How to train for a 10k
So, what is a 10k – and how do you train for it?
A 10k is a common running distance that’s 10 kilometers or approximately 6.2 miles.
It's a popular choice for runners of all skill levels. While it’s more challenging than a 5k (3.1 miles), it’s not as intense as a half marathon (13.1 miles or 21.1 km) or a full marathon (26.2 miles or 42.2 km), making it suitable even for beginners.
For more advanced runners, a 10k can be used as a springboard to longer distances or as a standalone goal, where they’re working to improve their speed and performance.
One of the most important factors in training for a 10k is staying consistent and holding yourself accountable. To become a better runner, you need to get used to running a few times a week, every week. For this, you can:
- Add your running sessions to your calendar to integrate them into your schedule
- Sign up for a 10k race – having a specific goal in the near future is a great motivator
- Join a running club or run with your friends or a run buddy
To help you with all this, we’ve built Runna, a dedicated running coaching app that you can use to build a fully customized 10k running plan that’s aligned with your goals, availability, and schedule.
Training is only one side of the coin. To optimize your running performance, you’ll also need to take care of your nutrition and make sure you’re properly fueling both your training sessions and your recovery.
For this, you need to:
- Keep your protein high to help with muscle recovery
- Eat slightly more carbs before your tougher sessions or your next race
If you’re looking to step up your speed, don’t be afraid to experiment with caffeine, too.
Here are some general tips to help you optimize your running performance:
- Carb loading might be an overkill – but carbs are a great fuel choice: You don’t necessarily need to carb-load when training for a 10k, but carbs are still a smart fuel choice, especially for more intense workouts or your next race.
- Complex carbohydrates are ideal for fueling your 10k training sessions: Oats, whole grain, quinoa, sweet potatoes, veggies, and fruits, are all top choices – and they also contain lots of fiber, which helps keep your digestive system happy.
- Don’t go overboard with the sugar: Avoid excessive amounts of sugar, which can lead to spikes and crashes of your blood sugar levels and might leave you feeling tired and sluggish.
- Be mindful of overall intensity and mileage: The more intense your workouts and the higher your weekly mileage, the more energy you’ll need to properly fuel your body. So, if you increase the distance or frequency of your training sessions, remember to increase your caloric intake, too, by adding more complex carbs and protein to your diet. Similarly, if you need to dial down the intensity of your 10k training, adjust your food intake accordingly.
What to eat before a 10k: Race-day nutrition
On race day, eat a carb-rich meal, ideally a few hours before you start running. This allows your body enough time to digest it and keep you feeling fresh during the race.
Protein and fat slow down digestion and might make you feel heavy, so it’s a good idea to limit them in this meal. The same is true for fiber.
And, of course, don’t try anything new on race day. Stick to tried and tested foods and combinations that you’ve used to fuel your more intense training sessions in the past.
10k cross-training and strength training
To further reduce injury risk and improve your performance, consider adding cross-training and strength training to your 10k training plan. Here’s why:
- Cross-training is a great way to supplement your 10k training by adding variety. There are many good options to choose from (or combine!), such as cycling, hiking, swimming, rowing, elliptical, etc. But, most importantly, choose a sport that you enjoy. Cross-training will also help you stay in shape if you get injured and need to put running on pause for a while.
- Strength training is an excellent way to improve your running performance and run a faster 10k on your next race. It helps protect your body against injuries by preparing your muscles to manage more intense loads better – and it also improves your running economy by 8-12%.
Runna enables you to add a personalized strength training program that fits seamlessly into your 10k plan. Customize it to your equipment, schedule, and current strength level to make the most of your training. And if you have no equipment or access to a gym, don’t worry – we have plenty of bodyweight exercises, too!
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If you want to be able to run a faster 10k, you need a solid pacing strategy.
Knowing how to pace a 10k will help you get the most out of yourself and avoid blowing up too early or finishing with more in the tank.
So, what’s the best strategy for pacing your 10k race? We advise using a negative split, i.e. starting slower and building up your pace during the race.
Start by working out your goal time.
For example, if you are aiming for a 50-minute 10k, then this would translate to an average pace of 5:00 minutes per km. Targeting an exact pace is not easy, so you can aim for a range of 3-4s at either side of it. In our example, that’s a range of 4:57-5:03 minutes per km.
Next, divide your 10k into 3 sections:
- First 3k: For the first 3k, aim for a pace that’s around 5s/km slower than your target pace. Your first 1 km will probably be faster because of the excitement of starting your race, but try to dial it down to save energy for the final few kilometers. The effort should feel fast but also relaxed and your breathing should feel controlled.
- 4 to 7k: If things start getting tough around the halfway point, this likely means that you paced the first few kilometers too fast. In this part of the run, aim to hit your target pace without surging, which would simply waste energy. Stay relaxed and hold your pace.
- From 7k onwards: Pick your moment to push on and increase your pace a bit more. If you’re feeling good, you can do this at the 7th kilometer; if not, wait to get closer to the finish line. In the last kilometer, go all in to empty the tank. The only thing left to do is to celebrate your race at the finish line!
Adjust your pace, if your race is in a hilly location or on a trail-like surface.
10k recovery: sleep, mobility work, sports massages
A 10k race usually doesn't require a long recovery period, but we’d still advise you to take it slow for a few days. This doesn’t mean no movement at all, though! Instead of running, you can simply try another sport at low to medium intensity.
During your 10k training and before your race, however, you need to allow enough time for recovery and downtime. In essence, this means to:
- Sleep enough: Sleep is one of the key components to top running performance. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Add mobility work to your training: Yoga, pilates, or simply stretching can be very helpful.
- Do sports massages: Give yourself a massage with a foam roller or go to a sports massage from time to time.
- Be mindful of the signals your body is giving you: If you need extra time for recovery or if you’ve been sick, don’t hesitate to change your training program, skip a session, or take one more day off.
10k gear: shoes, clothing, and more
Your gear is key for your comfort during training and on race day, and can either help or hinder your performance. Here’s what to consider:
- Shoes: Shoes protect your body from the impact with the pavement, so get a good pair of running shoes. We’d advise you to go to a specialized shoe shop with an in-store treadmill where you can get adequate tips and suggestions on the best models for you.
- Clothing: Avoid cotton, because it retains moisture and can cause chafing (which will make for a very uncomfortable race or training session). Get running clothes with good quality performance fabrics that wick moisture and dry quickly.
- Running watch/GPS tracker: You can either use your phone’s GPS tracker or get a running watch like Garmin or COROS to keep an eye on the distance and pace. Runna integrates with Garmin, Apple Watch, Coros, and Strava to help you get most of your training plan.
- Accessories: A running belt or armband can help you carry your phone, keys, and other essentials. Consider hydration gear, too, especially if you’ll be running in hot weather.
- Sun protection: Use high-SPF sunscreen, even on cloudy days. A sun hat might also be in order.
But most importantly, don’t try anything new on race day. Stick to tried and tested gear and accessories.