Marathons steal the spotlight, but the 10K wins the popularity contest amongst runners. In fact, the latter can—and should—be used to improve virtually every physiological tool necessary to improve your running.
That being said, effective preparation and execution for a 10K are topics rarely discussed outside of coaching circles. While a myriad of approaches exist, three are generally regarded as the most effective and most trainable. Which is best suited for you and how can you best augment the skills associated with each?
Pacers are strength-oriented runners who have the ability to run fairly close to their maximal heart rate for a full 10K race. Pacers are generally runners who run without much variance in their overall pace from gun to tape, and generally have an instinctive feel for how to distribute an even, steady tempo on race day. In short, “pacers” are those who get in and grind on race day—a rare quality, to be sure.
Ways to Improve Pacing Ability
Developing the ability to establish a strong even tempo during a 10K race involves two critical types of workouts: longer tempo runs and longer intervals with relatively short rest. These sessions—largely regarded as the toughest in the business—will give you strength-based tools possessed by few. Give these sessions a try, with a minimum of four rest days between workouts.
Pacer Session No. 1: The Progressive
After a 15 to 20-minute warmup of easy jogging and light accelerations for economy, begin the opening mile of your progressive run at approximately 1:00-1:10 per mile slower than your goal 10K pace. If you are targeting 9-minute miles for a 10K you would run the opening mile at a 10:00-10:10 pace.
After this mile, pick the tempo up 10-15 seconds per mile for each successive mile, from 2-7 miles. You will note that, for experienced athletes, this progressive, steady run will have you finishing your final 1-2 miles close to your 10K goal pace.
Pacer Session No. 2: Strength Intervals
After a proper warmup, implement up to six 1,200-1,600-meter repetitions, with a minimum of two minutes and no more than 3:30 between intervals. Make sure your rest is brisk walking or light jogging.
As you begin your 10K preparation, 3-4 months out from your goal race(s), these longer intervals should target 10-15 seconds per mile slower than your goal 10K pace. As the race gets closer, however, these intervals should creep closer toward your goal race rhythm. You will also find that these paces become more manageable when implemented every 6-8 days.
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