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Training Tips

Improve Your 10k


ONE of the most commonly distances run on the roads is 10k - that's 6.214 miles to be precise! On a track it’s 25 laps and that in itself can be daunting with nowhere to hide. However, don't despair, you'll probably never run the distance in the confines of a stadium.


So what do you need to run a 10k successfully? Let's take a proverbial step back before we disseminate the workload to get you through each kilometre as comfortably and positively as possible. Firstly, and quite obvious really, you need to be honest with yourself and decide presently what ability level you are - be brutally honest, as this will help you to improve greatly later! Secondly, and again a necessity - what are you prepared to do in terms of training to attain your goal - yes, you will need a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based). Once you've decided where you lie in terms of 'date-pace' or the time you are presently capable of, it's time to begin in earnest the necessary work to propel you to performances hitherto thought impossible!


To make this a relevant article in terms of training, I will divide it into three separate sections: 45min+, sub-45min and sub-35min. In fact, there will be something of use for every one of you! Now, before I make inroads into the training to get you to a standard previously thought of as unattainable, you will have to be honest enough (again) with yourself ... if you're aged 40 and over, forget about a lifetime best, especially if you've been running since your teens! Likewise, if you're aged 18 or under, should you really be doing the distance?


As a starting point for all abilities, you need to be fit to run 10k! Yes, I know, you're thinking he's not telling us anything new ... but read on. Fit to run the event simply means you are capable of at least finishing with something left in reserve. Racing is a much different beast to a club training jaunt. Many runners don't even run further than 10k in training. Like any running event you have to mix and match races to achieve your target goal (10k) and that means running 5k’s and even a few 10ml/half-marathon’s. By racing 'under-distance' (5k) it will give a 'speed reserve' (making it easier to run twice the distance at a slower pace) and by racing periodically at a longer distance it will give an endurance bonus (making the 10k feel ‘short’ in comparison). Still with me? Okay, read on!


To do yourself justice, you need to train at least five times a week (45min+), six to seven times (sub-45min) and seven or more for sub-35min ... I trained 12 times a week, but that was a long time ago and I was targeting sub-29min! If you thought this was going to be easy, stop reading now! Running is an enjoyable experience, but it’s even more so when things are going well, so it makes sense to ensure you make your experience a happy one. Of course, these training frequencies are not written in stone - ability does come into it and two athletes of similar abilities may be doing quite diverse training loads with similar results ... I know, life isn't fair, but that's how the cards are dealt sometimes!


Whatever, your time-scale is, you'll need two ‘quality’ sessions a week, one tempo run, a longer run (of at least 25% more than 10k) and the rest will be made up of recovery runs. Remember, recovery is where adaptation takes place, not in the actual hard session - in layman’s terms you improve when your body is in a relative state of rest (rest doesn’t necessarily mean inactivity though). Hill runs of 1min and longer are great for leg strength and continuous running on a hilly loop for 20min or longer are even better - your VO2max will increase greatly (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilise, measured in ml/kg/min). Tempo runs or OBLA runs (onset of blood lactate accumulation) are basically a controlled hard run over a flat 20min course at your 10ml race pace which equates to around 86-88% of MHR (maximum heart rate). Note a flat course is best as running uphill raises the heart rate markedly. The final 3-4min of a tempo should feel as if you are starting to work fairly hard although not flat-out - this is when the lactate turn-point is reached. Be aware though, If you ran a 30min tempo it would equate to half-marathon pace and 40min would be nearer marathon pace.


Now for the important bit! Work out what your probable time over 10k may be (on a flattish course) – if you’re targeting 45min, that works out as 7:15min per mile and your hard sessions will have to at least replicate that. It's no good running at 8:00min pace in sessions and having a chat with your club-mates before commencing the next rep ... you are what you do ... and you don't stop for a chat in races! Hard sessions and races in particular are your 'job', so no skiving, and at the 'office' it's work and not play! Therefore, the fact that you're running 10k means that some sessions should replicate the energy systems used in a race. Try some of these: 4x1ml in 7:00min with a 2min recovery; 8x800m in 3:30min with 90 sec rec or 16x400m in 1:45min with 75sec rec. These can be inter-changed with 3x1ml in 6:45min; 6x800m in 3:10min or 12x400m in 1:30min all with the aforementioned recoveries. Of course, if you're slower than 45min just do the math, e.g. 50min divided by 6.214 and you'll get your pace per mile.


A cautionary word at this point ... you are not trying to improve in a matter of weeks ... we are looking at the bigger picture here, and that means taking as long as it takes to improve, even if we are talking many months or longer. For sub-45min just follow the same principles, but if you manage to go sub-39min then you will need to drop the recoveries by around 10-15%. Your furthest run will be longer, probably around 10-15ml, but take heed, your tempo is always at 86-88% of MHR - yes, you will run faster, just more efficiently due to better lactate dynamics and a more efficient VO2max than the slower 45min runners.


When you start to get to 35min or faster (hopefully) your training will have to reflect that increase in pace - you should be a faster, fitter and a stronger athlete in any case! Your pace per mile in a 35min 10k is around 5:40min per mile so the above example sessions need some drastic revision. Your 4x1ml will be completed in 5:30min with a 2min recovery; 8x800m in 2:40min with 90 sec rec or 20x400m in 82.5sec with 60sec rec. These can be blended with another workout later in the week of 3x1ml in 5:10min; 6x800m in 2:20min or 12x400m in 68sec all with the aforementioned recoveries. Nevertheless, if you’re slower than 45min just do the math, e.g. 50min divided by 6.214 and you'll get your pace per mile. At this new-found level you will also be doing at least a 15ml Sunday run at not much slower than 1hr 35min ... you're not out for a 'catch up' with your friends, you're out to work ... albeit at a fairly sedate pace.


One session in particular is extremely beneficial and it can be done by all levels. Let's pick a standard session of 12x400m (it doesn't have to be done on a track – change the rep distance to the time you would take for a 400m). Run slightly faster than your 10k pace and instead of stopping to recover after each rep, run a 200m 'float' in 50-60sec. What you do in effect is a 4.5ml run (3ml at faster than race pace and 1.5ml slower than race pace). As you get fitter, you will be able to increase the reps and pace as well as reducing the recoveries. If you're lucky enough (or unlucky in many cases!) to own a HR monitor you will see that your HR is hovering around 90-93% on the efforts while on the float it will hopefully with improved fitness drop down to 80-83% just before you re-commence the next rep. The session is really a race simulator and if you can crack this session you will know you're in good shape.


Finally, there are many other sessions I could mention, however the article is now approaching the finish line. Just a few words of wisdom to end this article ... remember a good race performance is not the result of one week's training, it is the accumulation of many months (and longer) of planned and meaningful running. Rome wasn't built in a day and I'm fairly sure Stanley wasn't either ... train hard, train smart!


Any queries please feel free to contact me on


© David Lowes, 2013

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