Ask The Expert

Top Tips on How To Run A 10k

We asked a selected group of experts for their top tips when it comes to preparing for and running a 10k. Here is what they said

Tips to run a 10k
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

The 10k is one of the most popular distances for both amateur and professional runners.

But what are some of the important things to bear in mind when it comes to training for, and running, a 10k?

We asked a selected group of running and fitness experts for their top tips and tricks when it comes to preparing for the ever-popular 10k distance.

Here’s what they said.

Give Yourself Enough Time To Prepare

Kent Pecora, Professional Runner and Running Coach for Tagalong

If you’re looking to tackle a 10k race, I recommend at least 12 to 16 weeks to prepare for the event.

The idea is to give yourself enough time in a couple of phases: running, building fitness/mileage, maintaining peak training and tapering/racing.

For the first two to three weeks, I’d advise simply running. If you’re a new runner who’s coming off the couch with little fitness to begin with, it’s important to get your legs underneath you and comfortable running.

You need to get over the hurdle of the muscle aches that may arise since you’re not used to the additional stress on your body.

Start slowly and gradually increase your runs and begin to incorporate workouts to your routine. If you’ve been running for a while and are in decent shape, try not to worry as much about the distance you’re running for the first two to three weeks, but rather on the length of time you run.

For example, rather than going out for a three-mile run, do a 30-minute run instead.

I’ve found that this approach removes the mental component of having to hit a certain distance and allows you to listen to your body and run at whatever pace your body is comfortable with that day.

Getting over that mental barrier of hitting a certain mileage requirement can be counter productive to the goal of enjoying these early weeks and focusing on a routine of exercising consistently.

The next phase is building up your fitness and increasing your weekly running mileage for the next eight to 10 weeks. This will be the bulk of the training block.

Man Running On Road

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There are two “rules of thumb” during this phase: first, don’t increase in mileage more than 10-15 per cent from one week to another; and second, choose to either increase the intensity of your runs or your weekly mileage, but not both simultaneously or you increase your risk of injury.

All too often, runners believe that each run needs to be an exhausting effort to get something out of their training. This short-sighted thinking all but guarantees a later failure, whether through injury, lack of interest, or burnout.

Instead, gradually incorporate different workouts into your training plan to build a foundation of fitness over this building phase.

Some key workouts during this phase should include:

Tempo runs: A set distance where the athlete runs a specific pace for the entirety of that distance or begins slower and speeds up to have a goal average time per mile for that distance.

One example may be: 4-mile tempo at “Goal 10k Race Pace +20 min/mile”. If the athlete is looking to run a 40-minute 10k (6:26/mile) you might look to run ~6:45/mile for four miles. It’s a slightly slower pace for less distance than race pace, but will help build fitness and will allow you to, over your training block, both increase distance and your pace as your fitness continues to build.

Fartlek workouts: A workout where you run a specific pace for a set amount of time.

A ladder workout might be the easiest example of this. After warming up, do a 1,2,3,3,2,1 where the one-minute intervals are at a pace that you feel you could run a one mile, a two-minute pace at the pace of your two-mile, and a three-minute segment that you could run a 3mile/5k.

You don’t need to be specific with your paces either. I would recommend focusing on running faster on the shorter segments and a more sustained pace on the longer segments. There’s transferrable benefits from workouts like this where you are running FASTER than your goal race pace by helping adopt your body to a faster pace so when you’re running your 10k pace, it is not as difficult to sustain.

Another example of a fartlek might be 4×5 minutes of running at roughly your 10k pace with 1-3 minutes recovery. The goal of this workout is to have your body used to running at your goal 10k race pace, but for a shorter period of time and allowing your body to recover in between repetitions.

I’ve found these workouts to be especially useful for a couple of reasons, but mainly because they can be performed anywhere and you don’t need a track or a GPS watch to complete them. These workouts as they are based off of feel and time, so the only equipment required is a regular running watch.

Group running

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Long runs: A once per week run that will end up being over the designated race distance. You’ll build this long run to be 6-10+ miles as you progress with your trainings.

It’s important to note that easy/recovery days should be mixed in with more challenging ones, usually spaced with at least a day or two in between the workouts. Consider yoga classes, swimming or even a complete day off.

I also recommend incorporating a number of plyometric exercises scattered throughout the week to help strengthen balance, core muscles, and promote flexibility. There are plenty of programs and exercises to include and a healthy mix of any of them is strongly encouraged. Just don’t overdo it so that you’re too sore to properly work out when the next session comes around.

