10K Training for Distance Runners

10K Training for Distance Runners

My first real road race was a 10K race in April 2014. I had been running since 2008 and finally wanted to try racing as grad school wrapped up and I craved a new outlet for my desire to work hard towards a goal. I trained for that following the Hal Higdon Intermediate 10K plan, because I needed the structure of the plan to balance out the craziness of my final semester of graduate school. I ran tempo runs and quarter mile repeats on my treadmill since I was too nervous to run outside in the early morning by myself. I was exhilarated when I crossed the finish line of that race with a time of 50:15. I was so freaking proud that I held an 8:05/mile pace for 6.2 miles.

Three years later and I’ve qualified for Boston, yet 10K training intimidates me. And racing intimidates me even more; there are no comfortable ease-in miles as there are in the half marathon or marathon. Both the marathon and half marathon are decently comfortable, or at least comfortably hard, for about the first half to two-thirds of the race. After a proper warm up before the race, it’s just hard from the start. Quite simply put, racing a 10K is not within my comfort zone.

Many distance runners say the same thing about the 10K: you are holding an uncomfortable pace for a long amount of time. However, the 10K offers distance runners the opportunity to develop speed while still maintaining their endurance and, for half marathoners, the training is similar enough to not be entirely intimidating.

But, how exactly do you train specifically for a 10K when you’re a distance runner? Traditionally, runners associate 10K training with shorter repeats on the track, but that’s not playing to the strengths of a marathoner. 10K pace may be only 10-15 seconds per mile slower than 5K pace, but it is still faster than your lactate threshold for most runners.  Slow-twitch dominant runners don’t have to hit the track for their fastest 5K – instead, 10K training for a distance runner plays to their strengths: endurance, threshold training, and fatigue resistance.

10K Training for Distance Runners

10K Training for a Distance Runner

Focus on Your Strength

The renowned coach Jack Daniels believes that an ideal 10K training plan incorporates a mix of various workouts and runners must adjust the ratios of those workouts to train to their strengths. As he explains in Daniels Running Formula, the ideal 10K training plan “maximizes aerobic power, economy of movement, and lactate threshold, which requires a good mix of R [repetition pace] running, I [interval pace] training, and T [threshold pace] running.” He also points out that “some runners find more success by concentrating on one of these systems, while others may be better off emphasizing another approach.”

Essentially, to run your best in the 10K, you must know how you respond to interval training and threshold training and be able to adapt your training plan to optimize your strengths (or hire a coach who can do so). If you’re a short distance runner who responds well to interval training, you will likely benefit from lots of speed work at 10K to 3K (2 mile) pace. However, if your strongest distances are the half marathon and marathon, then a majority of your hard workouts are best spent training at half marathon to 10K pace, with some 3K-5K pace repeats sprinkled in.

As Brad Hudson explains in his Run Faster from the 5K to Marathon, “It’s important to know your event-specific strength and weakness for the race you plan to peak next because it affects how you ought to training. In particular, your specific-endurance training should be based in your strength and move toward your weakness.”

Using the example of the 10K, Hudson explains to examine whether you are better at the 5K or half marathon. If you are better at the 5K, then you are best starting with shorter and faster interval workouts and gradually extending your speed over longer and longer distances until you reach your peak 10K race workout. Runners who are better at the half marathon – i.e. long distance runners – will train best by starting with longer repeats such as 1K or mile repeats and gradually increasing their speed over those repeats.

Incorporate Plyometrics for Power and Speed

Strength training such as squats, planks, and pushups will improve running and reduce risk of injury. But if you really want to run a faster race, adding plyometrics into training will yield even more improvements in speed.

10K Training for Distance Runners

A 2014 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that middle distance and long distance runners will see more improvements from plyometrics than they will from strength training alone. According to the researchers, a “properly programmed concurrent explosive strength and endurance training could be advantageous for middle- and long-distance runners in their competitive performance, especially in events characterized by sprinting actions with small time differences at the end of the race.

If you are a long distance runner and focus a majority of your 10K training workouts on threshold training and goal 10K pace training, then plyometrics offer the chance for you to build power and improve your running economy outside of running. Plyometrics include any jumping exercises, such as squat jumps, lunge jumps, single leg hops, and box jumps. 

