Ready to Master the 10K?
The 10K is a race that doesn't often get enough respect as it should! One of my biggest pet peeves as a runner, and as a coach, is when people refer to any distance shorter than a marathon as “just a” or "it's only" that distance. All running accomplishments should be celebrated, whether you’re crossing the finish line of a mile race or a 100 mile race! It is absolutely amazing what your mind and body just did.
Plus, the shorter the race, the faster the pace should be. A 5K can be just as difficult as a marathon because of both the physical and mental effort required to push yourself all out. As I always say, it's all relative.
Running a 6.2 mile race is finding that sweet spot between pushing your hardest for a 5K and figuring out how to manage a pace for 13.1 miles. You need both speed and endurance for the 10k (6.2 miles). That is why training for the 10K proves a bit tricky, no matter your level of experience. This popular road race distance requires a good amount of speed and a decent amount of endurance. And as with every race, you’ll need to find the things that work best for you to help you cross that finish line. So whether you're signing up for a fall 5k or have your eye on another 10K in the future, these tips are for you.
A good 10k pace? That’s highly dependent on where you are in your running journey! Worry less about the clock and more about learning to challenge yourself with easy, medium and hard effort runs. Training smart for the distance, train smart for your fitness level. Train for effort. Remember, someones easy effort may be a 9 minute mile, or an 8 minute mile, someones hard effort might be that 8 minute mile or 9 minute mile, so your race your pace.
New runners should just focus on completing the 10K distance and not over think speed-work. Most novice runners take an hour or more to run a 10K, and so the focus during training should be on building endurance. Don’t worry about your pace for race day, the primary focus of your training should be preparing your body (and mind) to run for 6.2 miles on race day and finishing with a smile!
If you are a more experienced runner, or those training with time goals, then adding in a weekly speed workout at 10K goal pace or faster is ideal. Find a training plan that suits your specific experience level and schedule. If experienced, then early in your training you should perform speed work. These speed workouts can take multiple forms such as tempo runs, runs at just under 10K pace, running strides at the end of a few runs a week, interval / fartlek runs, speed work drills to improve foot strike, and / or longer interval training at goal race pace (half mile to mile repeats). And it's noted that these workouts should not gas you or red flag you, it's not all out sprints, you don't want to be completely burnt out the day or two days later from your run workout; these are created to improve your endurance, improve your overall long distance running and improve your pace over time. Doing spadework properly will make your goal pace feel more comfortable over a long period of time, and increase your aerobic capacity. Additionally, all runners will benefit from tempo runs. A tempo run is a run done approximately for 20-40 minutes and at a pace slightly slower than your 10K pace, near 15K pace for most runners, (slightly faster than half marathon pace). They increase your lactate threshold, which means that they help you hold a faster pace (particularly 10K pace) for longer.
If you run 3-4 days per week, devote one day to speed work and alternate each week between a tempo run and faster speed intervals. While keeping the other days for easy runs and a long run.
Keep easy runs easy and hard runs hard, easy days easy, hard days hard. Don't go every run at a hard, or even a moderately hard effort. A common misconception amongst runners is that most of their miles should be run near goal race pace. The logic behind this notion is that running more often at race pace will make it feel more comfortable and therefore easier to sustain on race day. However, quite the opposite of true. 80% or more of your runs should be performed at an easy effort. The easier you run most days of the week, then the harder you can push yourself in speed workouts. Easy runs prevent your body from staying in a constant state of stress. Easy runs allow you to get miles in for endurance with less injury risk. Easy runs remind you to just enjoy the miles. The tempo runs and speed workouts we talked about above will make you a faster 10K runner, but you’ll burn yourself out or get injured if you do them every day. Depending how many runs you do a week, speed work once a week will improve your pace.
Long runs are necessary. Long runs are not just for full and half marathoners. 10K runners will benefit by adding a long run to their weekly training schedule. The distance of longer runs is relative to your weekly mileage. Long runs will help create an aerobic base and mental toughness that is necessary for running the 10K distance and more.
Mimic the course. Specificity is one of the guiding principles of training for a 10K. Along with training for the specific endurance and speed demands of the 10K, you should train for the specific surface and terrain upon which you will race. Is it on a road? Are there hills? Is there gravel? Sand? Doing your speed work, especially repeats at 10K goal pace, on the roads will mimic the impact and changing terrain of race day. A track doesn’t change in surface or incline, which means if you do all of your speed work on the track, or even treadmill, you will struggle on race day.
Strength training improves your running power. Running is essentially a prolonged series of single legged forwards hops, it's gracefully tripping over your feet without falling. The stronger your leg and hip muscles are, the faster and longer you will be able to run. This is particularly true for your glutes (and hamstrings), which power you forward from the start of the race to the final sprint over the finish line. Studies show that strength training improves your running economy, and improving your running economy helps you run better as you become more efficient running at any given pace as well as help prevent injury. Along with strong legs and hips, a strong core, upper body and arms will improve your running form. You want to aim to add at least two days of total strength training to your 10K training routine.
Race smarter! Don't go balls out when you cross the start line. A negative split is one of the most effective race strategies to being a happy runner. To accomplish this, divide your race into thirds. Don't go out running too fast. Run the first third slightly slower than goal race pace - you’ll feel as if you’re holding back a bit, and that’s okay, you want to be able to push yourself over the final miles. Then pick up the pace slightly and ease into a steady effort for the middle two miles (knowing you still have more to give). Entering the last two miles, increase your pace until you’re running as fast as you can sustain over the final few minutes and mile.
And don't forget, you MUST EAT for optimal performance! Fuel to perform well!
Not ready for a 10k? Need a complete beginner 5k plan? Be on the look-out for a free 5k pdf guide coming to my website!