10K races offer a broad appeal for runners. The distance offers a challenge of endurance for novice runners and speed for advanced runners. You can race a 10K on the roads or the trails – or even straight up a mountain. There are nearly as many 10K training plan options as there are runners, based on experience, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. This article explores common elements of an effective 10K training plan for intermediate to experienced runners.
How Aerobic is the 10K Distance?
Despite the fact that it feels hard, the 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) race is still predominantly aerobic. Yes, you will do speedwork in 10K training – but you will also do lots of easy running.
For an elite or sub-elite runner, the 10K distance is raced right around their critical speed (or critical velocity). Critical speed is the point where steady state running becomes much, much more fatiguing – roughly 30-40 minute race effort. (30-40 minutes happens to be 10K effort for many advanced runners!) At critical speed, you still are using predominantly aerobic metabolism (with a higher contribution of carbohydrates than fats) and relying mostly on slow-twitch and intermediary (fast-twitch oxidative glycolytic) muscle fibers. You are not anaerobic or even hitting your maximum oxygen consumption. It’s hard, but the anaerobic contribution is small.
If you cover a 10K in approximately one hour (9:40/mile pace), you are working near your lactate threshold. Lactate threshold is right at the point where lactate does not rise continuously and unsustainably. It will feel moderately hard for most of the race (but hard near the end). You will still use predominantly aerobic metabolism. If you run a 10K is closer to 75-90 minutes, then you are relying even more on aerobic metabolism and slow-twitch muscle fiber recruitment.
If we use Dr. Skiba’s Scientific Training for Endurance Athletes as a framework, we can understand most runners will finish a 10K within the “heavy domain” – or somewhere in a moderate to moderately hard intensity, between aerobic threshold and critical speed. The 10K race is more intense than you run a majority of your training events – but it is still an aerobic event.
How Many Miles Per Week Should You Run in 10K Training?
The exact weekly volume will depend on many individual factors, including your schedule, background, and muscle fiber typology (see below). Since the 10K is an aerobic event, you do not want to only do speed workouts – you want easy runs to increase your weekly mileage. The mileage should be manageable enough that you can do speed workout. While it is aerobic, this is not marathon training! (This article guides you through how many miles per week you should run.)
Many runners will thrive off of mileage similar to what they would sustain for a half marathon training block. For an intermediate 10K runner, weekly mileage may range from 30-50 miles per week. A more advanced runner may do 40-60 miles per week. You will know you are at an appropriate weekly mileage when you are able to perform well in your speed workouts. If you are dragging on hard workout days, consider scaling back your mileage slightly (while checking factors like nutrition and sleep.)
What Types of Workouts are Included in a 10K Training Plan?
Given that the 10K is an aerobic event, we can think about training like how we think about many long-distance races. (Yes, the 10K is a long-distance race, even if it seems “short” compared to the marathon!). The workouts used in a 10K training plan will include the staple workouts of long-distance running: easy runs, tempo runs, interval training, and strides.
A majority of your miles in a 10K training plan will still be easy runs! Depending on how many days per week you run, you may only do one to two hard workouts per week. Approximately 75-85% of your total running volume will be done at an easy, conversational effort.
A long run will improve your 10K performance! (Read more here for an explanation of over-distance training.) The exact long run distance may be relative to your abilities. You may do as short as 8 miles or as long as 14 miles as your long run in your training plan. As a general guideline, aim for 1.5-2 hours for your long run.
Strides are a staple across all types of training plans. These are short, fast bursts of running (near mile-effort) that provide a neuromuscular stimulus. While short, strides can help long-distance runners develop top-end speed without compromising their aerobic capacity. (This article guides you through how to do strides.)
Intervals can be done at a variety of intensities. For a 10K training plan, you will likely encounter two types of interval runs: VO2max and critical speed. VO2max intervals are your traditional hard intervals, around 10-15 min race effort. These hard intervals usually last 1-5 minutes in length, with 50-100% recovery time. Running faster than 10K pace will make the effort feel easier! Critical speed intervals are more controlled, around 30-40 min race effort. Critical speed intervals are generally 1-8 minutes in duration, with shorter recoveries in between.
Tempo runs are moderate to moderately hard, sustained efforts. They can be continuous (20-45 minutes) or broken into longer intervals (5-20 minutes) with short rest. If done around lactate threshold, tempo runs are paced at roughly hour-race effort. However, they can also be done at more controlled efforts such as marathon pace. (Here’s more on how to pace a tempo run!)
Should a 10K Plan Include Goal Pace Training?
Your 10K training plan may or may not include goal pace workouts. Depending on your fitness, your 10K pace will likely fall between critical speed and lactate threshold – so including these workouts will naturally work near your goal pace.
