Strategic approaches to racing the 10 Miler

While not as popular elsewhere, the 10 Mile race distance is somewhat popular in the Midwest, especially in Chicagoland. Chicago alone has two major 10 Mile races, the Lakefront 10 in April (my favorite race) and the Soldier Field 10 in May. Several others (Quarryman Challenge and Fort2Base) are annually held in the suburbs with high turnout. There’s also the 15K (9.32 miles), the close metric cousin of the 10 Miler, and the Hot Chocolate 15K is another popular Chicago race held in November.

Because the distance is not popular like the 5K, 10K, half and full marathon distances, there’s not a lot of strategic material on how to race the distance. The next shortest popular distance is the 10K, which is over 6K shorter. Most runners approach it similar to a half marathon, even though the distance is about 5K shorter and experienced runners are probably leaving a bit in the tank.

I have run 10 Milers mostly as a long distance run (as the half-marathon runners do), and I ran my last 10 Miler as a marathon-pace tune up. However, having given it some research and thought, I have settled on two strategies for running the 10 Miler

Strategy One: The Hadfield Method

Jenny Hadfield crafted a smart approach for marathoners and half marathoners running their first race, and I think it translates well to the 10 Mile distance for most people. Along with new runners to the 10 Miler, Strategy One probably best for experienced runners who put in less than 65 miles a week.

The Hadfield Strategy, in short:

  • You run the first 60% or so of the race at an easy pace to comfortably maintain.
  • You run the next 30% or so at more of a comfortably hard tempo
  • The final 10% is closer to a max effort for whatever you have left.
  • It’s a great strategy in that it doesn’t necessarily have to be built around pace, but around your perceived effort.

If you’re not too fixed on finding goal paces, you are welcome to stop there. Just run the first 6 miles easy, the next 2-3 miles comfortably hard (if you’re running a 15K, it’s 2 miles), then go for it in the final mile.

However, for more experienced runners, I’m more than willing to recommend something closer to actual paces for Hadfielding the 10 Miler:

  1. Start at half marathon pace, and hold this pace until Mile 6.
  2. At Mile 6, pick it up to a 10K effort. If you can’t hit your 10K pace, then 10K level effort is enough. You basically want to treat this section like the last half of a 10K, except don’t kick or accelerate as you would in mile 5. Just pick it up as if you were trying to run an even 10K with a slight negative split.
  3. At mile 9 (or if this is a 15K, mile 8), kick it up to at least 5K pace or effort. If you have it in you to treat the final mile like a mile time trial or 3000 meter race, then go. But 5K effort is completely acceptable. Get to the pace that you can carry in that final mile to the finish line. (Side note for Lakefront 10 runners: I’d maybe keep it exclusively at 5K effort, because you still have to climb and descend Cricket Hill at the end of the race.)
  4. Once you see the finish line and know you can get there, kick.

Strategy Two: 10 Mile pace, defined.

The other approach is of course to run the entire race at a chosen, suitable pace as you would any other race.

But what would be an ideal 10 Mile pace? Much like an ideal half marathon pace, it’s an intensity reserved for only the most well-trained, durable runners. This is why, as previously implied, it should only be attempted by experienced runners who consistently log more than 65 miles per week.

Top half marathoners race at about their lactate threshold intensity, which most schools of thought refer to as Tempo, Cruise or Threshold pace.

It’s around 85% of your max, and the reason most recommend a slower half marathon pace for most is because most can’t sustain that kind of effort for the time it takes them to cover 13.1 miles. An elite runner can clear 13.1 in a bit over an hour, so it’s not as taxing for them.

An optimal 10 Mile pace is around the high end of Threshold tempo, right before drifting into 10K territory. Most runners can’t sustain that effort for 75-100 minutes, but a fast runner that can clear 10 miles in under an hour can do so easily.

The key gauge is the longest period you can manageably sustain an uninterrupted threshold effort run. If you can’t go at least 6.5 miles straight at that intensity, asking you to do it for 10 is probably too much. Hence the previous Hadfieldian strategy recommending you go by feel, start easy and basically assure yourself an excellent negative split.

A cracky common-sense method for estimating your optimum 10 Miler pace:

Add your half marathon pace and your 10K pace together, then divide by two.

The challenge, similar to a half or full marathon, is holding that pace for 10 miles. A half marathon effort is comfortably hard but somewhat easily sustainable. This pace at its hardest is more like a tempo run you’d only hold for 60 minutes max.

If you have 9-12 weeks training time before the race, you can gauge your actual 10 Miler pace through trial and error testing (and of course make sure you don’t have any speedwork or long runs within 2 days of doing the below):

  1. Pick a comfortably hard pace you think you can maintain for an hour, and run an uninterrupted tempo run at that pace for as long as you can. Aim for an hour minimum. IMPORTANT: If your heart rate reaches 90% of your max or your known 10K effort, stop the workout immediately and note your distance traveled.
  2. If you find you can’t run at least 6.5 miles at that pace, wait a week and try again at a pace 5 seconds per mile slower (3 seconds per kilometer). Again, run for at least an hour and aim for 6.5 miles without distress or other trouble. And again, if you miss the mark, repeat a week later with a pace 5 seconds per mile (3/km) slower.
  3. If after 3 tries you haven’t been able to finish 6.5 miles… just use your half marathon pace as your 10 Mile pace.

That is for all intents and purposes your 10 Mile pace. Train accordingly with that pace until race day.


… now how do you train for a 10 Miler, you may ask?

I’ll get to that at some point, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Tagged , , , , , ,

One thought on “Strategic approaches to racing the 10 Miler

  1. […] I will absolutely be here. I’m already registered! I ran last year’s race as a Vancouver marathon tempo workout, and still PR’d by about 6 minutes. I’ll probably run it more as a race, much in line with my recently discussed 10 Miler strategy. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: