How To Run A Better 10-mile Race

1. A 10-mile race is the best predictor of your fitness level, because you run the race at lactate threshold pace (the speed above which lactate begins to pile up in your blood). Compared to maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and running economy – two other variables often used to gauge fitness – lactate threshold is a much better indicator of your running prowess.

For example, you could have a tremendously high VO2 max and still run poorly if your lactate threshold were low, because all attempts to run at faster than threshold pace would produce searing distress signals in your legs and lungs.

On the other hand, you could have a modest VO2 max and still be an excellent competitor if your lactate threshold were high, because you could run at close to your maximal pace without having your leg muscles go into a lactate frenzy.

2. If your 10K times are fairly consistent, you can easily predict your expected 10-mile race pace. It should be about 12-15 seconds per mile slower than your 10K speed, provided the terrain, wind and temperature on the course are similar to conditions you encountered in your 10Ks.

3. If you haven’t run any 10Ks recently, you can work out your 10-mile pace from some current 5Ks. Generally, your 10-mile speed will be about 25 seconds per mile slower than 5K pace. What’s more, a few training sessions at 5K speed can help your 10-mile efforts.

To use 5K pace in a session, simply warm up and then run four-minute intervals at 5K speed, with easy three-minute recoveries.

The nice thing about this session is that it makes 10-mile pace feel like a Sunday afternoon stroll in your local park.

4. It’s even possible to forecast your 10-mile performance from your mile or marathon times, although they are less accurate than a recent 10K time. Generally, you’ll run a 10-mile race about 55-65 seconds per mile slower than a mile race, or 20 seconds faster than a marathon. If you usually run the marathon at eight minute/mile pace, for example, you can expect to handle 7:40 minute/ mile pace during a 10-miler.

5. For reasons which have often baffled the exercise physiologist, great 10-mile racers tend to be smaller in stature than outstanding milers and 3000m specialists. That’s somewhat puzzling, since small runners actually have more surface area per unit of body mass, and thus are more handicapped by air (and wind) resistance. The key may be that a large, muscular body is better able to meet the anaerobic high-powered demands of the shorter races. Another surprising fact is that, within a group of 10-mile racers with comparable times, shorter individuals tend to fare better on hilly courses, while taller runners rule the day on pancake-flat ground.

6. Since you’ll run your 10-mile race around 15 seconds per mile slower than your 10K tempo, it’s easy to plan excellent preparatory training sessions for a forthcoming 10-miler. Here are two beauties which will make 10-mile race pace easier for you to handle:
  • Warm up by jogging easily for two miles, and then run four miles at a tempo 15 seconds per mile slower than your 10K speed. Cool down with an easy one-mile jog.
  • Alternatively, simply run easily for three miles, run two miles at 10-mile pace, run lightly for three miles, and then finish with two miles at 10-mile pace. This session makes 10-mile pace feel more familiar and makes you feel more comfortable with the distance.
7. If you’re a novice at 10-mile racing, an excellent way to learn to handle the stresses of the distance is to gradually increase your long training runs until you can cover 10 miles at an easy pace without too much trouble. Then, during your 10-mile training runs, add a 30-second burst at about your 10K speed after every mile. After trying this a couple of times, increase the bursts to one minute after each mile, and eventually work up to two minutes.

Once you can handle the two-minute accelerations, change the session so that you jog the first five miles at a pace about 45 seconds per mile slower that your expected 10-mile speed, and then alternate three-minute bursts at 10K pace with three minutes of easy jogging for the final five miles.

8. If you’re a careful carbohydrate eater, with at least 60 per cent of your daily calories coming from carbohydrate, you won’t need to do any specific carbo-loading prior to your 10-mile race, unless the course is hilly. If you’re racing on flat ground, carbo-loading doesn’t boost competitive ability until the distance reaches 20K or so.

However, hill running depletes muscle glycogen so rapidly that carbo-loading helps you whenever the course is longer than 11K. (Obviously, undulating 10-mile courses also qualify.) Carbo-loading is easy: simply take in four grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight daily for three days prior to the race.

9. Sipping a sports drink during your 10-miler probably won’t get you to the finish line sooner unless you run more slowly than about eight minute/miles, because sports drinks don’t normally boost performance in races that take less than 75-80 minutes.

10. It takes about two weeks for the physiological benefits of a session to appear in your body, and extra-hard training two weeks before a race can be counter-productive.

Taper your training for two weeks before race day. The best way to do this is to reduce your mileage by about 60 per cent and carry out a few decent-intensity efforts. Focus on greatly-reduced interval sessions in which you use both 5K and 10-mile pace during 800m intervals, but complete a third to a half of your normal number of reps.