How to Train for the 10K in an Olympic-Distance Tri

Run training for an Olympic-distance triathlon is a little bit like being a chef: you need a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But how much of this and that depends on how much you like it, and how much your body can handle.

In this article we'll talk about training for the 10K in the Olympic-distance triathlon, for the average age group triathlete. I define "average" as anyone who runs more than a seven-minute mile, and even the folks closer to ten to twelve minutes a mile.

An important factor for having a strong run is developing all your aerobic energy systems. It's important to change speeds often in all three sports. In running it's common to get into the 'plodding mode', running the same pace over all distances, and never seeming to get faster. If this sounds familiar, you aren't alone.

Ingredients needed to prepare for your Olympic-distance 10K:

  • The long run
  • Speed
  • Hill strength
  • Race pace

We'll start with the first and most important ingredient–the long run. Above all else, you need to have sufficient aerobic fitness going into race season.

You should be able to run the distance in the race (6.2 mile) up to 1.5 times (9 miles) in training. It doesn't have to be fast, you just have to be able to do it. For some folks who will take closer to 90 minutes for the run, I would use 90 minutes as the maximum long run in training.

In order to avoid the dreaded 'plodding', change up your pace so you don't run the same pace twice in a week. In the early aerobic base building period of your training, this would mean one day of a longer run, one day of pure speed (short reps of 20 to 30 seconds at 5K pace), and another day with a touch of tempo (Zone 3) running.

Each week you can extend the long run, and then add more reps to the speed sets and more time to the tempo runs. These efforts should not waste you and you should be able to finish knowing you could have done more.

The next ingredient is incorporating hill repeats and hillier longer runs into your training. This period should last four to six weeks. In this stage, you are preparing yourself to handle the 'Race Pace' training in the next period. Hill repeats should last between 90 seconds and two minutes, and just touch the bottom of your lactate threshold by the end. An easy walk/jog to the base of the hill is your recovery. Each week add a repetition or two and always walk away knowing you could have done one to two more reps.

As you get within ten weeks of the race, it's time to start implementing the last ingredient: Race Pace. This involves running 800 meters to two two-mile repeats at your goal race pace (recovery should be about 25 percent of the work time). These workouts can be run on their own or even as a brick as you get closer to the race.

Try this brick workout for a good Olympic-distance race simulation: A hard bike followed by 4 x 1 mile at race pace with short (30 seconds) rests.

Annual Progression for 10K Olympic-Distance Athlete





Long run



4-10 x 30"

10-20' Z3



8-12 x 30"

10-20' Z4






Long hilly run or with tempo finish



8-12 x 30"

4-15 x 2'


Race Pace


12 x 30"

4-8x800 to 4-5x1m


Key: '= minutes, "= seconds

Race Day Strategy: Run easy out of T2-grab some water, slow down, and get your HR down. Your goal should be to run the second 5K faster, so pick up the pace ever so slightly but not until after the 5K mark. Check your splits/effort the first three miles, and if you feel comfortable then pick up the pace. At the halfway mark, it's time to GO! Let it fly just like you were running a 5K. If you paced the race right, here is where you can make up a lot of ground and just go by people like they are standing still. It's only a short period of time, so push for all you are worth.

Combining the above ingredients will help you develop a very strong run this season. If you execute the proper training and race day plan, you'll be able to stick a fork in your competition. Good luck and train smart this season.

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Mike Ricci, D3 Multisport head coach and USA Triathlon Level III Certified Coach, was selected to write the training programs for both the short and long course USA World Championship Teams from 2002 to 2005. Mike is also the head coach for the University of Colorado triathlon team, which has won the last two Collegiate National Championships.

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