Finally, aim to hold your peak mileage/training for about 2 weeks before finally tapering back the week or 10 days leading up to your 10k race. Your peak mileage will depend on how your fitness has progressed and varies from 20-50+ miles/week. Again – this all depends on your initial fitness, the workouts you’ve performed, your time availability, how your body has responded to the workout stress, etc.

Woman Running

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During this taper time, cut back your mileage but not your intensity. The goal is to do less volume of work while keeping the intensity of training high to stay sharp. One workout may be 4xMile at 10k Goal Pace with two to three minute recovery. With this workout, you are becoming comfortable with running your goal race pace but having adequate recovery in between your repetitions.

Another could simply be running 10x1minute at slightly faster than “Goal 10k pace” with one minute recovery.

It would be remiss if I didn’t mention a phrase that a running coach has continually said – “When in Doubt, Do Less.” The number one goal is to show up to the starting line healthy. You need to get yourself to the starting line to have an opportunity to achieve your goal, so I place a high emphasis on that base rule.

Finally, I would suggest consulting with a running coach to help create a training plan for YOU that caters to your lifestyle, time availability, running/exercising background, etc. A great place to find the right coach for you is on the Tagalong platform.

While there are other resources out there, it’s a game changer to have a personal connection with a running Pro who can add a human element to the training process. It is nearly impossible for a book or article to adjust a workout or shift a training week around when life throws a wrench in your training plan or you twist your ankle on a recovery run.

Consulting with a coach is a great way to help navigate through the ups and downs of training for a race and get you to the starting line healthy and ready to crush a personal best!

Increase Your Training Mileage Gradually

Jordan Duncan, Owner of Silverdale Sport and Spine

When training for a 10k it is wise to find a well-rounded running program that incorporates longer distance runs and interval training along with properly placed rest days.

This will ensure a gradual increase in mileage, without overtraining, and will put you in a great position on race day. Training in this way will also help you to determine your target running pace.

During training it is important to address any mobility deficits with proper stretching and soft tissue work in order to keep your muscles in prime condition.

Nutrition is important in order to provide energy for training and race day.

Eating a small meal consisting of healthy, easily digestible carbohydrates a couple hours before running is a great way to replenish glycogen stores and give you the fuel you need.

Woman Running in Park

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Start Slowly

Stephen Lane, USA Track and Field Level 2 Certified Coach, and Director for the Adrian Martinez Classic

The 10k is a wonderfully challenging event, and like most running distances the keys to success are mental as well as physical.

One of the simplest ways to run faster in a 10K is to learn how to pace it correctly. This takes some practice and experience, but research suggests that even well-trained, well-coached athletes have difficulty with correct pace.

What’s the best pace for you? Most of us have to learn the hard way – typically, we all tend to go out too hard and die at the end.

You want to pace your races pretty evenly (with allowances for terrain – if one part of the course is hilly, we will naturally be slower there).

Here are some general guidelines:

• Start out more slowly than you think you should. Adrenaline is usually pumping at the start – don’t let it hijack your race-plan. It is much easier to make up time later in the race if you start to slowly, but if you start too fast, you will pay a steep price in the latter stages.

• Think about not starting the race until you are two miles in. Just run relaxed for the first third.

• If you are keeping your pace even, you will feel like you are speeding up a lot. So let that be a guide – try to notch it up one gear every two miles, and you have a better chance of staying even.

• And if you do keep even splits, you will be passing a ton of other runners in the second half of the race. So keep that in mind: if you are just keeping up with the pack, you are slowing down. If you are passing a lot of people (which will feel GREAT!), you are probably closer to even pace.

Man Running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Positive self-talk is also really important in a 10K as well. At the start, when you are trying to rein yourself in, keep telling yourself that – use whatever cues work for you: ‘foot off the gas’, or ‘rein it in’, or ‘ease into it’ are things that have worked for other runners. You want to feel like you are conserving energy for the harder work to come.

In the later stages, whatever helps you keep going, use it: remind yourself of your goal, count the number of people you pass, pick a landmark up ahead and tell yourself to run fast to that, then relax for a bit, then pick another landmark. Just try to stay positive and focused on moving ahead.

Finally, good or bad, remember that every race is a learning experience, not the end all-be all. Give yourself a chance to de-compress, then think about what worked well, and what you’ll want to change for the next one. Then, onward…

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