10 key tips on how to run a 10K

Photo by Danny Zapalac

It’s no surprise that the 10K is the UK’s most popular race distance. Look through a typical 10K field and you’ll find some runners who’ve moved up from 5K, others using it to build speed endurance while training for a longer race, and speedsters making it the focus of their whole season. It’s not just the race that’s versatile either: 10K training fits in with more other running goals than any other distance.

Related: How to train for the perfect 10K

1/ First-timers: build mileage slowly

Runners who've finished a 5K can move up to a 10K, but doubling up on distance takes proper preparation. ‘I recommend adding 10-15 per cent to your total weekly mileage, spread out over two or three runs, each week,’ says running coach Pete Rea. If your longest run of the week is four miles, that could mean lengthening it by a quarter or half mile at a time. ‘Be aware that any additional time on your feet – even if it's walking – will push you to become stronger,’ he says. Find a beginner-appropriate training plan here.

READ: Jo Pavey's top tips for your first 10K

2/ Experienced runners: work one in

Are you preparing for a longer goal? That's OK – do a 10K, too! ‘Racing a 10K while training for a marathon – or a half – is like getting a little bonus speedwork in preparation for that race, and you shouldn't be surprised if you run a 10K PB in the process,’ says Rea. Schedule one for three or four weeks into training to test your fitness and another in the final three or four weeks to practise running in a crowd and starting under control. You may have a longer training run to do that close to race day, so complete the extra mileage first and use the 10K to simulate finishing your goal race strong on tired legs.

If you're a serial half or full marathoner, consider taking time away to focus on shorter races such as the 10K for a complete training cycle, says exercise physiologist Greg McMillan. ‘When you see fitness and performance gains in a 10K, it almost always carries into the longer distance, since it includes an ideal mix of speed and endurance training without totally wearing you out.’

3/ Vary your workouts

The 10K requires strength, endurance, speed and a finishing kick, says Olympic runner Galen Rupp, who holds the US record in the 10K (26:44.36). ‘Because of this, I like to do a little bit of everything in training to prepare.’ You want to get practice running at goal pace, a little slower than 10K pace [a medium effort] and faster than 10K pace. ‘You also need to build up to what I think is the best 10K workout – 3 x 2 miles at goal race pace,’ says McMillan, who recommends planning to do it about a week and a half before race day.

READ: What's the difference between fartlek, tempo and interval runs?

4/ Start with a warm-up

If you're doing a harder workout – a tempo run, speedwork or a run that includes mileage at 10K goal pace – you need to make time for a proper warm-up. Jog for a mile, then perform 5 x 100m warm-up drills (such as skips, high knees and bum kicks) with a recovery jog between each. Do the same before the race if you have a time goal – 6.2 miles is too short to wait and hope to warm up during the race, says coach Paula Harkin. However, if your goal is simply to finish, use the first mile of the race as your warm-up, starting at an easy pace and gradually picking it up as you go along.

5/ Hit the track

Short intervals of 200-600m help improve leg turnover and speed, says Rupp. McMillan includes 200m and 400m repeats in his intermediate plan. If you're a less experienced runner, start with 8 x 200m at 90 per cent effort with a 200m recovery jog between each, then repeat the workout every other week, adding a few repeats each time. ‘To make a big difference in your overall speed and cardio capacity, try to work your way up to 20 repeats,’ says Harkin. Once you've mastered those, you can move up to covering an equivalent distance in 400m repeats (with 400m recoveries).

6/ Change your pace

Slow and steady will finish the race, but if you want to get faster, you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone during some long runs, says Rea. ‘A long run with a varied tempo teaches your mind and body how to deal with the difficult patches during a race,’ he says. ‘It also teaches your body how to go at a higher intensity for a longer period of time.’ Try a couple of long runs at an effort of seven to eight on a scale of one to 10, and throw in a one-minute surge (a controlled pick-up that's about 15-20 seconds faster per mile than your regular pace) every 10 minutes. These runs are challenging, so do them no more often than once every two to three weeks.

7/ Do some strength training

One of the big benefits of training for a 10K instead of a half or full marathon is that it's easier to fit in different types of workouts, such as yoga, Pilates or circuit training. Take advantage of it: doing core-strengthening and flexibility exercises regularly will help improve your form and overall efficiency, and reduce your injury risk. Ideally, try to incorporate 30 minutes or more of core work (including abs, back, glutes and shoulders) and a yoga session into your routine at least twice each week (on easy or cross-training days). If you're short on time (or if running a 10K as a tune-up), your best bet is to squeeze in a few planks (and their variations) whenever possible.

WATCH: Strength training without a gym

8/ Simulate the race

Rupp has a favourite 10K workout he's been doing since school: 6-8 x 1-mile at slightly faster than goal 10K pace, with 400m jogging-recovery intervals between each rep. ‘It's brutal, but it really gives you a good indicator of where your fitness is,’ he says. ‘When I run this workout well, I know I am ready to go.’ Amateur runners should scale this workout down – if you're not running each mile in four minutes like Rupp does, you can achieve the same benefits from four or five repeats, says McMillan.

9/ Build power

Malindi Elmore, a coach with the Run SMART project, recommends plyometrics such as squat jumps, lunge jumps or bounding for building explosive strength that will serve you well in a 10K. Elmore recommends starting with five reps of each exercise once a week. Runners can build up reps from there, but don’t do plyometrics more than twice a week.

10/ Finish fast

Better to go out easy and pass everyone in front of you than to go out hard and crumble: ‘Most of the fastest 10K finishes were run where the second half of the race was faster than the first – a negative split,’ says Rea. For best results, you should run fast but controlled for the first 3K, then be assertive in the middle, from about 4km to 8km, and try to kick at the end.’ Practise finishing faster in training: run the last one to three miles of most of your long runs (those that are otherwise at an easy pace) at close to goal 10K race pace. Beginners can just add a few one-minute pick-ups to the end of their weekly long runs.

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