How to run your best 10K race

It’s vital to warm up thoroughly before a 10K race. A good warm-up enhances the power of your leg muscles, increases the flow of blood to your heart muscles and advances your pulse rate to the 120-150 beats per minute range. The latter two effects get your heart ready to handle the opening moments of the race without undue stress. Jog for about 8-10 minutes, and then don’t stand around for more than about two minutes before the race actually begins. If you loiter for longer than that, you lose most of the benefits of your warm-up.

During the first 30-60 seconds of the race, most of the energy needed to push you forward will be provided anaerobically. This doesn’t mean that there’s no oxygen inside your leg muscle cells, it’s just that there’s not enough oxygen to meet the demands of the early pace. It takes some time for your heart to shift to higher stroking levels, and it also takes time for a fresh onslaught of blood to be sent through the lungs to acquire oxygen. There’s a further delay while the newly-oxygenated blood streams down your aorta towards your legs. While your leg muscles wait for their ‘aerobic diet’ to begin, they function anaerobically, breaking down glucose to form, ultimately, lactic acid, with no oxygen required.

This anaerobic process is the most important source of energy during the first minute of your race, and it continues to be essential throughout. In the 10K you walk (or rather run) a fine line; a certain amount of lactate creation is fine, but your performance will suffer if you produce too much lactic acid early in the race (by going too fast in the first mile or two, for example). In fact, it’s important to start your 10Ks with ‘twin miles’ – two miles run at an identical, reasonable pace. That’s because research shows that 10K competitors usually run the third mile at the speed used during the second mile of the race.

After running twin miles and a similar or slightly faster third mile, you’re ready to open things up a bit during the second half of the race, especially in the last mile. That’s when you can rely on lactate production to provide the extra energy needed as you near the finish line.

Hilly courses require some additional thought. The problem is that the inevitable losses in speed on uphill sections of a course are never fully balanced by gains in speed on downhills. Many runners try to compensate by charging up hills, but like a rapid start, this leads to unduly high lactate levels and problems in maintaining your pace.

The solution is to run comfortably on the uphills at a pace which is slower than you’d really like, so as to keep your heart and breathing rates from rising dramatically. Although this strategy will lose you time on the uphills, you’ll be ready to attack the level and downhill sections of the course. Once your race is over, jog or walk for a few minutes. During running, leg-muscle contractions push blood from your legs up to your heart in an attempt to get it to beat faster. Of course, your heart is still pounding heavily from your exertions, so standing around can be taxing on your ticker. If you warm up effectively, run ‘twin miles’, avoid hill burn-outs and maintain a fairly steady pace, you’ll be ready to finish with a furious kick. When you understand the limits of your body and race within those boundaries, you will enjoy more comfortable – and ultimately faster – 10K races.