10K Round The Table

In the RUNNER’S WORLD editorial offices a while ago we were kicking around training and racing ideas for the 10K. On the staff are runners aiming to break 32 minutes – and some who will be lucky to go under the hour! But we were all asking the same questions, so we decided to get some tips from our Advisory Board. Passing on the benefits of their experience were RW coaching editor Bruce Tulloh; US editor Owen Anderson, for the sports science angle; Charlie Spedding, England’s fastest-ever marathon runner, who has a 10K PB of 28:11; and Harry Wilson, coach to former 10,000m star Jill Hunter.

Their themes: pacing, pain, training on 3 runs a week, key sessions for sub-40 and sub-33 minutes, ideal build-up length, over-distance training, tactics and warming up.


I never seem to be able to run a consistent 10K – my pacing is way off. Should I divide my target time by 6.2 and run level pace, or start faster and then hang on in miles four, five and six?

Wilson: Try to run close to level pace for the first few miles. If you can hold this to five miles, you may be able to speed up over the last mile. Remember, though, that level pace is not the same as level effort, and you will have to work harder towards the end to maintain level pace.

Anderson: Remember that the first few minutes of a 10K set the stage on which the rest of the race is acted out. If you fly away at the start, lactic acid will flood your legs. Research suggests that the optimal pacing strategy is either 50-50 or 51-49 (ie the first 5K occupies 51 per cent of the total time). Although it sounds like a paradox, you will usually achieve a faster time with a slower first half.

Spedding: Run level pace. You should practise running this pace by doing timed miles in training. If possible, do them on a track, so that you can check your time every quarter-mile. In the race, if your first mile is too fast, try to run the second mile at level pace.

Tulloh: No one approves of fast starts – except the Kenyans!


10K may be a relatively short distance after running a marathon, but it is much more painful. How do you cope with the discomfort?

Spedding: In any race, the greater your desire to succeed, the less you notice the pain. If you concentrate hard on your goal and on the way the race is going, you rise above the pain.

Wilson: Yes, it can hurt to run a fast 10K, and it can be hard to keep your concentration. However, you overcome this by regular, disciplined training and by ensuring that your training is varied and progressive. As you get fitter, step up the quality and the quantity of your training. Some sessions are moderately hard and some very hard. You have to get used to pushing yourself close to the maximum on some occasions.

Anderson: Extreme mental discomfort during 10K races is usually the result of poor race strategy. If you have warmed up properly and run the first two or three miles sensibly, you will be more relaxed and will suffer less. If your legs hurt, don’t ignore them, but focus on them and try to relax a little or change the stride length. If your breathing hurts, relax your chest and diaphragm muscles and concentrate on breathing deeply and smoothly.

Tulloh: If you are in pain in the early stages, you’re running too fast. Towards the end, your drive to succeed should temporarily override the feelings of pain.


I only have the time to run three times a week. What is the ideal schedule which includes all the elements needed – a long run, a steady run and a speed session?

Anderson:
Work-out One: 45-60 minutes easy, a minute or so per mile slower than race speed.
Work-out Two: a lactate threshold session. After warming up, run 25 minutes at a speed 12 seconds per mile slower than race speed, then warm down. Work-out Three: 4-5 x 1200m at 5K race speed. Recovery time should be equal to or less than running time, gradually decreasing. Alternately, try to run in shorter, faster bursts, up hills or over 400m.

Wilson: I suggest that you operate on a two-week cycle in order to ensure that your programme contains the right balance, but don’t expect too much from relatively light training. The six sessions that I would include are:

  1. 10M steady.
  2. 6M, with the first mile at race pace, the next four-and-a-half a little slower, and the last half-mile faster than race pace.
  3. 8M steady.
  4. A repetition session of 6 x 1200m on road or grass, with 90-120 seconds recovery, trying to improve each session.
  5. 12M easy.
  6. Warm up, then four to five miles fast, warm down.

Spedding: A four-week cycle, with three steady runs in the first week, one speed session in the second week, a long run in the third and one steady, one long and one speed in the final week.

Tulloh: Once the athlete has got used to running seven to eight miles in one session, they should train hard each time – for example, one session of repetition miles or kilometres, one session of interval or hill training, and one where they are running a fast three or four miles in the middle of the run.


What is the key session for a runner wanting to beat 40 minutes?

Tulloh: Long repetition runs, over 1000-2000m, at faster than race pace.

Wilson: There is no single session. You need a balance, as I have suggested above.

Spedding: I never like pulling out one session, but I suppose the 3 x 1M or 6 x 800m, faster than race pace, is the most useful.

