's the speed at which most ultra-trail runners, those tackling distances over 100 km, typically run. It's a comfortably sustainable pace, akin to one you feel you could maintain indefinitely. This pace is especially useful in trail training, where there's a mix of walking and running.

Building a robust aerobic foundation through fundamental endurance is crucial. Once established, you can enhance your VO2 max and overall performance with targeted interval training sessions.

No need to do all your runs too fast!

Indeed, there's no need to sprint through every run! Running too fast all the time, especially during sessions meant for active endurance or at a pace that doesn't align with any specific physiological threshold, is not only unnecessary but can be counterproductive. Fundamental endurance is a vital component for runners at all skill levels, playing a significant role in achieving long-term progress.

In the RunMotion Coach app, we simplify this process by calculating your fundamental endurance pace based on your heart rate and race results. This approach allows us to estimate your MAS (Maximal Aerobic Speed) and endurance index without the need for a formal MAS test.

Many runners initially perceive the recommended pace as too slow, but after experiencing the benefits within just a few weeks, they often become enthusiastic proponents of fundamental endurance training. It’s all about finding that perfect balance in your training program! 😉