How to Train for Your First 10K Race

Here's everything you need to know to successfully cover 10KMS

If you’ve never run before, running for an entire hour—the average time for a 10K, according to 2019 State of Running report—can seem intimidating. But running for about an hour is a lot less intimidating than, say, running a marathon, which takes four hours and thirty-two minutes, on average. That’s probably why 1.5 million people registered for 10K races in 2019, compared to just 427,000 who registered for marathons. 

“The 10K is one of the most accessible race distances,” says Ashlee Lawson Green, co-founder and CEO of RUNGRL, a District Running Collective crew leader, and an RRCA-certified running coach. “It gives you a challenge without it being too overwhelming.”

And that’s especially true for beginner runners—whether you have a consistent base from running shorter distances, or if you’re starting from zero. Anyone can work their way up to one hour of running in a relatively short amount of time with the proper training and programming.

Got your sights set on 10K? Use these tips from pro running coaches to set yourself up for race day success.

How Long Do Beginner Runners Need to Train for a 10K?

Training for any race depends on a bunch of personal factors: where you’re starting from in terms of fitness level, how much time you have to train per week, and what your goal is. Some people could be 10K-ready in a little as six weeks, others might take three months.

If you’ve been running consistently, you should be able to get race-ready in eight weeks, says Andrew Simmons, USATF-certified running coach, TrainingPeaks ambassador, and co-founder of Lifelong Endurance. “These eight weeks allow you enough time to have two three-week blocks of build-up with a recovery week and light taper mixed in for optimal performance.”

The same goes if you’re already regularly active (think: as a cyclist, rower, or regular gym-goer), but still new to running. You’ll have a head start with your cardio capacity, but you’ll need to get your body adjusted to the high-impact demands of running and time spent on your feet. 

If you’ve really never run consistently but have your heart set on a 10K, Green recommends giving yourself as much as twelve weeks to train. “That gives you enough time to build your foundation, find your confidence, and then get into the technical stuff,” she explains. True beginners should be able to run or run/walk at least 8K confidently before they make the jump to 10K, adds Simmons.

10K Training Plans to Get You Started!

Follow our RW’s 8-week 10K training plan. Commit to running just 3 days / week.

What Workouts Are Most Important for 10K Training?

The 10K requires a mix of endurance and speed, so it’s important to train for both of those in order to feel confident heading into that distance.

“The most important training day for any athlete tackling a new distance is their long run—and to make sure that it is not at goal race pace; long runs should be easy and conversational,” says Simmons. 

Let us repeat: Long runs should not be done at goal race pace. This is the most common mistake new runners make, so we’re hammering it home here.

These longer, slower runs help train your cardio, respiratory, and muscular systems to work more efficiently, and build up the slow twitch (type I) muscle fibres, which you use during endurance activity.

Speed training, on the other hand, trains your fast twitch (type II) muscle fibres, which are responsible for explosive power. “Longer speed workouts can help you build your capacity to run fast for longer periods of time, which will translate into better endurance during your easier runs,” she explains. That might look like 400-metre (one lap around a track) or 800-metre (two laps around a track) repeats, with 60 seconds of rest, maybe even building up to 1200-meter reps (three laps) working at a 7 or almost 8 effort level on a scale of 1 to 10. 

When it comes to other runs throughout the week, Green recommends hitting the hills if you can. An incline provides natural resistance compared to flat ground, and that “helps you build strength and power in your legs,” she says. “That strength is what’s going to power you through that tougher last third of the race.”

How to Avoid Injury While Training for a 10K

If you’re new to running, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and go, go, go every day. But “don’t skip out on building the foundation,” cautions Green. Adding too much volume or too much intensity too fast is a recipe for sidelining yourself. 

“Listening to your body is so important; you don’t want to overdo it,” she adds. No training plan is set in stone. Whatever plan you may be using, you can adjust it to work for your schedule, your ability level, and your goal. And don’t even be afraid to take a day off. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with rest,” says Green.

Another super important element to staying healthy: strength training. Adding strength workouts to your running regimen “will ensure that your race day isn’t sidetracked by an injury in your final weeks of high-intensity training,” says Simmons. “Strength training should focus on functional movements specific to runners, building movement patterns than encourage good running form, and implement mobility for hips, knees, and ankles to keep joints healthy and moving as they should.”

How to Fuel for a 10K

As important as physically training for a 10K is, you also need to pay attention to your diet—especially if this is the first time you’re increasing your running volume and intensity. “When you’re training for a 10K, you should be focused on making sure that you’re getting in enough calories to finish all of your runs feeling like you could run more,” says Simmons. 

Try experimenting with different food choices before you run to see what works for you, he adds (but avoid fat- and protein-heavy foods right beforehand, as they require a long time to fully digest and no one wants to run on a full stomach).

The good news is you don’t have to overthink fueling for the 10K itself. You won’t be running much more than an hour—which means you don’t need to carry fuel with you on the run because your body generally has enough stored energy to support efforts up to 60 minutes. Just make sure to eat a full meal about 90 minutes before running the 10K distance, says Simmons. And always be sure to refuel after a run for proper recovery

Lastly, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Your body needs that water to keep firing on all cylinders during longer distances. But don’t just chug a gallon of right before running; “you should be hydrating consistently throughout training and in plenty of time before running the 10K distance,” says Green.

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