Your First 10K: Five Easy Steps

5 steps to your first 10K

Running doesn't get better than this. The 10K is a classic distance that covers all the bases - it's far enough to test you to the limit without shattering beginners in a way that a longer event can, yet short enough to be doable in a satisfyingly quick time, even if you are new to it. If you find the right course, it's a challenge that requires fitness, preparation and tactical thinking. It combines a mix of speed and endurance, and boy does it feel good when you reach the finish line with enough left in the tank to sprint for the crowds. You can do it, even if you're new to running, by following this five-step guide to training and racing the 6.2-miler. You'll gain a huge sense of achievement, plus a benchmark PB for that next race.

1. On your marks...

There's nothing like having the goal of competing in a race to focus the mind. "It gives you a target - and doing three sessions a week is enough to help you get fit," says RW contributing editor and running coach Nick Anderson (runningwithus.com).

Training for a race has many benefits, so you should enjoy training while gaining satisfaction from an end result. "Running is the best form of exercise for weight loss because it will help you shift pounds as well as get fit," says Anderson. "The 10K is a great mix of speed and endurance to help you achieve both of those goals."

It also releases
feel-good endorphins into the brain - so it's not all pain. "A race should be tough but training can be fun," says 5000m Commonwealth Games silver medallist and RW contributing editor Jo Pavey. "It can help lift self-esteem and fight depression."

The immovable goal
of a race date will also make you concentrate on healthy eating. "Running will help you eat well and snack sensibly," says Pavey. "The combination of eating healthily and running 10K can help lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, and strengthen your bones."

Training for a 10K
doesn't have to take over your life in the way preparing for a marathon can. "But it can help you be more organised," says Pavey. "The 10K allows you to set goals and train hard, but also enjoy the scenery and still have time to see friends."

2. Training right

There's nothing like having the goal of competing in a race to focus the mind. "It gives you a target - and doing three sessions a week is enough to help you get fit," says RW contributing editor and running coach Nick Anderson (runningwithus.com). Training for a race has many benefits, so you should enjoy training while gaining satisfaction from an end result. "Running is the best form of exercise for weight loss because it will help you shift pounds as well as get fit," says Anderson. "The 10K is a great mix of speed and endurance to help you achieve both of those goals." It also releases feel-good endorphins into the brain - so it's not all pain. "A race should be tough but training can be fun," says 5000m Commonwealth Games silver medallist and RW contributing editor Jo Pavey. "It can help lift self-esteem and fight depression." The immovable goal of a race date will also make you concentrate on healthy eating. "Running will help you eat well and snack sensibly," says Pavey. "The combination of eating healthily and running 10K can help lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, and strengthen your bones." Training for a 10K doesn't have to take over your life in the way preparing for a marathon can. "But it can help you be more organised," says Pavey. "The 10K allows you to set goals and train hard, but also enjoy the scenery and still have time to see friends."

3. Training Tweaks

Include longer, slow runs - you'll know that you can hit 10K if you've already run 12K or more recently. "In training, run these only one minute per mile slower than your target pace," says Anderson. "This will make 10K seem easier on race day." You don't have to do too many of these, however. "One 90-minute run every week or two is enough to give you a psychological lift and boost confidence," adds Pavey.

Cut the distance, too. "If you're doing one longer session a week, you don't need to spend the other two proving to yourself that you can run 10K - you know that already," says Anderson. Concentrate on shorter distances that combine speedwork and strength endurance (running at a consistent pace to get better at it) and that allow you to concentrate on refining your running technique so it is as efficient as possible.

Run uphill
. "It helps maintain posture  and it works against gravity, so it builds strength and power," says Anderson. "Most people do it too quickly, so don't fall into the trap of running up too fast  and walking back down. Run up a hill in control, and then 'fall forward' on the   way down. Most people tend to sprint,  but you should rein in your pace to protect your calf muscles."

Pavey agrees that it's the uphill bit that affects performance. "It will improve your sprint performance on the flat without the need to run fast downhill. Taking to the hills makes you run in a more efficient, functional way, so it can come in very handy for a sprint finish. It's good for mental strength, too," she adds. "Try a range of sessions, such as fartleks [random intervals of varying speed and intensity], longer, steadier runs, and hill sprints."

4. Make a change

Running isn't the only way to train for a 10K race. "Cross training is good, either when you are looking for a change or recovering from injury," says Pavey.

Cycling is good because it builds your quads and calves without having to pound the pavement. "It's also useful if you've had a running-related injury, because you can maintain a high volume of training at a good intensity, but there's no weight-bearing pressure on muscles and joints," says Pavey.

