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Run a faster 10k
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Run a faster 10k

Go quicker!

If you're new to running or a seasoned pro, you might well have your sights set on running a 10k. The 10k is a popular distance - far enough to see it as a challenge, not too far to warrent a year's worth of training. If new to running you might have just completed a Parkrun or two and have eyed up a local 10k. If you've been around a while you have probably run a few and have a PR. Either way a 10k is a great test of endurance.

But, you may be thinking – “how am I going to run a faster 10k?”

We’ve set out these simple principals which will take some effort on your part, but will certainly improve your fitness and improve your PR.

The other great thing about attaining this level of running ability is that it’ll enable you to run faster for longer which will undoubtedly help over other distances.

Running a faster 10k will take both physical and mental effort. The 10k distance is long enough to demand a high level of concentration and discomfort (it's not pain, it's discomfort - right?!) and the training will be challenging over a number of weeks.

The Training

First things first, you’re probably going to need to be running 4 times a week (or more), to bring your time down significantly, and we’d always suggest making one of the runs a long conditioning run. Check out our training tab and get your own bespoke training guide.

Long Run

The long runs are great. They give time to explore somewhere different or areas you don’t get to on your regular short runs. They give you time just to run slowly, to think and unwind. Just make sure you’re prepared for them (Have you eaten? Are you hydrated etc.) and build up to a decent distance. For a 10k, you need to be building up to 10mile and if you've been runing for a while, run a 12 miler. That said, you need to build up to it the distance, so if you can run for say, 40 mins right now, simply add 5 minutes on and run for 45 mins for two weeks. Then add another 5 on for a fortnight and so on. Before long, you would have built up the distance and the increase in effort should have been fairly painless, sorry, discomfortless!

Tempo and fartlek running

These will build strength and endurance at speed and are the first of the sessions to crank up the discomfort!

Let’s start with fartlek. I think this was my favourite winter session. It wasn’t too soul destroying and it was extremely sociable as you can run it in a group of mixed ability. Fartlek involves running over a certain distance, maybe 12k for example, but with the inclusion of a set of ‘strides’; pace increases over varying distances. You could jog to warm-up for a km then pick the pace up for a couple of minutes so that you are striding out, back off and return to a jog – circle around until everyone has caught up hence being good for a group – then after a minute or so, start your next effort. This could be a longer one or a shorter one. Aim for maybe 6 efforts if new to sessions and build up to maybe 12. Make the efforts anything from a minute to 5 minutes. Before you know it, you’re stronger at pace and the average pace of your ‘easy’ running gets faster. This is a great session for those returning to fitness because it is as hard as you make it and it is also a great session for losing a few lbs. You can always increase the distance on this session but around 8m of fartlek always seemed right to me and our training squad (*see comment at bottom of article).

Tempo running is different. It involves you running at pace for a set distance. The pace to run at should be your ‘threashold’; a point at which any faster, and you’ll start getting in to serious discomfort and lactic acid will start to build up in your legs! Threashold is approximately 80-85% of your maximum heart rate and this will be at the top end of your aerobic zone. More on heart rate in this article on using your heart rate. Also check out our techy VO2 max article. 

Find a route where you don’t need to cross roads ideally or have anything slow you up or get in your way. Try something like 2x 10 minutes or 4x 5 minutes with a slow 2 min jog recovery as a starter, but you'll need to build this up to maybe 4x 10mins or 8x 5mins over a few weeks. You can also try 1 block of time like a 20min tempo run (a great session for those also short of time) and build this up to maybe 30mins.

After a warm-up, pick the pace up and get in your grove, stay relaxed but remember, this isn’t meant to be easy.

In a race, you’ll find that you’ll be able to maintain your speed (the effort and discomfort) for longer.

Interval Training

Oh the joy – this is where the discomfort really starts – time to leave the heart rate monitor at home.

Sitting on the right pace and holding on basically the premise of anyone wanting to run a PR. Sure, you can run negative splits (a faster second half than the fast) but very few of us have the ability to do that. We are all about staying mentally strong and counting down the k’s!

In order to do that though, you need to practice running at pace. Build up to something like 8x 1k or 10x 800’s. I would be tempted to start at maybe 4 of these and build up with a 3min recovery slow jog. Once settled, I would reduce the recovery to 2 minutes. I also enjoyed running 6x1200’s which we did on a road circuit which was enjoyable. These do not need to be done in a track; a nice stretch of quiet road or grass is great.

You are basically building up to cover the distance at race pace or maybe even quicker in these sessions. Bring the recovery’s down to a couple of minutes and you’ll find that you’ll be able to manage ¾ of your race without really having to dig too deep.

Power Up

Leg power is a good thing to have. It simply helps your speed and comes in very handily when you come to ‘out-kick’ your local rival!

Another great session for a group, find a hill with a decent gradient but not something crazy steep – you do need to be able to run up it. Aim for maybe 5 reps of 40-50 seconds in the beginning, that sort of distance is fine. Turn around at that point and jog down. You can gather up the slower runners as you jog slowly down to the bottom keeping the group together. If you felt OK, then you can increase the reps and pace. Work up to 12 reps.

If you are a regular gym goer, try doing controlled squats with weights (3/4 squats not full) as you’ll build thigh power that way and you could maybe concentrate on one of the other sessions such as…

Mental Cheats

The mental side of running is also important. I would try not to think about what was in front of me on a big session but after a while, I would start to count down saying to myself that “I have done ¼ of them, I’m almost halfway, two-thirds down now…” All the time being positive and congratulating myself. “Keep going, you’re doing great”, that sort of thing. You need help and so you might as well be your own best friend! Try your own ways for getting through the sessions, they come in handy on race day!

Race Day

Be excited, not nervous! You’ve done the work, not it’s time to get your reward. Get the basics done – eat properly, make sure you’re hydrated and have done a little warm-up and stretch out.

Don’t got off too fast. Most people are full of adrenaline and go too fast too soon. Get in to your groove (it’s the only one that matters) and stay relaxed. Have an idea of what pace you need to run at. If you have a GPS watch you can work out if you’re up or down on pace. Don’t panic either way, it can be rectified. You’ll be fine to halfway but when the discomfort kicks in, try to stay on the pace – all your sessions will enable you to do this.

When the going gets tough play your mind games! Can you focus on the shirt in front? Revert to the ‘countdown’ method – “halfway there, now 3k down just 2k to go, only a km left you got this, 500m to go so stay fast and relaxed…” Try anything to stay on the pace, it’ll be over soon enough!

Hopefully, you’ll be able to congratulate yourself. Jog easily to flush out your legs so that you’ll recover more quickly and get some liquid in to you. Maybe some carbs within 30 mins, it’ll help your muscles replenish quicker and you’ll get back to your normal self sooner.

Have a day off, be smug and plan your next move…

The Training Mix

You cannot do everything, every week. All of these ideas will make you stronger, fitter and faster. They are all largely aimed at improving speed endurance so have a plan. You might want to do some fartlek run and some interval training one week, some hills and a tempo run on another. Try returning to the first week on week 3 and adding another rep on for example. Over time (not long), you’ll notice that you’ll be able to handle the work and will start to enjoy pushing yourself.

Just make sure you congratulate yourself when you break that PR!

* After years of running and hundreds if not thousands of training sessions, fartlek was always my favourite session. We had a very good squad but it is a session I have also done on my own up to 10mile. As an ex pro runner, I could run this distance with a lot of efforts within it, but if I was to give you advice, I think I would leave it at 8mile max. It will be long enough to get the strides in and the group enjoyed the distance. It was long enough for people to come back totally knackered so I would leave it at 8mile.

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