Legs of runners running a 10K race

How to Train for a 10K: Master the classic distance with these key tips

Photo: Karine Aigner/Tandemstock

Whether you want to do it fast or just finish, the 10K is a distance every runner can target.

A 6.2-mile race offers both challenge and accessibility. Some of the largest races in the country are 10K runs, from Colorado’s Bolder Boulder (around 50,000 participants) to Georgia’s Peachtree Classic (almost 60,000). Most 10Ks have a festive atmosphere, and running one can feel like you’re in a moving parade. Prep right, and it will feel as fun as it looks.

Set a Goal

Decide early on if you want to just finish the race, finish it without walking, or hit a certain race time. Your decision will affect how you should train. Ideally, you’d set an “A” goal, a “B” goal, and even a “C” goal. The “A” goal would be a best-case scenario: If all your training goes perfectly and you feel great on race day, this goal is attainable. A “B” goal would be sort of a fall-back goal, but not one you’d be disappointed in achieving. And a “C” goal would be something you know you can reach, even if everything goes wrong.

Build Confidence

You’ll want to train for your “A” goal. If that goal is to finish the 10K without walking, for instance, you’ll want to build up to running non-stop for 6.2 miles by gradually increasing overall mileage per week, and extending your one long run per week leading up to the race. (See “One Long Run Per Week” section below.)

If your goal is to run a certain time, you’ll want to run the distance of the race and beyond that distance a few times in training (though not all at race pace), plus add in a day a week of tempo training and/or speedwork. Pushing the pace in these workouts both trains your body in what your goal racepace feels like, and trains your overall system to be able to handle harder efforts. (See “One Hard Run Per Week” section below.)

Start Training Early

How many weeks you’ll need to train for either type of goal depends on your current fitness. Generally speaking, a novice runner could benefit from six to eight weeks of structured training, while a more advanced runner could benefit from six to eight weeks of racepace-focused training. If you tackle a 10K without training, it might hurt more than it has to, and be careful of straining something.

Gradually Increase Mileage

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth stressing: Increasing your mileage per week gradually is a prudent strategy in preventing injury. Generally follow the 10% rule, where you increase your long run per week and the total mileage per week by 10% from the previous week. The reason for this is that your body needs to adapt; increasing mileage too quickly can lead to overuse injuries.

A sign pointing to the 10K run route Larry Zhou

One Long Run Per Week

Long runs build endurance. How long that “long” run should be depends. If you’re just aiming to finish the 10K without walking, your longest long run can be five or so miles. Come race day, your body will cash in on the raceday endorphins and all the prep you’ve done, and you’ll cover that last mile no problem. If your goal is a set time, your long run should be longer than 6.2 miles. Depending on your fitness and your goals, the long run could be between seven miles and 12-13 miles.

One Hard Run Per Week

If you’re aiming to finish without walking, there’s no need to do this. If you’re aiming for a specific time, you’ll want to incorporate runs at whatever pace you’re hoping to run for 6.2 miles. Identify your race pace, and do one run a week at that pace, but the distance for this “hard run” should only be three miles or a little less.

Take Rest Days

It’s important to allow your body to recover, especially with the increased mileage and the effort of the race pace runs. Schedule two rest days per week. One should follow the day you run race pace (if you’re doing that). The other can be your choice. Note that while cross-training is a great idea and allows some of the muscles and soft tissue you use specifically for running to recover, cross-training days shouldn’t be counted as rest days.

Know What You’re In For

It’s a good idea to check out the race profile—is it a loop? And out-and-back? Is it hilly or flat? Once you know the course, you can try to mimic what you’ll face on raceday as best you can. If the course is flat until a monster hill in the last mile, do some training runs that end with a climb. If the course ends with a two-mile downhill, end some of your runs on downhills.

Take Care of Yourself

With increased demands on your body, it’s important to pay extra attention to your nutrition, and make sure you’re getting quality sleep. It’s also important to listen to your body throughout your training, and do some self-care, like foam rolling and stretching. Also, gradually adding in drills intended at improving your form and efficiency can help you both run faster and ward off injury.

Fuel Up

Most 10Ks have aid stations where you can grab some water. Whether or not you need to consume anything else during the race depends on both how well you ate and hydrated the night before and morning of, and how long it takes you to cover the distance. (Don’t eat or drink too much on race morning.) Runners who will take 45 minutes or more may need fuel in the form of a swig of a sports drink, or some other easily digestible carbohydrate, to avoid the feeling of bonking at the end of the race. Anything you plan on ingesting on raceday should be used during training. Make sure your gut agrees with it.

Know You’re Ready

Come raceday, know you can do it. Sounds simple enough, right? The key to this is to not let self-doubt weigh you down. Whether you’ve had a perfect buildup of training or not, know that your body is capable of covering 6.2 miles and enjoy the experience.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.