Pillars of endurance sport – and how to utilise it for improved running performance
Russell Looms, Biokineticist

Entering a new year means that many people will be setting new goals for themselves, including that of fitness goals. If you are aiming to improve your endurance performance this year, it is important to understand the different pillars of endurance sport and how they flow together to ensure you are best prepared for your endurance ventures. The four main pillar of endurance sport are:
• Endurance
• Strength
• Rest/Recovery
• Nutrition

The Comrades Marathon is a prestigious running event, often ending up on many peoples’ bucket list. However, ultra-marathon events require a lot of training and preparation. Therefore, it is important to understand how to utilise these four pillars to complete the Comrades Marathon safely and successfully.

Endurance is probably the most obvious pillar. Aerobic endurance is defined as the ability to perform continuous, dynamic, whole-body exercise for a prolonged period at a moderate-to-high intensity. To improve aerobic endurance, it is important to follow a training program that focusses on stimulating the muscle fibres and metabolic processes that are important to endurance performance. Adaptation to aerobic endurance training include increase in lactate threshold and VO2max, increase in slow-twitch endurance muscle fibres, increase utilisation of fat as a fuel, improved thermoregulation, and improved running economy. All these adaptations are important to improve endurance running performance.

Strength training helps to prevent injuries and makes our muscles more resistant to fatigue. Strength training is not only limited to lifting weights. It also includes mobility training, speed and agility training, and plyometric training. It is important to train our bodies to move in different ways. Running is repetitive in nature, therefore it is important to introduce variation into our training by going to the gym and moving our bodies through different ranges of motion. Strength training will help us to build healthier muscles, joints, connective tissue, and bones which will protect us from injury and promote longevity of one’s running career.

Our bodies are much like a car; it needs fuel to operate and regular maintenance. When nutrition gets neglected, our bodies become deprived of energy and the necessary building blocks to keep us going. We must consider what we consume before, during and after training as well as the timing of our food and fluid intake. The main fuel sources we need to consume are carbohydrates, fats, and protein. It is important to eat a balanced diet that supplies the body with these macro nutrients as well as micronutrients to ensure a healthy immune system and optimal recovery. Fluid intake is another aspect of nutrition that needs to be considered. When running for a long period of time, especially in the heat, we start to lose fluids through sweat. Marathon athletes can lose up to 5% of their bodyweight during a race, with most of this due to fluid loss. Dehydration increases our perception of our effort and increases physiological strain on the body. It is therefore important to focus on hydration before, during and after competition. Hyperhydration techniques can be used before competition whilst consuming a carbohydrate and electrolyte supplement during competition will help delay the onset of fatigue.

Rest and recovery help with the maintenance our bodies need. Neglecting rest and recovery can lead to injury or overtraining. This, in turn, can set an athlete far back in their training. It is important to incorporate rest days and recovery sessions into your training schedule to ensure that fatigue is being managed. There are many ways to approach rest and recovery. Cross training (i.e., cycling and swimming) can be incorporated to manage load and introduce variation into the training programme. Many athletes make use of sport massages to help reduce load that has been accumulated in their muscles. Sport massages also assist with lymph drainage and the realigning of muscle fibres. It is important to stay ahead of injuries and give any injuries that arise the appropriate care and rest required to ensure longevity of you running.

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