Running a fast 10K: five key workouts

The 1986 Commonwealth Games 10,000m in Edinburgh. This photo was taken by Claus Andersen for Athletics magazine in 1986.

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.

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About nancytinarirunswrites

I used to be known as a competitive runner, but now I have a new life as a professional writer and editor. I'm even more obsessive about reading, writing, and editing than I was about running. Running has had a huge influence on my life, though, and runner's high does fuel creativity. Maybe that's why this blog evolved into being 95% about running, but through blogging I'm also learning about writing and online communication. I'm fascinated by how the Internet has changed work, learning, and relationships. I love to connect in new and random ways!
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11 Responses to Running a fast 10K: five key workouts

  1. tfilarski says:

    What kind of recovery for the endurance ladder?

    • Because this workout focuses on endurance, I usually took about 90 sec to 2 min rest between each fast interval. A couple of extra minutes can be taken after the mile if necessary to maintain the quality of the remaining intervals.

  2. Pingback: Why I blog: voices from the past | NancyRuns&Writes

  3. glittersnax says:

    Hi, I’m turning 54 this April and am currently training for a 10K. I am looking to finally pass the 40-minute mark.

    I find the latter stages of a 10K is when I falter and it is usually down to mental fatigue. Do you have any tips on how to overcome my brain from telling me to slow down?

    Training-wise, I am concentrating on speed endurance ( 15 x 400s in 85s off 60s, 8 x 1K in 4:00 off 90s, 3 x 3 mile threshold etc.) Would you take walking recoveries or jog as mine are quite short recoveries.

    Any advice greatly appreciated.

    thank you,
    Karl

    • Hi Karl,
      I think most people find the hardest part of a 10K is the part between 6K and 9K. That’s when holding the same pace keeps getting tougher and your body is telling you to slow down, but you have to keep resisting. You can get through this by having confidence in your training; knowing you have survived the same kind of pain in workouts (more on that below).
      You can also work on strategies for self-talk to help you get through that difficult section. I found it helpful to think about how many minutes were left to run and tell myself to get through just the next minute… one minute at a time.

      Your workouts sound appropriate and difficult. I would walk or stop completely for recovery since your recovery times are brief.
      One small tweak to the workouts you describe above might help you break through to a faster 10K time. I would suggest that for half of these workouts, do fewer repeats but do them faster, with a slightly longer rest. For example try 8 400s in 80 seconds with a 90-second break and 5 x 1K in 3:45 with a 2-minute break. You get the idea. Also, as I wrote in my blog article, you could try doing a more anaerobic workout once every two weeks or so, when you do 300s or 400s at close to your fastest pace with a good rest–say five minutes–between each one. In these workouts you are running significantly faster than your goal race pace. What I always found was that after a few workouts like that, my race pace felt more relaxed and was easier to maintain. You have to be very careful not to get injured with these faster workouts–be well warmed up and stop at the first hint of injury. Also make sure you are taking easy recovery days between these hard workouts.

  4. glittersnax says:

    Hi Nancy,

    Thank you so much for your insight.

    I like the self-talk idea. I try and invisage people cheering me at the finish, but I like your suggestion better.

    I did run 7K yesterday at 6:34 pace, but I did break down a bit on the final 2K. Not sure if it’s due my easy runs being too fast. Probably, I guess. To hit sub-40, I will have to run 6:26 or better, so I thought 6:34 was about right.

    I have quite a punishing training program by my coach who is guiding me…

    This is the coming week’s plan:

    Monday- 30 recovery
    Tuesday – 8x 1km off 90s (target 4:00), 4 min recovery, 5x 200m off 30s (target 38s)
    Weds – 60 mins easy
    Thursday – 2x 3 miles @ Threshold (90)
    Fri – REST
    Sat – 3x (5x400m). 60s recovery between reps, 3 mins between sets. Target 85 seconds per 400m
    Sun – 90 mins.

    Do you think this is the right training?

    I like your suggestions for the intervals.

    Thank you again, and I appreciate you taking the time to reply.

  5. Hi Karl,

    I’m happy to give you my two cents’ worth, but since you have a coach I don’t want to interfere too much and confuse things!
    From looking at the workouts you described above in detail, I can see you are working hard and definitely on the right track.
    As I wrote in my last comment, you could try cutting back the volume and increasing the speed a bit in some of your workouts. However, I recognize that my approach to training for 10K is somewhat untraditional in terms of the amount of speedwork I did when I was at my best (both young and as a masters athlete). I was strongly influenced by my coach George Gluppe, who was a world-class 400m runner in his youth and also as a masters runner.

    On your tempo runs (like your 7K mentioned above, you might run a bit slower. Running that 10K pace is very tough mentally as well as physically. You want to save your hardest mental efforts for race days. You could run at race pace or close to race pace for a shorter distance, perhaps 3-4K.

    And yes, make sure your easy days are “very” easy because your workouts are intense!

    I would like to know how your next 10K race goes! Good luck,

    Nancy

  6. glittersnax says:

    Hi Nancy,

    Thank you again for your insights.

    I think with the 7K, I was trying to replicate your 4-5 mile steady run (as above), but was unsure how far off race pace I should have been.

    I will let you know how the 10K goes for sure.

    Karl

  7. glittersnax says:

    Hi Nancy,

    Well, my race didn’t really go to plan. I ran the 10K in 41:11. So a little way off sub-40. I guess the plus was that this was the fastest I had ran a 19K in 3 years.

    I think my race week training was probably too much….

    Wc 24 April:
    Monday – 30 mins recovery
    Tuesday – 3x 20 mins threshold (2.30)
    Weds – 45 mins easy
    Thurs – 6x 300m (2). No target just “cruise” – run nice and controlled. Focus on form.
    Fri – rest
    Sat – 30 easy with 6x 80m strides (1) at 10k race pace
    Sun – race day

    I have another race a week Saturday. Any suggestions on how to prepare?

    I now have no coach as I was only with him for the race I just did.

    Thank you,
    Karl

  8. Hi Karl,

    Congratulations on your race–fastest 10K in three years is still a good achievement!
    Your pre-race week looks OK to me. You shouldn’t expect to run your best race of the season right out of the gate. Racing itself sharpens you, and as long as you rest enough between races, you will see improvement in your racing times. One suggestion for bringing your 10K time down is to run a couple of hard 5K or even one mile races. That will make the 10K pace seem easy!

    Nancy

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