How To Train for a 10K

Corrida

, by Nick Bester

Photography by: blueiz60

The 10-kilometer distance is becoming more and more popular in road running race events, and for good reason. Ten kilometers, or 6.2 miles, hits a sweet spot between the 5k and the half marathon — achievable for determined beginners but also fun for more experienced racers. At twice the distance of 5K, a 10K is no walk in the park, but it makes the perfect entry point to completing longer races.

How Long Should You Train for a 10K?

The answer to this question will be different for every person, but my general recommendation is 8 weeks of training to prepare yourself for a 10K. This is assuming that you already have some running experience — say a few 5Ks under your belt — and you are used to running more than 30 minutes at a time, at least once a week.

If you currently don’t run as much as that, I recommend a longer training schedule for your 10K, and perhaps training for a 5K race first. If, on the other hand, you are someone who already runs more than 30 minutes at a time regularly, then you might be able to shorten your training schedule for a 10K. 

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How Long Does It Take To Run a 10K?

As you might imagine, finishing times for a 10K race will vary widely. While advanced runners can finish in under 45 minutes, anything under one hour is considered pretty fast for a 10K. The majority of finishers in any given race will probably fall in the 1-2 hour range.

If you want a “good” time to target as an intermediate runner, you might set 1:10:00, or 70 minutes, as your goal for a 10K. This comes out to 7:00 per km or 11:16 per mile — a respectable pace that will take some training to accomplish. If you’ve never run a 10K before though, I recommend training just for the distance before worrying about a target time.

About the 10K Training Plan

This is an 8-week 10K training plan designed for a variety of running abilities and experience levels, but the plan assumes that you are able to run — or combination walk and run — at least two miles at the start of your training. If you aren’t there yet, then you might want to allow some extra extra weeks of preparation before starting this 8-week schedule.

You will notice that this training plan does not specify any time splits for completing the runs. That’s because the plan is not specific to any finishing time, it’s simply designed to prepare your body for going 10 kilometers at whatever pace is reasonable and safe for you. The pace of your workouts should depend on your own effort level, so let’s start by talking about heart rate zones.

Photography by: WoodysPhotos

Understanding Heart Rate Zones

Heart rate zones are a way to understand how hard your own body is working. Measured from 1-5, zones are categorized as percentages of your maximum heart rate (HRmax). You can estimate your max heart rate with this simple formula: 220 – your age. Once you know your age-based HRmax, you can use a watch with heart rate monitoring to train according to these zones: 

  • Zone 1: 50-65% HRmax // Training at this intensity should feel easy, and like you can easily hold a conversation.

  • Zone 2: 65-75% HRmax // In this zone you are breathing harder, and may only be able to speak a sentence at a time.

  • Zone 3: 75-85% HRmax // This is a pretty intense effort, and pushes into what runners often call tempo run pace.

  • Zone 4: 85-90% HRmax // This is a faster tempo pace, and an effort that most people cannot sustain for very long. As you train more, however, your endurance in this zone will increase.

  • Zone 5: 90-100% HRmax // This is maximal effort. You will hit this zone during your most intense speed workouts, but your body can’t continue at this level for more than a few minutes.

This is just a basic overview of heart rate zones, but there is a lot to learn and practice when it comes to zone training. You can use Strava’s heart rate analysis feature to calculate your zones, customize your targets, and help keep on track with your workouts.

RELATED: How to Use Heart Rate Zones to Improve Your Running

Types of Training Sessions

With heart rate zones understood, we can now discuss the elements of your 10K training plan. All of these sessions are important for adapting your body to the rigors of a long race. The strategic mix of easy runs, hard runs, strength and conditioning, and rest days allow your total fitness to steadily build while avoiding overtraining and injury. Here are the types of workouts in plan and the effort levels required of each of them.

  • Easy runs: These are recovery runs to enjoy twice a week. They should feel like an easy jog, nothing too fast. Easy runs should remain mostly in Zone 1 and never higher than Zone 2.

  • Long runs: On each Sunday of this training plan comes your longest run of the week. These should be at a steady and controlled pace, pushing into Zone 3 but not beyond. The purpose of longer runs is getting your mind and body ready for what a race will feel like.

  • Cross-training: These are any exercises other than running, but low-impact cross-training is best. On cross-training days you can choose swimming, cycling, rowing, or elliptical to keep training for speed and endurance while avoiding the impact of running.

  • Rest days: These days are just as important as your workouts! Respect them and enjoy them. Rest days mean no running and no tough training. You can still go about your normal day, and I do recommend sticking to a regular morning exercise routine, but keeping it light.

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8-Week 10K Training Plan

Here is your 8-week schedule for working up to a 10K race. The basic principle is to start slow and build a foundation of fitness for three weeks, then build up more aggressively for two weeks and hit your peak training at Week 6. This is followed by a tapering week then a rest week leading up to the race, ensuring that your body is in top shape for the big day.

Weeks 1-4: Prep and Start To Build

The first three weeks of your training make up the preparation phase. Though the mileage doesn’t look like much, this phase is highly beneficial for reinforcing your fitness foundation. Starting small and slowly increasing distance is the best way to avoid pesky problems like shin splints and knee pains.

