Do you need Stamina or Endurance?

Stamina vs. Endurance discussions often involve two errors.

  • The first is using these terms interchangeably.
  • The second is on how to improve each.

Stamina is the capability of sustaining prolonged stressful effort. For runners stamina is the ability to handle a specific pace (stressful effort) over a specific distance. Endurance is the ability to exert yourself for a long period of time. For runners endurance is the ability to run long distances.

So, someone who can run 50 miles has greater endurance than someone who can run a marathon. So you can see that these terms are also relative.

But, both require stamina – the specific pace chosen for that race – regardless of distance. An 800 meter runner needs stamina to finish the last 200 in his race.

A novice runner capable of only running 5K has limited endurance and most likely stamina as well. More often than not a novice runner lacks both. An Olympic level 5K runner has great stamina to maintain almost four-minute miles for 3.1 miles. However, he most likely suffers from lack of endurance to run a successful marathon on his 5K training plan.

You could simplistically look at it this way. If you can currently complete the distance you wish to race and you would like to run that specific distance faster – you lack stamina. If you cannot currently complete the distance (as is often the case for new marathoners) then you lack the endurance to do so.

If all you talk about is “finishing” some race then you want to be sure you have sufficient endurance. Once you start talking about running a distance in a specific time, or not finishing slower than XX:XX then you have introduced the element of stamina and pace of workouts becomes more important. The concept of “goal pacing” now comes into play. (If you are just running to finish then you are only aiming to endure the distance at whatever pace happens.)

How do you improve endurance?

So, endurance is addressed by progressively adding miles to your training weeks as well as lengthening your long runs. If you do that, you will improve your endurance. But, remember, this is not infinite and more miles yields more injuries. At some point, smarter training and varied paces are what will improve your running.

How do you improve stamina?

This is a more complex question. It is first and foremost event specific. Stamina will be addressed with different paces for an 800 meter runner or miler or 5k runner or 10K runner or half-marathoner or marathoner. The goal pacing is neuro-muscular specific training. You will become more efficient at the pace you train at.

What is missing for most runners is progressively larger portions of their training done @ their goal pace for that goal race. So, you first have to know your prime race distance and your target time. You then replicate that pace if smaller increments (from goal pacing miles on the roads for marathoners to 200 meter repeats at goal pace for milers).

Another good workout to enhance stamina is to run workouts that the last miles (or track reps if you are of the middle distance track ilk) are your fastest miles. It increases your ability to run hard (mentally and physically) while fatigued.

As your season training plan progresses your total percentage of goal paced miles must increase. That ultimately conditions you to put it all together on the big “marathon” day (or days for track runners).

For personalized mental game training in sports and business:


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
This entry was posted in Training Effectiveness and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Do you need Stamina or Endurance?

  1. John M says:

    I’m not sure that I really get the distinction you’re making here between stamina and endurance. For any non-novice runner, what determines how tough a run is to complete is the pace you do it at. Do it at a leisurely pace and it’s fine, do it fast and it becomes a test of endurance. For me, though, there are two distinct things you have to develop to be able to run well at any given distance, and maybe these correspond to your stamina and endurance. Firstly, there’s the physical fitness required to go a given distance at a given pace, which is independent of any psychological element (there’s no way a non-trained couch potato can tough out a sub 4 hour marathon, say, by force of will alone). Secondly, there’s the ability you have to develop to sustain long periods of discomfort (which may extend up to “Please God, let this stop!” pain). This is as much as anything psychological. Is this a useful distinction? Maybe we’re talking about the same thing?

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Your points are good that the psychological end plays a role. And for any totally new runner they need to improve both endurance and stamina. Almost any workout will do both when you start from zero. Almost any workout will improve both stamina and endurance.

      Your statement however – “Do it at a leisurely pace and it’s fine, do it fast and it becomes a test of endurance.” Is what I’m discussing above. In that case you need stamina… the ability to hold a pace for a longer period of time. You do not need more endurance. And in fact this is the error so many runners do not get.

      When someone comes to me who has completed a marathon (let’s just say 4:00 for example) and now they want to run a marathon faster (say 3:30) this individual does not need the ability to run farther (endurance). We do not need nor want to train them by making them run 30 or 40 milers (improving endurance). We must improve their ability to now handle 8:00 miles for 26 straight miles. Stamina. They need more work at the faster paced 8-minute miles.

      If on the other hand that same 4-hour marathoner comes to me and says they want to run a 50 miler. They need endurance. They cannot currently complete that distance. If they ALSO want to complete it at the same pace they did there marathon in (9:00 miles) they will ALSO have to work on stamina – training more at 9:00 miles.

      So, though there is an overlap when we have to diagnose what a person’s training problem is we have to differentiate these and know what will be the right fix for this runner. It is no longer semantics.

      I hope this helps.

      • John M says:

        OK, I think I understand your distinction a little better now. Of course, it leads on to other questions :). So, here am I, a 3:08 marathoner wanting to go sub-3. I’ve run 10 marathons, so presumably I don’t need more endurance, I need more stamina, which I’ll get from doing lots more goal-paced (6:52) miles. What then, is the place of the long slow 15-20 mile runs? Aren’t they buying me more endurance? (And while I’m on this tack, what, really, do the short easy pace runs I do between the more serious workouts accomplish?)

  2. Dean Hebert says:

    Great question and I will reply in a new post. Stay tuned.

  3. Glenn P says:


    I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum from John. After decades of racing events from the 10k up to the marathon, I am now focusing almost exclusively on 5ks. So the question is how long should my long / endurance runs be? I enjoy doing hills, intervals, and tempo runs, and use all three to try to reduce my race time. What I’m struggling with is how long runs lead to improved performance in such a short race, and the optimal distance and pace.



  4. Pingback: Life Stamina and Running Stamina – Made from Scratch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s