Anderson: There are two possibilities – a 5K race run in about 19:16, or 4 x 2000m in eight minutes each, with a two-minute recovery.


What is the most important session for runners who are aiming for a fast 10K, in the 28:00-33:00 range?

Spedding: A speed endurance session, like the one outlined above, but in this case the miles will be at sub-4:30 pace, rather than at six-minute pace.

Anderson: The critical session is a structured fartlek work-out, covering 10K of total distance, with fast bursts of two to three minutes alternated with one minute easy. At the start, run the fast stretches slower than race speed, but increase the pace as the session goes on.

Tulloh: I agree with Charlie. The long repetition runs are what really make a top-class 10K runner.


What is the ideal build-up to a big race, and how many quality 10Ks are possible as part of it?

Wilson: I’d go for a quality 10K once every four weeks during the summer season, with an under- or over-distance race in the intervening two weeks. This would give you five major and five minor races in the May-September period. Don’t forget that you will have to ease off the training once a month, before the big effort.

Anderson: There is no scientific evidence available on this topic, but most runners can handle about two high-effort 10Ks per month for several months.

Spedding: A peak cannot be held for very long. I would favour a six- to 10-week build-up, with three or four quality races at the end of it, one or two weeks apart.

Tulloh: It all depends upon the intensity of the races you run. The harder you push yourself, the fewer you can manage. Once you’re race fit, you could probably run five good 10Ks on the road, with one or two weeks between, before you started to go off the boil. The build-up before that would need to be six to eight weeks of progressive training.


Should over-distance training form a major part of 10K preparation?

Spedding: Definitely. It is the endurance work which determines what sort of runner you are. The speed work is just fine-tuning. I would suggest regular runs of 10 miles, or maybe more.

Wilson: Yes. I think that you need over-distance racing as well as training.

Anderson: Moderately-paced 10M runs boost the aerobic capabilities of less experienced runners, but probably have little effect on VO2max in well-trained ones. A 10-mile race is nearly perfect, because it’s run at lactate threshold pace; it offers excellent mental and physical preparation for a 10K.

Tulloh: The more I see of runners, the more I am convinced that it is their aerobic capacity which can be improved most. I went up to 15-20M runs when I was running 10,000m seriously. This gave me the mental confidence and the endurance to do my hard 10K sessions.


Race tactics – what are the options in a 10K, and what are the best ways to use them?

Anderson: Start more slowly than your average goal pace. ‘Draft’ behind other runners to save energy. Accelerate round corners and over the tops of hills to shake people off, and try to save a little energy to out-kick tired opponents at the finish.

Spedding: For 99 per cent of runners, level pace is the right approach, but for the one per cent who are running to win, rather than for a time, I suggest settling in behind someone and then making a break before the finish. Leaving it until the last 100 metres is too much of a risk. If you’re feeling really strong, or lack speed, I don’t recommend going straight out from the start. If you wait for a couple of miles, you still have plenty of time to get away, and you can judge the pace better.

Wilson: Race tactics depend on your level of fitness. If everything points to a 35-minute 10K, it’s stupid to set off at five minute/ mile pace. Self-knowledge and pace judgement are essential. However, it’s important to learn whether you’re capable of producing a fast finish when you’re tired. If you are, and you’re interested in winning rather than running a PB, then you can sit in with the leaders at a pace below your maximum, confident that you can speed up at the end. In general, it’s important to position yourself properly on the road; running the bends too wide can add up to a lot in a 10K.

Tulloh: There are really two basic tactics – front-running and sitting-in. If you lack finishing speed, you’ve got to get out in front at some stage and try to open up a gap. Learning to run hills well is very important, as well.


How much warming up do you need to do before a 10K?

Anderson: Jog lightly for 5-10 minutes, then do some light stretching. Continue gentle jogging and run a couple of 100m strides at race pace five minutes before the start. Continue jogging until the start of the race, trying to relax and to eliminate stressful thoughts.

Wilson: On hot and humid days, you have to be careful not to dehydrate during the warm-up, but on cold days you will need longer than usual. For typical British conditions I suggest 10-15 minutes jogging, five minutes of gentle stretching and three or four relaxed strides over 80m. Give yourself two minutes before the start to build up mental concentration.

Tulloh: I like to be at the start 30 minutes early. This gives me time to walk-jog over the last mile of the course and do some easy strides on the way back. During the race, knowledge of the course is vital. Ten minutes before the start I do two or three faster strides over 50m, then try to stay warm and loose while lining up.