How to be Ready to Race Your First 10k in 6 Weeks
The ten thousand meters is in a bit of a rough patch these days.
With few international-caliber track meets offering a 10k, and most top distance talent taking to the roads to capitalize on the huge prize pools at major city marathons, the formerly-premier distance race is now mostly an afterthought.
A few years ago, there was even talk of removing it from the docket of Olympic track races! Fortunately for those of us who aren’t trying to set a world record, the 10k still has all of its luster and shine.
It’s the perfect test of endurance—long enough that you can’t fake your way through it, but not so long that you’re not ready to run another one in a week or two, especially if you do not follow our guide to recover from a 10k!
Anybody can do a couch-to-5k program and check off that box on their bucket list, but doing a 10k is the mark of a committed runner.
If that is what you want to be, how should you prepare for a 10k?
What Does the 10k Involve?
Training for a race (of any distance) entails knowing the physiological demands of that specific event.
A 2001 scientific paper by Paul B. Gastin at the Victorian Institute of Sport in Australia analyzed the energetic demand in sprint and endurance events of various lengths.1
The longer the duration of the race, the greater the proportion of energy that must be produced by the aerobic system.
In the case of the 10k, which lasts over half an hour for anyone but an elite distance runner, well over 90% of your energy will be aerobic, meaning you rely on your body’s ability to generate power using oxygen from your blood.
This can be contrasted to a shorter-distance race, like the 400 meters, in which anaerobic energy production rules supreme—the burning, knee-grabbing sensation you get after a hard sprint is the calling card of the anaerobic system pushed to its limit.
Even though long distance races are highly aerobic in nature, you can supplement this energy supply and go a little faster by dipping into your anaerobic reserves too.
As long as you measure out your effort correctly, you’ll finish the race just on the verge of being too tired to continue.
How Do I Train for a 10k?
The aerobic and anaerobic energy systems constitute the metabolic engine of your body.
To improve them, you’ll have to do classic endurance work to improve your aerobic system: long continuous running at easy, moderate, and fast speeds, and long interval workouts at 10k and half marathon pace.
It’s not flashy or exciting, but this kind of work is foundational for running a good 10k. Additionally, you’ll need to bolster your anaerobic energy system with fartlek workout or faster intervals at 5k or two-mile race pace.
Anaerobic work needs to be done only occasionally, given the energy distribution of the race. Aerobic training should be your bread and butter. We have found that running 80% easy will make you 23% faster!
This is the metabolic side of the equation, the “engine” in your car.
It’s also important to consider the mechanical side too. As any mechanic can tell you, a car with a powerful engine but flat tires is going nowhere fast.
Your top speed is never going to be a limiting factor in a 10k, but improving your mechanics and developing a quicker, more explosive stride will improve your efficiency, allowing your aerobic engine to carry you further and faster without increasing demand on your anaerobic system.
Moving back to our car analogy, mechanical work is like improving your gas mileage: you can go further before you run out of gas.
Improving your mechanical engine requires more varied training.
Heavy lower body weight lifting, plyometrics exercises, and short sprints all work to improve your efficiency.
Indeed, research teams in Norway and Australia have demonstrated that both weight training and explosive plyometric exercises (including short sprints) improve running economy.2, 3
The demands of the race also dictate the proper balance between metabolic work and mechanical work. Since the 10k is so dominated by the aerobic energy system, improving your metabolic engine needs to be your top priority.
Training for a 10k is Like Eating a Cake
Look at it this way:
Italian coach Renato Canova compares mechanical training like lifting and plyos to the cherry on top of a cake—a cake with a cherry on top is delicious, but eating a plain cake will at least satisfy your hunger.
However, if all you eat is the cherry, you’re still hungry.
To this end, you should only worry about doing lifting or plyometrics twice a week at most.
The bulk of your training should be the aerobic running that supports the lion’s share of the race effort. Supplement this with the occasional faster anaerobic workout—perhaps once a week or so—so you aren’t deficient in that area either.
Training for a 10k is all about putting together the right pieces of training in the correct proportions according to the demands of the race.
You must never forget that the fundamental aspect of fitness that underpins 10k performance is your aerobic endurance. All the skipping, jumping, and hard intervals in the world won’t save you if you are aerobically deficient.
So, address this first and most frequently; it’s the main dish of training. Anaerobic work and improvements to your mechanical engine shouldn’t be neglected either, but they are like the appetizer and the dessert.
Don’t go hungry!
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How Do I Train for My First 10k?
We recommend that absolute beginner runners chose a race that is around 12-16 weeks away from the date you intend to start running. This gives you 8-10 weeks of general training to be capable of completing the suggested workouts.
By this point, you should be able to run 6 miles with relative ease for your long run, and run 3 miles of hard training broken up into segments.
3-4 days running
1-2 mile warm-up, 12 x 400 meters at 10k goal race pace with 60 seconds rest, 1-2 mile cool down
1-2 mile warm-up, 8 x 600 meters at goal 10k pace with 60 second rest, 1-2 mile cool down
1-2 mile warm-up, 15 x 400 meters at 10k pace with 45 second rest, 1-2 mile cool down
1-2 mile warm-up, 6 x 1000 meters at goal 10k pace with 60 second rest, 1-2 mile cool down
1-2 mile warm-up, 10 x 800 meters at 10k goal pace with 45 second rest, 1-2 mile cool down
1-2 mile warm-up, 4 x 1 mile at 10k goal race pace with 60 sec rest, 2 x 1000 meters at goal 10k pace with 45 second rest, 1-2 mile cool down
You can perform a second workout each week, which would be a tempo run session, but it’s not required. Your long run should progress from 4-5 miles to 8-10 miles each week. You should race on the seventh week of this program, so simply find your target race and work backwards to setup your full training plan.
For most 10k runners, you only need to run 4 days per week. This will include the workouts mentioned above, one long run, and then two other easier runs. If you would like to add a second workout in the week, you can add in the tempo run, but make sure you have an easy run in between the two harder days.
If you do decide that your body can handle two workouts a week, make sure both your easy run and long run are very easy. We have a separate training plan for more advanced 10k runners. That is for those runners who are stuck at a 10k plateau and need to structure their training for maximum results. We explain more in our other 10k specific training post and share a detailed workout plan.
Once you are ready to go with your training plan, the time will fly by, and it will soon be race day. We have a fantastic race plan for you to follow based off your own paces.
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