I’ve probably run hundreds of 10K races over the course of my open and masters running career. In this post, I describe five workouts that were a key to my success. I’m defining success as not only being able to run the 10K distance comfortably and at a decent pace, but being able to run it fast. Doing these workouts regularly will help you achieve your potential at the 10K distance.
I’ve always liked racing 10K. Not only does it suit me physically, but I like the variety of workouts it requires. To run a good 10K you need both speed and endurance. You might be surprised to see how much the workouts below slant towards the speed side of the equation. Train fast, race fast!
1. 6 x 1 mile (track)
This workout should be done at your goal 10K race pace, with 2 minutes’ rest between each mile. You’re covering 24 laps on a track, which is tough on your body. I always did this workout on a gravel track and alternated directions. You need to do a good warmup, including some 100m strides. The first three mile repeats usually feel quite relaxed—after that it gets increasingly tough to maintain the pace. This mimics what happens in a 10K race! You learn to handle both the physical and mental distress.
2. 10 x 400m (track)
This is another workout that is easy at the beginning, but gets progressively harder. Take only a one-minute rest between 400s. The goal here is to run as fast as you can, while maintaining the same pace throughout the workout. You need to find the fastest pace you can run without getting into much oxygen debt, because one minute isn’t much time to recover. I often took three minutes’ rest after the first five 400s.
3. Four- to five-mile steady run, near race pace
Make no mistake—this should be a hard run, where you give very close to a race effort. It’s a little bit easier than a 10K race because you don’t give 100% and you don’t run the full distance. However, you should be breathing hard and feel very uncomfortable for the last mile or two of this run. The idea behind this workout is “specificity of training”—you get good at what you practice.
I usually did two of these workouts a week when I was in full training mode. They were my Tuesday/Thursday morning workouts on hard days; I’d be on the track for another workout the same evenings. I always did them on a soft, fast surface like a golf course or trails to minimize the punishment on my body.
4. 6–8 x 300m (track)
The goal of this workout is to shock your body into becoming faster. You can attain a very high level of fitness through endurance workouts and the more traditional “long” intervals on the track or trails, but eventually you will reach a wall where your 10K times stop improving. The only way to get faster is to improve your top speed.
In this workout, you run the 300s at close to maximum speed. You don’t run quite all-out, because you’re only going to take about three minutes’ rest between each one. You want to teach your body to run fast in spite of muscular fatigue.
This is a “peaking” workout. It is mentally and physically very tough, so you can’t do it too often. I often did it three to five days before an important race. I found it had an almost miraculous effect. A few days after this workout, my 10K race pace suddenly seemed much easier. I ran some great races soon after doing this workout–but remember, you have to rest completely to recover from it!
5. Endurance ladder workout: 400m, 800m, 1,200m, 1,600m, 1,200m, 800m, 400m (track)
This is a great endurance workout, but it also teaches your body to adapt to running at different paces. In a 10K race, you have to be able to respond to surges in pace, especially towards the end of the race. I also liked this workout because the variation within it made it psychologically easier than the 6 x 1 mile workout. This is an endurance workout, so you should take only two minutes’ rest between each fast interval. However, you’ll be trying to run as fast as possible for each interval while still being able to complete the workout; this may require some experimentation!
Olympic Training Log
June 25, 1988
AM: Did easy 38-min bike ride with Carolyn on Beth’s 16.7 km course, then time-trial flat-out, 30:00 (Beth 27:40), followed by 5K run, about 18:45, on hill country road. Heel didn’t hurt much.
June 26, 1988
AM: Ran with Beth at Sunnybrook. Foot felt OK except hurt on uphills and started hurting a bit near end—did 40 min, about 6 miles, at moderately good pace.
PM: Biked with Beth, northeast routes. Very very tough ride—against terrible wind first hr, 50 minutes coming back for 1hr50 total—pushed hard, felt tired, couldn’t stay with Beth for very long. Almost 50K.
June 27, 1988
AM: Rode bike to gym. Did “push-strength” workout, 65 min, followed by 15 min on stationary bike. Heel sore today—shouldn’t have run two days in a row.
PM: Did swim workout with Beth at outdoor pool. About 400m warmup, 10x 100m. Got very hypothermic—so cold I couldn’t do a very good workout.
June 28, 1988
AM: Rode bike to Earl Haig, did track workout. 15-min warmup at moderate pace, 3 50m strides. 3 x 1 mile with 1 min rest. Times 5:19, 5:18, 5:17. Felt good—smooth. Did about 5–10 min sprint drills and 1 lap jog. Heel warmed up well—a bit sore after.
AM-2: Water-running workout. About 10 min easy warmup. 6 x 45 sec with rope, 30 sec rest. Working hard—still tired from track. 5 min easy. 6 x 45 sec again. About 30 min total.
PM: Bike—2 x 24 min Lifecycle. Level 6, level 9, level 7 on 2nd Test section. Exhausted on 2nd one—had to use arms on hill—almost passed out.
June 29, 1988
AM: Rode bike to gym. Did “pull-strength-endurance” workout plus situps, leg extension & hamstring curls. 70 min.
Noon: Did swim workout by myself at big pool. 1050m warmup, just over 22 min. Ladder workout—50, 100, 150, 200, 250 and back down. 52-min workout. Pushed hard but pool very crowded till near end of workout. Very sleepy after.
June 30, 1988
AM: Did 30 min run on golf course & Earl Bales—good pace, grass the whole way, drove car right to golf course. Heel sore at first, but warmed up completely, no pain after. 4½ miles.
AM-2: Rode bike to gym, did 8 sets of 3 min on bike, dumbbells (alternate), hamstring curls. Patella tendonitis in left knee after.
July 1, 1988
AM: Did 90-min bike ride with George—mostly easy because legs tired from yesterday. Some hard parts against wind.
AM-2: Pool workout. 1050m warmup—about 21:25. 12 x 100m—swimming really well, most just over 1:50, going every 2½ min.
This week: 18½ miles running, 1 bike time trial, 2 long bike rides, 1 water-running workout, 3 swim workouts, 2 weight workouts, 1hr27min stationary cycling.