How to kill your 10K PR, part 2

Part 2 of 2. Read part 1 here.

In each or any of the workouts that will follow, you've got two things you're trying to achieve.

First, you've just got to get your legs turning over at a pace they're not comfortable with. Second, these fast efforts send signals that you really, desperately need to build the capacity to metabolize, to buffer, to deliver oxygen.

These workouts quickly increase your capacity to consume oxygen and to deal with the consequences of metabolizing without the presence of oxygen. We'll take these twin jobs of highly-paced workouts in order.

So that you can run a 37-minute 10K, you've got to run 6-minute pace through the first three miles without feeling very stressed. Mile 1 of such an effort must feel like a warm-up.

In order to run 6-minute pace easily, your legs must be capable of running a considerably faster pace for a shorter period while holding good form.

To do this, you'll need to run a faster pace yet for even shorter distances while admittedly struggling to hold form. So, running this 37-minute 10K might call for the following workouts, in this order:

  • Six-mile run, the middle three miles tempo, at 6:00-6:15 pace (at or just slower than your race pace for a 37-minute 10K).

  • 4x800m in 2:45, with a slow, 5-minute 800m jog in between. This is 5:30 pace, and should be a bit uncomfortable to run. You'll find it difficult to hold form. Your legs will be a bit sore the next day.

  • 8x400m in 80 seconds, with a 400m jog in 2:30 in between. This is 5:20 pace, and will be a painful workout. It'll be hard to hold form.

  • 4x800m in 2:40, with a slow, 5-minute 800m jog in between. This is again 5:20 pace, but you'll find it easier to hold form this time around, as these quicker-paced runs yield surprisingly fast results, at least in the area of motor learning.

  • Six-mile run, the middle three miles tempo, at 5:50-6:00 pace. This will be a faster run, with better form, and more even splits, than your first effort at this.

    All of this might be achieved in two weeks, or two and a half. You might then choose to repeat the process.

    But you see the method: three different types of speedwork, three different speeds, each with a job to perform. One of these workouts, the repeat 400m session, has as its main job just getting you prepared for another style of workout, which in turn prepares you to run your race pace with good form and low stress.

    But there's nothing magical about 400m and 800m. You might choose to do repeat miles. Or repeat 600m sessions. One of my favorite workouts is repeat 300m on the track, with a 100m walk in between (I walk the first curve).

    Or, take your speedwork to the road. Do 8 miles, the first two as a warm-up, the last one as a warm-down, the middle 5 miles as two minutes on, three minutes off (that is, you run faster pace for two minutes, and then slow down to recover for three minutes). Do this with a buddy, so that you can challenge each other.

    There are other ways to teach your body to run a faster pace than is currently comfortable for you. A star of yesteryear in California high school track and field is former world-class duathlete Paul Thomas. Paul is currently sales manager for Crank Sports (E-Gel), but in 1987 was California state 3200m champion (8:53) and 1600m runner up (4:08).

    His secret? Just do strides after every run. Perhaps 8 or 10 strides, each one 80m to 120m long. Not hard. Just regularly, after almost every run. The point is to spend some part of your workout running a pace faster than you're comfortable with. Same sort of idea.

    This can be reduced to a very few bullet points. In order to run fast, and I mean really fast -- faster than you every thought you could -- you should carefully consider the following:

  • Get into the daily running habit. Average running at least 4 days out of every 7, preferably 5-6 days out of 7.

  • Run twice a day occasionally (but never two hard sessions in a day). Your other daily run (it doesn't matter whether this is the first or second run) can be short, and should be easy. Try to do 2 or 3 of these per week, bringing your average number of runs per week up to between 6 and 9.

  • Run on straight, flat surfaces when running a higher-intensity run. This will keep you honest.

  • Inject speed. It is not necessary to run on the track. However, it is most profitable, in my view, to run with three levels of pace: your race pace or thereabouts; shorter sessions at a pace roughly 5% faster than race pace; and even shorter sessions at 10%, or so, faster than race pace.

  • Run with others. Especially when running the fast stuff.

  • Run with good form. As it becomes more apparent to you what good form looks and feels like, jealously work to keep it. Don't allow your form to fall apart when you're tired, and as you adopt good form use it for all your runs, even your easy runs. Don't revert to lazy running form.

  • Lose weight. No simple way to put this. Just lose weight. Just do it. Lose weight until you have no more to safely lose. The less you weigh, the faster you'll go.

  • Learn to exert. Learning to run fast is a painful process. Once you're fit, it's less painful or, perhaps, it's less apparent because you're pain tolerant.

    One final thought. With increased expectations, and with the execution of an aggressive plan to meet those expectations, comes increased risk. I don't just mean risk of a heart ailment, although that's certainly a possibility I'd take seriously if I were you. I'm talking about risk of an injury.

    When you undertake the sort of ambitious program described above, injury aversion techniques increase in importance by an order of magnitude. Stretching, warm-up and warm-down, core-strength exercises all become necessary, instead of recommended.

    You'll need to buy new shoes more frequently, because you'll no longer be able to nurse an old pair along. You might need orthotics. You'll have to weigh these injury-aversion techniques as you monitor your daily recovery.

    And, you'll have to know when to throttle back on speed sessions, and you should be willing to do so. As previously noted, for any number of reasons I've taken two or three weeks at a time running no faster than a jog, because my body just wasn't in the mood.

    Once you start on a spate of speedwork, you've got about 3 months, maybe 4 months, worth of upward progression. Then, you've got to call it a season.

    You can continue to race successfully for many weeks afterward, and the racing itself consists of enough speed to carry you through a couple of months of fitness. Then it's time to give your body a bit of rest, and revert to the long, slow mountain runs, or meadow runs, or wherever it is you do these sorts of runs where you live.

    Twice each year you can embark on a campaign described above. No more. You may notice steady improvement, and more impressive PRs, for several years if you're sensible and sober on the one hand, and disciplined and willing to work on the other.

    If you're a triathlete, where you fit your bike and run into this is your problem. You might decide that a season of run-specific training each year is a good way to get things going, especially if you do it during a time when cycling is not a good option because of inclement weather or the shortness of daylight.


    Dan Empfield is the publisher of the online triathlon journal Slowtwitch.com, and is the founder of bike- and wetsuit-maker Quintana Roo.


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