By Michael Nolan
Even if it’s your first time taking on the 6.2, these tips on how to train for your first 10K will help you across the finish line pain-free — and ahead of the pack.
The minute you take on your first 10K, you’ve already joined an athletic group of runners. While more than 7.5 million people finished a 5K in 2015, only 1.5 million chose to run double that amount and completed 6.2 miles, according to industry research firm Running USA. “A 10K can seem daunting to beginners,” says sports medicine physician Jordan Metzl, M.D., a 32-time marathoner and author of Running Strong, “but most people who run three miles can also easily conquer six in a few weeks with just a handful of minor adjustments to their training.”
Incorporate these running and fitness strategies into your plan to finish your first 10k like a champion!
Establish Your Racing Foundation
Even seasoned marathoners don’t log 20-mile training days right off the bat. Instead, they start with low-mileage days and build gradually, Metzl says. The same rule should apply to your own personalized 10K training. Most beginner plans require at least 8–10 weeks of training for a 10K, starting with one mile or two miles on 4–5 days a week, and adding one slower and longer run (up to six miles) on the weekend.
Run Occasional Intervals
Running consistently increases endurance, but it won’t always build speed. If you’re looking to set a personal record (PR), you’ll want to schedule interval training once a week, Metzl says. The easiest way: Find a local track. Spend five minutes warming up just jogging at a leisurely place, then run fast — just short of your all-out effort — for 60 seconds. Recover for two minutes at a slow jog or walk, and repeat the cycle three more times. Finish with some easy running at the pace you started with. That’ll boost oxygen intake and metabolism, and help you go faster, he says.
Befriend the Foam Roller
Jim Ferris, C.S.C.S., owner of Gym Ferris in Philadelphia says using a foam roller is simple, especially for your calves, quads, and hamstrings. Just tuck it under the muscle you want to massage and slowly roll back and forth, pausing for a moment when you hit a tender area. (You can use your free leg for stability to take some of the pressure off if your muscles are too sore.) Be careful not to roll directly over your knee, which can lead to injury. And if a spot is always sore or tight, it probably needs more attention than a foam roller can provide, Ferris says.
Adjust Your Thinking
What you think about during a race can have a profound impact on how you finish, according to a 2016 study for the American College of Sports medicine and published in an e-book, Running Science by Owen Anderson, Ph.D. Obsessing too much about your pace can actually have a detrimental effect because it distracts you from focusing on form and running efficiency. A better strategy: Find a buddy or a group of runners who run at your pace (or slightly faster) and turn your attention more towards maintaining a compact, efficient stride.
Do Your Homework
Most running courses now allow you to conduct an overview ahead of time — with detailed maps that show you the elevation changes of the course and the location of water stations and recovery stations. Give them a quick study — knowing where hills are, for instance, will give you a sense of where you need to conserve energy for the climb. You don’t want to risk “bonking” (or fizzling out) during the last mile, Metzl says.
Cure Treadmill Boredom
The treadmill is sometimes a necessity, especially when the elements don’t cooperate with your plans. Break up the monotony (and keep your training as close to race day conditions as possible) by varying both the speed and grade of your workout at least once every 2–3 minutes, says Debora Warner, an RRCA-certified running coach and founder of Mile High Run Club, a treadmill-centric training facility in New York City.
Skip a Carbo-Load
Even though you’re doubling the distance of a 5K, your nutritional needs don’t need to evolve very much, Metzl says. Unfortunately, that means you can skip the pre-race pasta bowl. “Most people have enough stored carbs to handle a 10K without much fueling. If you think you need something, stick to fruits like a banana or an apple — they’re natural fuel, and they burn more easily,” he adds.
Cross-Train for Your First 10K
Simple strength exercises
Your body takes much more of a pounding at six miles than it does at three, so you’ll need to build the strength to absorb it. Try a couple sculpting moves (below) that you can perform as a supplement to any short run, says Tim Simansky, C.S.C.S., a certified personal trainer at Brick, a New York City-based chain of fitness studios.
Configure yourself into the top of a push-up position and then come onto your elbows and toes. Make sure to stack your elbows directly below your shoulders, bracing through the abdominals, then squeeze your butt and thighs to form a rigid plank. Bring your right knee toward your chest as far as you can, and hold it there for three seconds. Return to the starting position, and repeat with your left leg. Continue alternating for 20 reps total (10 per leg), and do 2–3 sets.
Short Foot Walk
Stand barefoot with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward. (Picture yourself crumpling a piece of paper between your toes as you inch forward for 20 feet or so. “These exercises address common weaknesses in runners,” Simansky says. “Squats can also build stronger glutes to combat overactive quads.”
Celebrate Your Achievements
Finally, just remember: You’re doing this for fun, and not for Olympic glory. So come up with a post-race plan beyond the long trek home, Ferris says. Tangible rewards will serve as motivational fuel: For instance, think about the 90-minute sports massage awaiting you, or even the greasy burger you’re going to eat after you cross the finish line. Send an invitation to your closest friends to join you. “Celebrate the day with other runners and family,” Ferris says. “Take pictures, grab a beer, and spend a few days reveling in what you’ve just accomplished.”
Stay tuned for our Week-by-Week Training Guide, coming soon.