4 Tips on Running Your Best 10K

One of the great virtues of the sport of running is that it can be endlessly challenging for every participant. There is always a greater distance or a faster time just waiting for you to take it on. For beginners, just completing your first three-mile training run can be celebrated as a tremendous accomplishment.

For seasoned runners, shaving time from a personal record is its own form of winning. As you age, your progress within age groups may account for new "personal bests." And for every runner, it is the running itself that is its own reward.

More: Run Less for Your Personal Best

If you're relatively new to running, adding up mileage works physiological magic-increasing your stamina, your strength, and your speed. But if you've built a good base of about 25 to 30 miles a week or more and have been running in your comfort zone for a while, you will need to introduce some new training techniques and tweak your habits here and there to get faster.

What you need is a well-rounded training program that incorporates speed work, long runs, and adequate rest and recovery. Here is a quick guide for improving your 10K race time:

Adding Speed Work

The human body adapts very specifically to the demands placed upon it. If you run long and slow, your body will become very efficient at running long and slow. For example, if you run a total of 40 miles per week at a constant pace, you will train the energy systems and muscles of your body to do this very well.

However, if you never train at a faster pace, the energy systems necessary for that faster pace are left untrained. Studies have found that training aerobically (distance only) will not increase your anaerobic (sprinting) capabilities.

However anaerobic training or speed work will increase both your anaerobic and aerobic capabilities. Here are some training techniques that can help you make training gains that result in faster times.

More: 10 Tips to Run Better and Recover Faster

Intervals: Interval training or repetitions involves running fast paced laps on a track or a set course repeatedly with short rest periods between each run. For example, a 400-meter lap at a fast-for-you pace, six times with a slow recovery jog or walk between laps.

Fartlek: This odd word is Swedish for "speed play." Fartlek incorporates bursts of speed within your training run. The emphasis is on variety of terrain and grade of the course, and both duration and intensity of the speed interval. For example, during a two-mile run over hilly grade and open fields, include a half mile jog, then double your speed for three minutes, jog a little more, then run hard for one minute, and repeat in whatever combination of distance and pace you like.

Hills: Running hills is a very intense interval training technique. Find a hilly course or one challenging hill and run it as intervals-repetitions up hill with jogging or walking recoveries.

More: Coach Jenny's Tips for Running Hills

Sample Training Schedules to Beef Up Your Speed

Training schedules should be considered examples upon which to base your own training plans rather than rigid schedules to follow. Be flexible and build the techniques into your own training regimen.

The Big Caveat--Avoid Overtraining

Simply adding speed workouts into an established training regimen is a sure way to overtrain and risk overuse injury. You will need to start by keeping careful track of your mileage. Once you've established a record of mileage, you can use the standard 10 percent rule-of-thumb-never increase mileage or intensity by more than 10percent per week. What this means is that if you are going to add speed workouts to your weekly program, then a reduction in total distance is necessary.

You must subtract mileage to add speed workouts. Keep track of all the distance accumulated during speed training, including recovery and cool down and you will be able to adjust your mileage to accommodate speed work without overtraining.

If you turn up the heat too quickly you are going to get burned. Overtraining syndrome is the result of increaing your training demands faster than your body can adapt to the challenges--too much, too fast, too soon.

More: 7 Ways Runners Can Avoid Overtraining

You must develop a training schedule that meets your personal fitness level, not another runner's ability. Training stress that builds on your fitness base will result in training gains, given adequate rest and recovery. The road to faster times is littered with the injured whose training wasn't balanced by enough rest. To avoid a layoff, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Keep careful track of mileage. Make sure increases do not exceed 10 percent a week at the most.
  • Reduce mileage when adding speed work. Intensity is more difficult to measure, but cut backso that total demands don't exceed a 10 percent increase.
  • Never increase mileage and intensity at the same time.
  • Alternate easy days with hard training days.
  • Schedule rest days.
  • Use crosstraining for relative rest on easy days.
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About the Author

Greg Tymon, M.Ed., C.S.C.S.

American Running Association, empowering adults to get America's youth moving. For more information or to join ARA, please visit www.americanrunning.org.
American Running Association, empowering adults to get America's youth moving. For more information or to join ARA, please visit www.americanrunning.org.

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