Perfect 10

Ten kilometres – or 6.2 miles – is the perfect distance over which to test your endurance and speed, whatever your running pedigree. For new runners it’s a challenging but achievable step up from 5K, and it’s a great speed sharpener for those who prefer to focus on longer races. 

‘It’s not just endurance you need – it’s speed endurance, the ability to sustain your pace for a prolonged period,’ says Julian Goater, a running coach and author of The Art of Running Faster (Human Kinetics). Physiologically, this means that a high aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and lactate threshold are equally important assets, so a balance of VO2 max sessions, such as intervals, and tempo runs to raise lactate threshold, are on the training menu.

‘Running faster than your goal race pace will make race pace feel easier,’ says Goater. ‘But break it down into reps to make it more manageable.’ A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that experienced runners who replaced some moderate-paced miles with three or four sessions of short efforts at 95 per cent of maximum speed improved their 10K time by an average of one minute.

Training at your goal pace is also important. ‘The closer you are able to perform workouts that mimic the physical demands of a race, the better you’ll get at racing that distance,’ says running coach Jeff Gaudette (runnersconnect.net). Another great thing about a 10K is that it’s a race in which you can take a few risks. While going off too fast might make the latter stages of the race uncomfortable, it won’t destroy your race altogether. And if you do get it wrong first-time round, you can give that PB another go a couple of weeks later. Even better, once you get back to those longer distances, you’ll probably find your 10K training has paid dividends. Ready to discover the power of ten? Here are training plans for those targeting sub-40, sub-50 and sub-60-minute finishes.

Break 60 mins

WHO’S UP FOR IT? 
First-timers with a good level of fitness and those with experience of going sub-30 for 5K

Pace: 9.35 min/mile

This eight-week programme consists of three challenging sessions per fortnight, mixing race-pace efforts with fartlek (‘speed play’), hills and tempo running, and, in the latter stages, some intervals to hone speed. ‘Fartlek helps you get used to the feeling of running hard and recovering, without being too structured,’ says Goater. The bulk of the plan’s sessions, though, should be run at a comfortable pace to build the endurance you’ll need. A 5K race or Parkrun halfway through will allow you to assess your progress and ensure your goal time is realistic. If you haven’t raced before, it’s advisable to try a 5K before you double up.

Choose the right race

Many beginners pick large events for their debuts, but being stuck behind hundreds of runners isn’t the best way to bag a PB. Choose a race that is PB-friendly but not overly serious and competitive. It needn’t be pancake flat – if there are a few undulations, you’ll often make back on the downhills what you lose on the climbs.

Work on your form

Improving your running form will help you to run more efficiently, so you use less energy and reduce your chances of injury. ‘Your feet should land quietly and move quickly and lightly,’ says Goater. He recommends running up short, shallow steps to improve leg turnover, or trying to land your foot on every paving stone. ‘You should feel as if you’re falling forward, and that it’s only by bringing your legs through quickly that you stop yourself from falling,’ he says.

Good hydration

By all means, carry a drink with you, but it’s not necessary in a 10K race if you are looking to complete it in around an hour – it’s not long enough for you to risk dehydration and is likely to slow you down.

Slow and steady

‘Focus on running a patient race over the first mile and then attack the course for the last mile,’ suggests Gaudette. But remember, even if you run even splits, it will feel harder towards the end. Dig in!

Arm up

Feel yourself flagging? Focus on your arms. ‘If you move your arms quicker, you’ll drive your legs faster, too,’ says Goater.

Pace predictor

Multiply your 5K time by 2.1.

Break 50:00

WHO’S UP FOR IT?

Runners with some 5K or 10K race experience who are capable of around 25 mins for 5K

Pace: 8:00 min/miles

The programme consists of two challenging sessions per week, but with the elements – speedwork, hills, tempo running and goal-pace reps – spread over a fortnight. The race-specific efforts progress from your current 10K pace to goal 10K pace, with tempo training to boost lactate threshold, and intervals and hills to build strength and speed. Don’t feel that you have to do the intervals on a track. In fact, Goater recommends varying your running surfaces to avoid injury. ‘Speedwork can be done on hills, parkland, playing fields or woodland trails,’ he says. 

Divide and conquer

According to legendary coach Jack Daniels, a 10K race really begins at the four-mile (6.5K) mark. ‘Up to that point, you need to see how relaxed you can remain while sticking with the pace,’ he says. Olympian Jo Pavey, a 10,000m specialist, agrees. She recommends splitting the race into three chunks and handling each one differently. ‘Doable pace for the first two miles, push a bit in the middle two, then go hard for the last two,’ she says.

Perk run

Gear yourself up for the race with a coffee or a caffeinated gel. Caffeine helps to reduce your perception of effort when you’re running. Nathan Lewis, a sports nutritionist with the English Institute of Sport, says one pre-10K dose will suffice. ‘Taking it 45-60 minutes before the race gives time for its effects 
to take hold.’ A study in the Journal of Sport Sciences found that a caffeine dose of 3mg per kg of body weight, taken one hour before an 8K race, improved performance by an average of 23 seconds.

Spit it out

You’re not going to run out of glycogen in a 10K, so don’t really need a sports drink or gel, but research has found that swishing a sports drink around your mouth for 10-20 seconds and then spitting it out can help to enhance time-trial performance and lessen fatigue. This chimes well with the so-called ‘central governor theory’, which holds that it’s the brain, not the muscular system, that dictates fatigue. ‘Mouth-swilling reassures the brain that there is plenty of energy supply available,’ says Lewis.

Perfect pace

Use this nifty tool to see what pace you’ll need to sustain at during different segments of the race: runnersconnect.net/race-plan-10k-race

Break 40:mins

WHO’S UP FOR IT?

Experienced runners who are already running below or close to 20 mins for 5K

Pace: 6:25 min/miles

The programme consists of two challenging sessions per week, mixing fortnightly race-specific efforts at goal pace with tempo training to boost lactate threshold, and above-race-pace intervals or hills to build strength and speed. The remainder of the sessions are easy running for aerobic development and recovery. The 5K Parkrun or race will give you a chance to assess your progress.

Do the splits

Most coaches recommend running even mile splits, or a slight negative split, running the first half of the race slightly slower than the second half. ‘Every world record from the 1500 metres to the marathon has been set running negative splits,’ says Gaudette. ‘This means you don’t want to run the first mile too fast, but this can be difficult and will require focus.’

No pain no gain

Maintaining a pace that isn’t far off your 5K pace for twice as long will hurt. Concentrate on your goal; that way, the prospect of going under 40 minutes will help you rise above the discomfort, says Andy Lane, a professor of sport psychology. Try not to ‘drift off’ mid-race: research has found that focusing internally was the best bet during high-intensity efforts. 

Be race ready

Don’t just jog in your warm-up, advises Alex Hutchinson, author of Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? (£9.05, Harper). ‘It takes time for your oxygen-delivery system to get up to full speed, but researchers have found that you can prime it by doing a hard effort prior to a race.’ After you’ve jogged yourself warm, try running for about two minutes at race pace, aiming to finish about five minutes before you toe the line.

Lighten up

Wearing lighter racing flats can boost your speed. A recent study from the University of Colorado found that every 100g of increased shoe (or foot) mass was associated with about a one per cent increase in oxygen consumption.

Tuck in

The faster you’re running, the greater the energy cost of overcoming wind resistance. So running in a fellow runner’s slipstream could be a smart move even on a still day. If it’s windy, drafting is a must to conserve energy – it takes three to nine per cent more energy to overcome a head wind.