The 10k is like the 5k’s ugly step-sister: it’s often used as a tune-up race, but rarely do runners focus on it exclusively.
Why? Why is the 10k ignored as a goal race and usually earmarked as just a tune-up race?
I don’t have the answer. But I do know that at 6.2 miles, it’s long enough to demand the resiliency of a trained distance runner but short enough to require the speed and kick of a mid-distance runner.
If you have struggled with a 10k training plan, you may be focusing too heavily on the long run and overall weekly mileage (like many marathoners rightly do). Or, you may be putting too much emphasis on speed.
Successful runners know that a new 10k personal best needs both: each must be developed to record a strong finish.
Today you’ll learn a 3-pronged approach to training for the 10k that will help you run a new personal best at the 10k race distance.
First, Build General Endurance
To run a fast 10k, you first have to be able to run a slow 10k. Covering the race distance frequently during training is necessary – and required if you want to see how fast you’re capable of running 6.2 miles.
Building this level of general endurance can be done in several ways:
- Weekly Mileage: Run more! Mileage in the 30+ range is a great start for intermediate runners.
- Long Run: Run at least 10 miles as your peak long run, but preferably a lot more (16+ for advanced runners)
- Tempo Runs: these workouts are run at your “lactate threshold” – or the pace that you could run for about an hour. Start with 2 miles and build to 5 once per week over the beginning and middle phases of your training cycle.
These are tried and true methods for increasing endurance. They work for beginners and they work for professionals – and you too!
The key to building endurance is to do it consistently over a long period of time. The aerobic metabolism can be built for years (and it certainly takes years) – so make a commitment to higher mileage, consistent long runs, and regular aerobic-oriented workouts.
These strategies help you maintain a given pace for a longer period of time, but there are two more valuable strategies for racing a fast 10k.
Run Fast (Frequently)
The 10k requires a lot of leg speed. To maintain a challenging pace and a strong finishing kick, you must develop speed. After all, if you want to race fast, you have to run fast in training.
Very fast running has two important benefits. First, it helps promote better running economy so you’ll expend less energy to run faster. In other words, you become more efficient.
Second, it develops muscular strength that will help you produce more force and have a more powerful stride.
Efficiency and strength are also instrumental for preventing injuries (for more on this topic, see here).
There are many ways of developing speed, but here are three of the most effective:
- Run strides – short, 100-meter accelerations that bring you to about 95% of your maximum speed. Start with four strides after easy runs 2-3 days per week.
- Hill sprints 1-2 times per week develop strength just like heavy lifting in the gym – with more specificity to running.
- Short repetitions of 200m – 400m at a pace much faster than 10k-pace. This can be your 5k, 1-mile, or even 800m race pace.
You’ll see that this strategy helps make 10k pace feel easier. Building the fitness necessary to run a challenging 10k pace is more successful when you run workouts that are slower and faster than race pace.
These are what Brad Hudson calls support paces.
Of course, you also need to run at race pace. That’s the last missing puzzle piece to your PR 10k.
Build Race-Specific Endurance
Once you have a foundation of general endurance through relatively high mileage, long runs, and tempo workout plus the leg speed from regular strides, hills prints, and short repetitions, you can get more specific.
Ultimately, the goal is to run 6.2 miles at Goal 10k Pace. We’ve practiced running slower and we’ve practiced running faster – now it’s time to practice the exact pace we’ll be running on race day.
Regularly running race pace will help you not only build the specific fitness you need for the race, but the mental edge of knowing what it feels like is too important to ignore.
Race-specific workouts are not only done at the same pace as the goal race, but they also have about the same volume as the race itself. So for a 10k, it’s ideal to build to about 6 miles of work at goal pace.
Here is a simple progression of 10k-specific workouts that you can run as you prepare for the race:
- 3 x Mile at Goal 10k Pace with 2-minutes of easy running as recovery
- 4 x 2,000m at Goal 10k Pace with 90 seconds of easy running as recovery
- 3 x 2-miles at Goal 10k Pace with 1-minute of easy running as recovery
Each workout gets longer and the recovery gets shorter to simulate what you’ll experience on race day.
If a runner can do the final workout, she should be confident about running goal pace during the race itself.
The race atmosphere, taper, and psychological boost of competing will close the small gap between the workout and the race.
Advanced 10k Training Strategies
Many runners often think too one-dimensionally about workouts. They run a tempo run or intervals or a progression or race-specific repetitions.
But in reality, you should be combining various speeds in workouts to not only build more well-rounded fitness, but also replicate the specific demands of the race itself.
As in most races, the last portion is often a blistering kick while you struggle to hang on during a muscular lactate bath.
So, why not simulate that during a workout?
Here’s an example:
2 x 2k @ Tempo + 2 x 800m @ 5k Pace + 3 x 400m @ Mile Pace. Take a 1-min jog recovery after the 2k repetitions, 90 seconds jog recovery after the 800m repetitions, and 2-min jog recovery after the 400’s.
This workout simulates the first ~2 miles being relatively relaxed and aerobic, while the challenge becomes difficult in the middle miles and the end of the race is a maximum effort.
The total volume is less than 10,000 meters but still mimics the demands of the race. It’s best used in the mid-late phase of the competition period as you’re sharpening for the goal race (which is one reason why the total volume is less than 10k).
There are countless ways to combine interval distances, paces, and recoveries to train for races. Get creative!
For ideas on race strategy, tune-up races, and workouts, here are several resources you might find helpful:
- 52 Workouts, 52 Weeks, One Faster Runner
- 13 Lucky Racing Tips for Your Next Personal Best
- Coach Hudson’s Little Black Book Redux (very advanced!)
- The Season Planner Worksheet
Note: a version of this article first appeared on Competitor here.