Include Specific Endurance 10K Workouts

400 meter and 800 meter repeats are certainly valuable for developing speed and improving running economy – but they are not the only types of workouts that will improve 10K time. In fact, longer repeats will improve your ability to sustain a pace faster than your lactate threshold over a prolonged period of time.

If you want to run a specific time in the 10K, you need to train at that specific pace. Every 7-10 days, you want to include one of these workouts in your plan, progressing in the distance and or/pace (depending on your strengths as discussed above). The number of intervals is based on your current level of fitness, weekly mileage, and goals.

10K Specific Workouts:

6-8 x 1K at 10K pace
4-6 x 1 mile at 10K pace
4-5 x 2K at 10K pace
2-3 x 2 miles at 10K pace

Combo workouts with tempo miles and faster intervals are also valuable in 10K training, as they teach you how to run faster after running at your threshold pace for a few miles – exactly what you need to finish strong in the 10K.  

10K Training for Distance Runners

Don’t Ditch The Long Run

Don’t neglect your endurance when training for a 10K. At least for the long distance runner, if you can only do two hard runs per week, do a hard 10K-specific workout and a long run each week (and add some “stuff” such as progressions or fartleks to that long run) rather than two shorter speed workouts.

Long distance runners are fatigue resistant, which will give you the ability to outlast other runners in your age group (or the race as a whole). Long runs develop endurance and resistance to fatigue, so don’t sacrifice your strengths just to follow a training plan that your friend is using or that you found online for free.

Racing shorter and faster distances such as the 10K doesn’t have to be intimidating for the long distance runner. In fact, devoting a training cycle to a shorter distance such as the 10K may actually help you break through a plateau and PR in the half marathon and marathon. Or even, you may just discover a new distance that you enjoy racing. 

[Tweet “Training for a #10K when you are prefer long slow distance? Follow these training tips from @thisrunrecipes #running “]

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21 Responses

  1. I think that I actually do better racing shorter distances, maybe because Im not quite as scared to run a challenging pace. However, I feel much more comfortable training for and racing longer distances. I finally ran a 10k PR last year but I do think i have a faster time in me. I enjoyed doing 10k workouts last winter/spring. I just added one tempo-type run into my weekly training and was able to keep doing a few other easy runs and a long run.

  2. I like a 10K! I never trained specifically for a 10k race but I have run a few of them and always look for them on race calendars. they aren’t easy but I certainly like them better than a 5k because I don’t want to throw up as much as I do when I have run 5k races (not that I have run more than like 1 or 2 5ks lol).

  3. I am WAY better at distance. The longer the race, the higher my rank. My body is so primal as far as endurance goes. I’d be one of village women that fetches water from the well each morning and afternoon with her children piled on her back and fruit on my head.

  4. My first ever race (as an adult) was the St Paddy’s Day Dash in Seattle (I think it was about 3.7 miles). I often think if I am/would be stronger at shorter distance races vs longer. Honestly, I am not sure…based on times that I will sometimes have for short-ish intervals, sometimes I think maybe I am built for speed (ha!), but my brain definitely gets a lot of satisfaction out of the longer runs.

    I am so excited to have you race the upcoming 10k and how your body adapts to the varied training method (a bit of variance, anyway).

  5. The first distance race I ran as the Broad Street Run in Philly – 10 miles. I’ve never specifically trained for a 10K – I have to admit it looks pretty complicated! I feel more comfortable running half marathons than 5K’s but I’m not sure if that means I’m better at them, haha!

  6. This is really interesting! I have done many half marathons (like, 31) and several 10K’s…but have never actually trained for the 10K distance. I guess I kind of take it for granted because I know I can easily run that distance without much effort…..though I’m not especially fast (I’m more of an endurance-gifted gal than speed).

  7. I think I am a stronger speed runner, but most of the races I have actually trained for have been long distances! The 10K is a good middle ground.

  8. I like what you said about training based on one’s strengths. Good point, really!
    Similarly, I dread 10K, a race that requires me to run faster than threshold pace, for 10 full km!

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