Swimming is ideal because it is 'no impact' - your body isn't in touch with a single solid object - but helps build a strong chest and shoulders. Upper-body strength is important to make your running motion biomechanically efficient. "Aqua jogging is good for you, too," adds Pavey. "It replicates the action of running, but it's non-weight bearing, so it can help prevent injury."

A good gym workout can be beneficial, too. Beware, because you don't want to build muscle for the sake of it - there is a good reason why elite distance athletes are lean - but a circuit using your own body weight and basic kit such as dumbbells and a Swiss ball can help tone and strengthen muscle without adding unnecessary mass.

To do a circuit, choose eight exercises and do them in order, mixing upper body and lower body moves with no rest in between. Upper body moves include press-ups and sit-ups. Lower body moves include lunges, squats and step-ups. If you're not sure how to do them, ask a personal trainer or running club member. Once you've completed one circuit, rest for two or three minutes before going again. You should complete at least two circuits, but aim for as many as you can. Do the circuit once or twice a week for four weeks, leaving at least one day in between workouts.

5. Get set

Race day is fast approaching. Here's what you should be doing to make sure you're in tip-top condition...

Taper your training
in the days leading up to the race. "Unless you're a very high-volume athlete, you can taper for just one week prior to any race lasting an hour or less. During that week, cut total training volume by 50-60 per cent, and divide what's left equally between high intensity work and recovery," says coach Steve Lumley.

Recce the route. "Walk or cycle the course two days before the event," says Frank Shorter, former Olympic marathon champion and author of Running For Peak Performance (£9.99, Dorling Kindersley). This will give you information on hazards such as sharp bends, potholes - always likely on UK roads - or high kerbs. But if you can't do that, examine a course map, says Pavey: "I couldn't get to New York to do a recce before the marathon, but I did get a map that showed the elevation of the course. So I was still able to study it and prepare accordingly."

Make sure you know
your kit without  being so overfamiliar with it that it smells. "Don't try anything new on race day - stick with what you like from training," says Pavey. "Does your clothing rub in certain areas? This can be a particular problem for women in crop-tops as the seam can sometimes be in an awkward place, so you need to know in advance if and where you may need to apply Vaseline.

Tactics are down to you
, depending on your level of fitness. But one good trick for beginners is disassociation, or diverting your attention from what you are doing: "It's the habit of thinking about being somewhere other than where you happen to be," says Shorter. "Disassociate and go relatively easy for the first half of the race to avoid burning out. Associate in the second half when the going gets tough."

Aim to run negative splits
. This is basically the concept of getting faster as a race progresses, and ultimately, in this case, means your second 5K should be faster than your first. "This is also where it helps to know the route and any elevations, so you can plan your tactics in advance," says Pavey. "If one split is uphill, you need to take that into account. Many PBs and world records are run in negative splits, so you're still fresh near the end. But don't sell yourself short!"

Drink two litres of water
the day before the race. "Most people use up 1.2-1.5 litres of water a day just being sedentary, so make sure you are well hydrated for the race by adding a bit extra," says nutritionist Sarah Schenker. "Consider the heat on race day: temperature can have a huge impact - you could lose double the amount you usually  lose in hot weather."

But don't overdo it
at the drinks stations around the course. Hyponatraemia is a condition caused by low blood sodium levels, and has become more common in recent years as people exercise harder, for longer, and hydrate more as a result. It happens when you drink too much, to the point where excess fluid lowers the  concentration of sodium in the blood. In extreme cases, it can lead to brain seizures and death.

Work out what you need
by weighing yourself before and after training, says professor of human nutrition Adam Carey (corperformance.co.uk). "Weight in grams is the same as fluid in millilitres. So if you've lost 60g in training, that's equivalent to 60ml. But to stay topped up you should replace one-and-a-half times your fluid loss, so in this case take on 90ml."

Don't be scared!
Pre-race nerves are OK but shouldn't stop you performing your best. Use visualisation techniques in training. "As you familiarise yourself with the course, visualise yourself successfully completing the race," says Shorter. "When you get out there on race day, you'll find it seems a little more familiar than it would otherwise."

On the day of the race, don't be afraid to harness the support of the crowd. The motivating effect of cheering spectators can't be overestimated if you're starting to lose faith in yourself. "If you have enough energy left in you, a timely cheer from the  crowd has the same effect as being able  to see the finish line," says sports psychologist Jeremy Lazarus (winningatsport.com). "You get a rush of adrenaline and forget your pain."