A productive approach is to begin training with the outlined intensity domains above. Then, as you understand where your fitness is, you can add in some 10K goal pace workouts in the 2-4 weeks before a race. Doing goal pace workouts too early can neglect other aspects of fitness.
As with any distance, goal pace training should be realistic to your fitness. If you try to run too fast in your goal pace workouts, you may hit the wrong intensity zone. For example, if a 50-minute 10K runner tried to do 45-min 10K pace for goal pace workouts, they would be working above their VO2max – too hard to be productive (but just hard enough to increase injury risk).
Sample 10K Training Workouts for Intermediate/Advanced Runners
Remember: there are no “best workouts”. These are not the “best 10K workouts” – rather, these are workouts that address elements of fitness specific to a 10K. In order to run your best 10K, you want to think broadly and specifically in your training. Without a solid aerobic base or well-developed speed, you cannot run your best 10K – even with these workouts.
As with any running workout, always include a warm-up and a cooldown with 10-20 minutes of easy running.
Sample 10K Workouts:
- 14-16 x 1 min at critical speed/1 min recovery jog
- 6-8 x ½ mile at critical speed (90 sec recovery jog)
- 4-5 x 1 mile at 10K effort (2.5 min recovery jog)
- 20 minute tempo run, 3-4 min recovery jog, 4-5 x 1 min hard/1 min recovery jog
- 3 x 10 minutes at threshold, with 2-min recovery jog
Training Intensity Distribution for the 10K
Training intensity distribution refers to how many miles you run easy, moderate, or hard. For a long-distance running event, a majority of your training (75-85%) will be easy running. However, beyond that, one 10K training plan could look very different from another, even if the runners finish at the same pace.
Give the same workout to two runners, and you will see different training responses. A workout is not a simple input-output for a singular system. Physiology operates on spectrums, not sharp inflection points. Individual athletes have different backgrounds and muscle fiber typologies, which will affect how they respond to workouts in training (including 10K training).
A quick overview on muscle fiber typology:
- Slow-twitch oxidative fibers (Type 1): low speed and power, fatigue resistant, high aerobic capacity, low anaerobic capacity, high density of capillaries and mitochondria
- Fast-twitch oxidative glycolytic(type IIa): intermediary fibers in terms of speed and power, fatigable, medium in both aerobic and anaerobic capacity, high mitochondria and capillary density
- Fast-twitch glycolytic (type IIx): high speed and power, easily fatigued, low aerobic capacity, high anaerobic capacity, low density of mitochondria and capillaries
Some runners have more of one muscle fiber type than others. Your race results and training often will indicate your muscle fiber typology. If you excel at very short distances, you are likely more fast-twitch. If you race better the longer you go, you are more slow-twitch. Many runners are in the middle.
Your muscle fiber typology (and other factors) will influence your training response. In a 10K training plan, you might find that adjusting workouts (and workout frequency) improves your training response – and helps you get faster.
10K Training for Slow-twitch Runners
If you find you do better in the half marathon or marathon than 5K, you may be a more slow-twitch runner. As Steve Magness hypothesizes in The Science of Running, slow-twitch runners are often able to handle harder workouts, longer intervals, and bigger threshold workouts better than fast-twitch runners. These runners don’t easily produce a lot of lactate but do require more stimulus to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers.
A 10K training plan for a slow-twitch runner may include:
- Higher volume
- Longer tempo runs
- Long repeats around critical velocity
10K Training for Fast-twitch Runners
If you excel in the mile and 5K and run a slower 10K than your equivalent race time suggests, you may be a fast-twitch runner. Fast-twitch runners need to be deliberate in their intensity control to prevent them from negatively impacting their aerobic capacity. Fast-twitch runners will also have lower volume in training – or they need to go very, very easy on their easy runs to handle the volume.
These runners easily recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers. Slow-twitch runners need deliberate control in workouts, whether through shorter intervals, more rest breaks in tempo runs, and/or controlled pacing in their workouts. Fast-twitch runners can too easily go anaerobic in workouts, which will erode the aerobic system – and negatively impact 10K performance.
A 10K-training plan for fast-twitch runners may include:
- Deliberately going very easy on easy days
- Threshold intervals with generous recovery
- Short repeats with intensity control and jog recoveries
Regardless of your muscle fiber typology, it is important to observe your training response. Are you seeing progress over the course of your 10K training plan? Or are you seeing signs of non-functional overreaching such as fatigue, poor performance, and loss of motivation? From your training responses, you can adjust your plan to work best for you.
For more on 10K training and racing: