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How to train for your best 10K

A structured approach and ingredients for building a 10k training program

Team GeeksOnFeet

9 minutes read

As you begin your running journey, finishing a distance of 10K can be an amazing experience. It is a magical distance that is approachable, and yet is very challenging. For experienced runners, training for a 10K is a great way to build speed, and set the foundation for the upcoming marathon season. We have researched the training suggested by the best coaches, and here is what we have found on how to approach to run your best 10K.

Though 10K is a relatively short distance for long-distance runners, training for a 10K race is primarily about training for endurance, while balancing the speed, which makes it interesting and challenging.

As stated by Jack Daniels- “Inherent ability, intrinsic motivation, opportunity, and direction are the key determinants of success.”

Here are the key steps that make up the best approach to training for a 10K.

  • Choose a race
  • Set a time goal
  • Plan your training
  • Measure progress
  • Nutrition, Recovery, and other essentials ingredients
  • Plan your race day

Let us go through a scenario to illustrate the approach and follow the process to run your best 10K.

Structured approach to training for a race

Here, we have assumed you are a beginner or intermediate runner who already has conquered the distance of 10K, and the goal is to perform your best 10K.

Step 1: Choose a Race

For the purpose of this illustration, let us pick the most popular 10K race in India, TCS World 10K, which is slated to happen on May 22, 2022. That gives us about 8-9 weeks of training for this race. The standard course that is used by this race has a fair bit of moderate uphill sections and lots of twists and turns. Given the race is mid-summer there are aspects of temperature to be considered too in your training.

Step 2: Set a time goal

This is the most important precursor to your training plan. A goal that is too hard can backfire and leave you disappointed, and a goal that is too easy means you are leaving things on the table. Setting a realistic goal time for a race is key to creating intrinsic motivation and also keeping you in the flow.

How to set the goal time?

The best approach to set the time goal is by testing your current fitness for a shorter distance such as a mile, 2K, or a 5K and then extrapolating it to determine your 10K goal time. You can do this by running a time trial after a few weeks of training.

Once you have the finish time from the time trial, you can use this calculator to find the goal time. Here is how to do it. Input your time trail finish time say for 5K. Note down the tempo pace displayed.

Click here to see the Calculator

Assume the tempo pace displayed in the calculator is 6:00 min/km based on your 5K finish time, then compute the goal time by multiplying it by 10, and the result is 60 minutes.

Subtract 5-10s off from the tempo pace, and that would be your race pace based on how aggressively you want to approach your training. For runners with a tempo pace of 5:30-6:00min/km, 5s offset is a good goal. So for 6 min/km, that would be 5:55 min/km. That translates to a time goal of 59m:10s minutes, while a 10s offset will give 58m:20s (5:50 min/km).

Accordingly here are the goal times:

Realistic Goal: 59m:10s - Time that you can realistically target Delight Goal: 58m:20s - Time that you would like to have if everything goes in an ideal way.

There are methods to arrive at your goal paces including your past 10K race times

Step 3. Plan your training

Best training gains come by providing the right stimulus to the body. Endurance training serves as a prerequisite to handling higher-intensity workouts. One gets better at a specific skill by repeatedly practicing it (specificity) and, after an initial period of greater fatigue, our body starts responding to a stimulus by coming back stronger (super-compensation).

Given that now we have about 9 weeks, a Macrocycle of training for 8 weeks is a viable option. This macrocycle can be organized into four phases (Mesocycles) focussing on specific adaptations required for best gains.

What training adaptations are important for the 10K race?

As a 10K race requires both speed and endurance, it is imperative that both aspects are worked in your training.
When planning your training calendar, start with generic improvements needed for your running, and as the weeks go by work on specific improvements for the goal race, such as terrain and other aspects.

The four phases are below:

Phase Weeks Objective
Base Week 1& 2
  • Focus on building the mileage and preparing for intensity ahead.
  • This is a good phase to run a time trial to determine the goal race pace.
  • Work on Running Form & Posture Improvements
Speed & Strength Week 3 & 4
  • Work on the speed mechanics
  • Running workouts for Strength
  • Strength training to build the power
  • Prepare yourself for endurance
Speed Endurance Week 5 & 6
  • Build the mileage for aerobic efficiency
  • Continue to improve running economy
  • Maintain the speed over longer distances
Prepare for the race Week 7 & 8
  • Prepare and visualize race-specific aspects such as up hills & heat adaptations
  • Taper well

Base - Week 1 & 2:

  • If you have been running regularly, you can skip this phase.
  • Base building - keep the runs long and easy at a conversational pace and breathing (2-2 rhythm)
  • Keep yourself on your feet for 3 days
  • Reach a distance target of weekly 30-35kms, here are a few indicative workouts
    • Easy runs
    • Strides - quick leg turnaround for 10-15 secs with 45 secs rest between 2 strides. Total of 3 - 4 repeats
  • 2 days of strength training
    • Include resistance band workouts, lightweights, and plyometric workouts

Speed & Strength - Week - 3 & 4

Since 10K race is run at a pace between VO2Max and Threshold paces, the training focus should be on two types of runs.

  1. VO2Max intervals (high intensity), are long intervals of 400m to 1600m up to 4-8 repetitions.
  2. The second type of run is threshold intervals up to 10-15 minutes of 3 to 4 repetitions.

Apart from this, mileage plays a major role in improving the running economy and thereby improving your pace. Hill repeats in the earlier stages of 10k training is a great way to build running strength.

In this phase, the primary focus is speed.

  • Increase 10% from the previous 2 weeks
  • Include 3 quality runs, here are few indicative workouts
    • Intervals
      • 400 to 800m (5 - 7 repeats)
    • Hill Repeats
      • 30-50s of sprints on a reasonable steep hill (3-4% grade)
    • Tempo Intervals
      • 1 km / 1 mile (4-5 repeats )
    • Long run

Speed Endurance - Week 5 & 6

This phase builds on the previous phase (speed) and works on building endurance. This is the most demanding phase. The idea is to be able to maintain the speed for longer durations.

Here are a few indicative workouts to consider in your training

  • 3 quality runs
    • Speed Intervals
      • 400m (6 - 8 repeats)
    • Tempo runs
      • 4-6 km
    • Long run
      • Up to 15 km
  • Strength training
    • 1 - 2 sessions per week

Race Prep - Week 7 & 8

This is the phase that will prepare you to perform the best in the race. This phase should not be as demanding as the previous phase. Keep the interval training low, and focus on the tempo runs for 10 to 15 minutes

Here are a few indicative workouts to consider in your training

  • Keep the intensity high, but ensure if enough recovery
    • Intervals - 400m (4-5 repeats)
    • Tempo intervals - 1 km (3-4 repeats)
    • Tempo run - 4-5km
  • Include few workouts that can simulate race day such as running in the heat or rolling hills etc.,
  • Strength training
    • Reduce the intensity, focus on bodyweight training
    • Running specific strength drills

Step 4. Measure progress

It is important to occasionally check if the training is working as desired. This can be done by measuring progress through time trials of shorter distances like a mile or 2K. Also try to bring in the race-specific challenges such as training for elevations, or training during the time of the day when the race happens.

Step 5: Nutrition and other aspects during the training

  • Warm-up and cool down is a must
    • A good warm-up will improve your running - getting in the groove and upping the speed
    • Cooldown prevent any injuries and muscle soreness
  • If there is any discomfort while running in terms of pain - stop the practice immediately, consult a physio
  • Understand your Hydration and Electrolytes needs. Read our article on Hydration for 10K to Half-marathon
  • Consumption of carbs,proteins,fats. Listen to our podcast on Nutrition
    • The ratio of 40:30:40
  • Sleep to be maintained - keep the same sleeping pattern (time you hit the bed and wake up) throughout

Step 6: Plan your race day

Planning your race day and executing it meticulously is the last but most important of a perfect race. Here are a few important things to consider:

  • Visualization of the route, and mentally plan the time spent on the course
  • Plan your hydration brakes ahead of time
  • Plan the race nutrition strategy including pre, during, and post-race
  • Plan your commute, and other logistics to reach the race venue.

Please read some of our race reports, to understand what kind of planning some of the runners do.

As they say - it is not the finish line, it is the process of getting here. Be honest with your training, the best result will follow.

Prepared by Team GeeksOnFeet for the love of running!

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