The 10K deserves more appreciation. It’s not just a tune-up race or a stepping stone into the half marathon and then marathon. It’s a challenging test of both speed and endurance. It’s long enough and requires enough grit to appeal to long-distance lovers, while fast enough to appeal to speedsters.
Running your fastest 10K requires both of speed and endurance. If you want to run your fastest 10K, you can’t just rely on mileage alone or speed alone. Instead, as with any distance, you want to become a well-rounded runner and then sharpen up for the specific demands of the race distance.
Build Your Aerobic Base First
Like any distance, the 10K requires an aerobic base. If you watched the 2019 USATF Outdoor National Championships, you likely noticed that marathoners such as Molly Huddle, Stephanie Bruce, and Kellyn Taylor dominated the 10K. Mileage builds aerobic strength, and strength is speed.
It may be a shorter distance, but if you want to run your fastest 10K, you can’t run minimal mileage. The mileage won’t be as high as you would run in marathon training. If you can run higher mileage than your normal baseline, you will have both a high level of endurance and a high aerobic capacity for the race. For example, if your base mileage is 25-30 miles per week and you often run 40-45 miles per week for half marathon training, try to run 35-40 miles per week for 10K training.
If you are running lower mileage, first devote time to base building before you introduce speed work. Building weekly mileage and increasing the intensity of your training at the same time heightens your risk of injury.
Develop Endurance, Lactate Threshold, and Leg Speed
For a majority of your training, you will train various physiological systems, not just goal pace workouts. In order to run your fastest 10K, you need endurance, stamina, and speed – and your training should prepare all of these aspects of fitness.
The exact workouts will vary based on your fitness level, the terrain, and your strengths and weaknesses. You may run more hill repeats to prepare for a hilly course or venture out on trails for a trail 10K. Broadly speaking, though, the most important 10K training workouts will include long runs, tempo runs, and leg speed workouts.
Long runs will improve your endurance and fatigue resistance. Even if it’s “only” 6.2 miles, you need high endurance to sustain the fastest pace possible for those 6.2 miles. Overdistance long runs will improve your endurance. For beginner 10K runners or low-mileage runners, try a long run of 8-10 miles. For intermediate to advance runners, a long run of 10-12 miles will provide a huge advantage on race day.
Tempo runs are highly specific to the unique demands of the 10K – and beneficial to any distance runner. Whether you are running a 40 minute 10K or an hour-long 10K race, your 10K race pace is close to your lactate threshold. Tempo runs increase your lactate threshold – and therefore will help you run a faster 10K. Beyond the physiological benefits, tempo runs train you to be mentally comfortable with prolonged physical discomfort – which is essential for racing the 10K.
Leg speed is an under-developed trait for many long-distance runners. Leg speed will allow you to recruit fast-twitch muscles as you fatigue in the race and provide you with a finishing kick. You can use strides, surges, or short intervals lasting 1-2 minutes to develop leg speed.
Build Strength to Run Faster
Strength training will improve your running, no matter your ability level. Your body will be able to tolerate high mileage and harder workouts. Strength training also increases your force output and running economy, which translates to running faster at a lower effort level.
While strength training should be a year-round component of your training, you can adjust your weight lifting to meet the specific demands of the 10K. Plyometrics develop power output and therefore improve your running economy. By adding one or two plyometric exercises, such as box jumps or jump squats, into your strength routine, you will feel stronger and faster on race day.
In the four to six weeks leading up to your race, you want to introduce race-specific workouts. If you have a goal finish time, these workouts are often run at your goal 10K race pace. If you do not have a goal time, these workouts mimic the demands of the race: running at or slightly faster than your lactate threshold and sustaining a hard effort when tired.
Beginner: For beginner runners, continuous tempo runs will prepare them for the 10K. If your 10K goal time is 60-75 minutes, it is the same pace you will use in continuous tempo runs. Progression runs can prepare you for the fatigue you will encounter at the end of the race.
- 2-3 miles at a comfortably hard effort
- 5-6 mile run, with the last 1-2 miles at a harder effort
Intermediate/Advanced: For faster and more experienced 10K runners, continuous tempo runs at 10K pace are too demanding. These workouts would become almost a race in themselves – and you never want to leave your race in your training. 10K specific workouts are similar to cruise intervals or tempo intervals. You can progress the workouts by lengthening the race pace interval (such as from 1K to 1 mile) or by shortening the rest interval (such as from 2-minutes to 90-seconds). Depending on your strengths, you can do several repeats of shorter intervals at 10K pace or a few repeats of long intervals.
- 8-10 x 1K at 10K pace (90-second to 2 min recovery jog)
- 4-6 x 1 mile at 10K pace (2-3 minute recovery jog)
- 4-5 x 2K at 10K pace (2-3 minute recovery jog)
Race Day Strategy
You can nail all of your workouts in training, but what matters most is your ability to express that fitness on race day. You want to taper appropriately (here’s how) so that you feel sharp yet rested on race day. A smart race day strategy (such as this one), adjusted for your course, will set you up for success. And finally, you need a good amount of grit and mental toughness for when the race hurts (which it will!).
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