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In this phase, you must try to avoid the all-too-common mistake of ramping up the difficulty too quickly. If you find yourself hitting heart rate Zone 3 too soon, or if you feel excessive fatigue on rest days, you might be pushing too hard. It is okay to run slow at first, and even to switch up walking with running to complete the target distances.

Table showing the workouts for weeks 1 through 4 of an 8-week 10k race training plan.

Weeks 4-6: Building and Peak Training

By Week 4 you should be prepared to push a bit harder. This is the start of your build phase, when you can start running faster and pushing the intensity more frequently. Your total weekly mileage will also bump up, so relish those longer runs and don’t forget to take rest days!

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Your toughest training is Week 6. Notice that the total distance does not go up, but that means that your intensity should! Try to push harder in each of your workouts this week, into zone 4 or even 5 for short periods. This will exercise your anaerobic efficiency and prepare your body to dig deep near the finish line.

Table showing the workouts for weeks 5 through 8 of an 8-week 10k race training plan

Weeks 7-8: Taper, Rest, and Race Day!

Week 7 is the taper phase when you’ll cut down on mileage and overall intensity. If you have a target pace for your 10K in mind, this is the week to try holding that pace through part of your longer run. You might be feeling strong during this week and tempted to push harder on all your sessions, but you should avoid that urge because the two weeks of tapering and rest are crucial for hitting your target performance on race day. 

RELATED: How to Peak for Your Target Race

The final week is for rest and recovery, when you only need a couple of easy runs and ample days off. On your rest days, you should focus on light movement, stretching, eating well, drinking lots of water, and planning the logistics for race day!

10K Training Tips

Training for a long-distance race like a 10K can feel like assembling a machine with way too  many moving parts. You have to adjust your everyday schedule for training while leaving time for everyday work and activities. You must also stay focused on nutrition and staying well hydrated. Then you still have to get enough sleep!

I realize that this can be a tough puzzle to solve, so here are some additional tips that can hopefully help you stay focused through your training without becoming too fatigued or overwhelmed.

Keeping Easy Days Easy

You might have heard you have to run slower to run faster, and this is the mantra that applies for easy days. Enjoy taking it slow on these days so that you can really push it on hard days. An easy pace means that you should be able to hold a conversation the whole time, so going with a friend makes it even better!

Avoiding Overtraining

Hard days are very important for progressing your training. You can never run faster or farther without pushing yourself sometimes, but remember that the rest days are just as important. Of course, life gets in the way sometimes and you might have to move sessions around, but try to avoid doing back-to-back hard days because that can be hard to recover from, and it may increase your chance of injury.

RELATED: Think You Might Be Injured? What To Do Now

Nutrition and Supplements

Anyone you ask about nutrition for running is likely to tell you something different. That makes sense though, because everyone’s body is different. Part of your training should involve learning what fuels you best. The week of the race is not the time to experiment! On your long runs that go more than 45 minutes, you should experiment with energy gels, bars, or other types of endurance fuel that you might use during a race to see how they feel for you.

Photography by: lzf

RELATED: Five Rules for Fueling Long Runs

As for everyday nutrition, my basic advice is to aim for a generally balanced and nutritious diet, but you might consider extra supplements to help your body while you are training:

  • Vitamin B12: Helps fight fatigue and aids in the production of our red blood cells, which transport oxygen to the muscles and vital organs. B12 is also important for nerve and brain function.

  • Vitamin D: Essential for maintaining bone health, muscle function, strength and performance.

  • Omega 3: An essential fatty acid that helps lower inflammation and increase oxygen delivery — essential for both performance and recovery.

  • Calcium: Essential for blood clotting, nerve transmission, muscle stimulation, vitamin D metabolism and maintaining bone structure.

  • Magnesium: Important for energy metabolism because it is required for the function of our muscles and nerves.

As for post-workout nutrition, try to get a good source of protein and carbohydrate within half an hour of any hard session. This is really important in the building of muscle and maximizing recovery time. Some great ideas are chocolate milk, yogurt and fruit, pita and hummus, low-sugar energy bars, or healthy cereal.

RELATED: What Post-Workout Nutrition Looks Like

Rest and Recovery

Non-impact recovery is hugely beneficial when you’re on an intense training schedule. If it’s time for a recovery run but your legs just don’t feel up for it, feel free to do it as a non-impact session instead. You can replicate a session on the elliptical, rowing machine, bicycle, or in the pool. Any of these will keep your cardio where it needs to be while allowing your legs and joints the kindness they need. And here is my final tip regarding recovery: try your best to get eight hours of sleep per night. Sleep is so, so important for our bodies to perform at their best.

Personalizing Your 10K Training Plan

Keep in mind that this training plan is a general guideline based on my coaching experience with a wide diversity of runners. As you start your training journey you might find you need something slightly different. To customize your own 10K progression, there are many resources you can use. Consider ideas like:

  • Join a running club in your local community.

  • Work with a running coach or personal trainer, either in-person or online.

  • Get a custom training plan with Strava Subscription that’s based on your own running habits and your race goals.

Now it’s time to lace up your shoes and get to the track — or the park, the beach, the woods — wherever you choose to begin on your path to a 10K. I wish you all the best vibes in your running and racing!

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