The 10k is a classic distance for any runner. For many, venturing into the world of racing 6.2 miles comes at the start of their running journey, due to the many 10k races in the calendar, but it’s also an ever-present for runners who have been doing this for a while. The 10k offers something of a sweet spot between the all-out feeling of running a 5k as hard as you can, and that gradual build of a half marathon, but it’s a distance that requires discipline and grit to get right.
Here are our top ten ways to run better 10ks.
The 10k requires a great aerobic base. It’s great for your overall fitness and as a means to avoid injury if you can build some of this away from running. Building a base through another form of aerobic exercise such as cycling, swimming and rowing can mean your base gets bigger and more adaptable as you build your fitness. Try to dedicate at least one cross training day a week into your plans, but never do it in place of a rest day.
Whether you’re just starting out or are an experienced runner looking to run your 10k faster, you need to have a good long lead in training to be able to run a good 10k. We recommend a good build up of between six to eight weeks before your target race, allowing time to build up, get faster and back off to taper the volume of work down before your big race. Great gains for 10k racing don’t come overnight, but the good news is that they can be achieved in less time than equivalent gains in, say, a marathon.
Good 10k fitness comes from a mixture of long easy running, sharp effort and interval work, and some long reps training. Running with Us coach Nick Anderson suggests key sessions for a faster 10k should include long runs of up to 90 minutes, and a weekly 10k paced workout such as mile reps (a mile at 10k pace with 90 seconds recovery four or five times) or eight to ten times three minutes with 90 seconds recovery. It’s good to get advice from a running coach on the types of sessions and pace that are particularly likely to make you go faster. There are some great ideas in Nick’s blog.
Easy running is important for building aerobic base and for recovery from harder workouts. Running at easy pace doesn’t come naturally to everyone and it might feel strange to consider it as just as important as the hard stuff when you’re working towards a race. Your easy runs should sit within what you might see as ‘Zone 1’ running if you use Strava or Garmin to track your workouts, or 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. If you want a less scientific approach than this, look at your easy runs as those where if you ran with a friend, you’d be able to hold a conversation with them all the way. Find some joy in slowing down.
To get a 10k race right you have to learn to pace it correctly. For some people, that might be taking the first 5k steady then picking up in the second half, while for others it may be more comfortable to run each kilometre or mile split consistently. Some of this is personal choice, so practice a few ways of pacing in your longer steady runs and see what works best for you. The only method of pacing that doesn’t usually go to plan is starting off hard and seeing how long you can hang on. You will probably end up feeling miserable and a little beaten up by the end.
You can buy all the recovery drinks, clothes and shortcuts you want but the greatest recovery tool of all is much simpler than that: actual rest. Recovery is key in helping you to get the best from your training but it can often be overlooked as you focus on your goal. Endurance coach and physiologist Dan Robinson says “it might sound too simple but the one thing every runner needs more of is sleep.” Allowing yourself time to recharge, even if that’s just by going to bed ten minutes earlier each night, can make a big difference to how you adapt to your training.
Running hard is key in learning to cope with what the 10k might throw at you. 5k time trials (hard efforts to see how fast you can finish) run regularly over the same course will not only teach you how to pace, handle hard effort and learn your race pace, but they will also show how you are progressing through your training. Using your local parkrun allows you a timed run with many elements of racing without the price tag or the additional pressure if it doesn’t quite go to plan.
Many runners prefer to train alone, and that’s fine. Running solo is character building and can teach you a lot about how you handle hard effort when there’s nobody chasing you. But the truth is that there will be people there on race day. Giving yourself the experience of running in a pack at least occasionally, whether at a running club or parkrun or a tune up race can help you to manage your pacing and gear your mind up into a racing mentality. Enlist some running buddies and get a steady run planned.
Running a 10k hard is going to bite at some stage. Keeping the tempo up for 6.2 miles requires you to accept that it may hurt. We’re not talking about getting injured, but you should be stepping out of your comfort zone. Running sessions and workouts that aren’t always easy gets your body and mind used to the feeling, so when it comes to race day you’re equipped to handle it for longer. It’s a great feeling when you finish a race knowing you gave it everything you could.
Not all 10ks are equal! You will find stacks of 10k races most weekends of the year ranging from fun runs, off-road, trail, track, and everything in between. Find out what suits you and choose flat, fast courses with good surface underfoot if you are hunting a PB.