Problem:I’ve never raced that far before
Solution:No problem. First of all, remind yourself that if you can walk six miles, you’ll definitely be able to get round a 10K one way or another, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. The first step is to start building up your training distances in small increments to improve your endurance. It’s easiest if you integrate the training into your life as much as possible, so if you’re pressed for time during the day, for example, try jogging to or from places instead of walking or taking the bus. For longer runs, ask someone to drop you off a few miles from the end of a car journey home.
If you have long enough before your race, you can start to add a little speedwork to your schedule once you reach a regular 16-20 miles a week. The benefits of speedwork far outweigh the small amount of time that you put into it, and it works for every level of runner.
If you’ve never raced at all, using a 5K event as a stepping stone is a real confidence booster – though it’s not essential. One thing’s for certain: all races are there for enjoyment, whether or not you’ve run the distance before. Be sure to read ‘How should I pace my race’ for some race-day tips.
Problem:What time should I aim for?
Solution:If you’re a complete beginner, start with conservative goals. To give yourself a ballpark 10K target, see how far you can run at a lively but sustainable pace in 15-20 minutes. Then get in the car or on your bike to measure the distance in miles, divide the time by the distance and multiply the result by 6.2 to get a rough figure for 10K. Be realistic though – don’t run yourself into the ground for 20 minutes and expect that with a few weeks’ training you’ll be miraculously able to sustain that effort for two or three times as long on race day.
Experienced runners can try a more structured approach: if you can successfully run 5-6 x 1K or 3-4 x 1 mile at your target 10K pace with three-minute recoveries, then you should be able to hit your goal on race day. This is a good time trial to do before you start your 10K schedules, and when you’re two-thirds of the way through them. Remember two things though: a) don’t be discouraged by one unusually bad time trial – everyone has off-days; and b) don’t take your predicted time as gospel – you can often find an extra gear on race day, for instance.
Finally, if you’ve done a 5K or half-marathon recently, you can predict your 10K time from that – though the accuracy of the prediction will be compromised if you have a strong bias to either speed or endurance. Multiply your 5K time by 2.1; divide your half-marathon time by 2.22.
Problem:I’ve got the speed but not the endurance
Solution:You need to concentrate on spending longer periods on your feet, and specifically longer periods in which you run on tired legs. As well as ensuring that your long weekly run builds up to nine or 10 miles, try combining a warm-up and a 4 x 400m session with a four- or five-mile run afterwards, making sure that you’re tired at the end of the speed session, but not exhausted.
Sub-35-minute 10K runners may extend their long runs to 15 or 18 miles, but the rest of us don’t need to cover any more than 10 at a time. You should focus on getting the very most out of a relatively low mileage before thinking about increasing volume.
Incidentally, as well as speed and endurance, there’s one more key quality that will make you a stronger 10K runner: ‘speed endurance’ – a combination of both. If you’re an experienced runner, try this session for size:
Run a pyramid session of 400, 800, 1200, 1600m at or slightly below 10K pace, but don’t jog your three-minute recoveries – do them at around half-marathon pace. If that’s too daunting, then do 200, 400, 600, 800m, but keep the recoveries the same.
Problem:I’ve got the endurance but not the speed
Solution:The good news is that there’s a guaranteed route to faster times, and it works for every runner. The bad news: it’s called hard work. If you already have endurance under your belt, you now just need to focus on including one or two really good quality sessions in your weekly routine. The schedules in this section include a wide range of speedwork, but the two sessions below are particularly good for (respectively) beginners who want a very flexible session, and experienced athletes who simply need to get used to running with speed in their legs.
- Carrying a marker, such as a handkerchief, run hard for one minute exactly. Drop the marker, then after a two-minute recovery, try to beat your distance by running further on the way back. Repeat four to eight times, or as much as you feel able, and gradually increase the number of repetitions over the weeks to a maximum of 12.
- If it’s a long time since you’ve run at a fast pace, start with a session such as 5 x 600m with 400m jog recoveries. Next time, try to work in two 400m efforts instead of one of the 600s, so that you’re integrating some faster leg movement into the session. Take it from there – but don’t neglect the longer 10K-specific sessions either.
Problem:I can’t stand speedwork
Solution:Here’s a tip: find as many friends as possible to do your speedwork with – and introduce plenty of variety. Both help no end with motivation. If you’re doing fartlek sessions (steady runs with different-length bursts), take it in turns to dictate the length of the efforts, and keep an element of surprise.
Speedwork with a mixed-ability group isn’t a problem either – there are lots of ways to ensure that everyone gets a good, motivating session with someone to chase. Here are two tried and tested examples:
- If you have an out-and-back straight to train on (eg one side of a playing field), set all the runners off from the same point at the same time, but mark a series of different turning points. The slowest runners may turn back after 200m, for instance; the fastest after 400m. That way, the slower runners try to hang on to the faster ones on the way out, and the faster ones try to catch the others on the way back.
- Start each effort in the same way, but have someone blow a whistle after either a set period or a random amount of time (the latter is harder psychologically). All the runners turn and begin a jog recovery back to the start. This session can also be done during a continuous training run; after each effort, the slower runners keep jogging forwards and the faster runners peel back to meet them.
If you’re a relative beginner, the whole concept of speedwork is probably rather daunting. Stick with it! Don’t worry about pace at first, so long as you’re moving a little faster than you normally do in training. Simply concentrate on the basic skill of trying to keep the final repetitions in a session as strong as the first ones. Breaking down the session into smaller sets can be helpful to start with – eg instead of 6 x 800m with two-minute recoveries, do two sets of 3 x 800m, with an extra five-minute recovery between the two sets – or even do three sets of 2 x 800m.
Problem:How should I pace my race?
Solution:If it’s your first 10K, the key is to run evenly – an over-fast start will mean a painful finish. If you have a target of 60 minutes, for example, that means you’ll aim to pass the kilometre markers at six-minute intervals. Then, if you feel great near the end, you can pick up the pace a little, finish strongly and look forward to doing even better next time round.
If you’re more experienced, you just have to play to your strengths. If you have more speed than endurance you should hold back very slightly until the second half, then start to speed up – but if endurance is your strength, the opposite approach is better. To avoid underperforming, the maximum negative split a 40-minute runner should plan for is one minute (ie 20:30 then 19:30). A 60-minute runner can plan for a much wider split: 32 then 28 minutes would not be unreasonable.
If you’re fit and your ability is well-balanced, simply build yourself a 10-second safety margin within the first 3K, then take the rest of the race at an even pace to hit your target.