Training for a 10 Mile Race

A while back I discussed the racing strategy for a 10 Mile (or 15K) race. Here, I’m going to discuss an effective training plan for a 10 Miler.

The only resource I currently know of that offers a specific 10Mi/15K training plan is Hal Higdon. His plans are simple and sound, and if you followed one of his plans to the letter you’d probably be okay. But there are additional opportunities to progress towards peak fitness that the following plan should include.

The following 10 week training plan builds your 10 Mile pace and gets you ready to run your best 10 Miler:

First of all, here’s the full schedule. Below I’ll go into more detail on the nuts and bolts.

10MilerTraining

Here’s how the basic schedule works out to start:


Monday: Strength workout. 30 minutes recommended.

I recommend strength training of your choice on Monday, whether you train on machines at the gym, do weight lifting with barbells/dumbbells/kettlebells, or a bodyweight sequence like Pilates or a full body routine. Do whatever you feel comfortable doing, as long as you do something whole-body and form-specific (no carrying furniture or other errands and calling it your strength training!).

Try to stick to 30 minutes, unless it’s a floor-based whole body routine like Pilates or yoga. Classes in these disciplines typically run closer to an hour, and you’re not moving on your feet much of the time anyway. If you’re lifting weights or doing something more aerobic, stick to 30 minutes.

Don’t go all out: You want this to be demanding for your whole body, but you also want to be in condition to run the next day.

Strength training is done the day after a rest day, and two days after your longest workout. You don’t do any running on this day. The goal is to not just develop overall strength and balance to aid your running, but to also prime yourself for the aerobic and anaerobic work to follow. You also avoid doing strength training when you’re more taxed from earlier workouts.

Tuesday: 45-60 minute Fast Finish run

Another key to develop strength in endurance is a common training run called the Fast Finish run.

Side note: For runs shown in minutes, the easiest way to do these outdoors is to run for half the time, then turn around and run back the way you came.

However, you can instead use a treadmill or run around a shorter loop if desired. And of course if you know for certain you can run a point to point route in the needed time, you’re welcome to do that.

To do the Fast Finish run: Go on a regular easy 45-60 minute training run. But, towards the final 12-15 minutes, pick up the effort and pace and finish strong.

If you plan to run a route and turn around halfway through the run, for the Fast Finish run you should run a bit longer before you turn around. Since you’ll run faster at the end, you’ll cover more ground towards the end. Turn around at 25 minutes if you’re doing 45 minutes, and at 35 minutes if you’re going 60.

The Fast Finish run trains you to maintain speed, economy, and race effort when you are tired. With this fast finish it’s best not to worry about actual pace, but focus on effort.

How hard should you go at the end? Going by feel is probably okay. If you’re concerned about going hard enough, your heart rate monitor is a good gauge: If you know your lactate threshold, you can aim to average a beat or two below that. Barring that, if you know your general heart rate for half marathon pace, you can aim to average a beat or two above that. You can also disregard heart rate and just go at a hard effort that you know you can maintain for 15 straight minutes.

The key on a fast finish run is just to go hard like a race in the final quarter of the run, and be able to sustain it. As long as you finish the run and finish it consistently fast, you’ve done the job.

Wednesday: Easy Day

The Easy Day is not necessarily a day off. It’s a lower key aerobic workout of at least 30 minutes: A jog, cross training, a bike ride, a swim, cardio on a cardio machine. You are welcome to go as long as 60 minutes, but you are expected to do at least 30 minutes.

The key behind an Easy Day is filling in your week with consistent activity through light easy runs and cross training. While experienced runners know all of the following, I’ll go into a basic primer on these days’ key benefits:

1) The circulation of lower intensity activity helps clear various waste products and other impurities, quickens the delivery of nutrients to muscles, and drives recovery more efficiently than just resting.

2) The lower intensity activity burns fat, getting your body in the habit of accessing fat stores that will reduce the burden on your limited glycogen stores on race day.

3) Consistent exercise of any kind accustoms your body to the demands of physical activity, further developing strength that will make you more efficient on race day.

There are two Easy Days on the weekly schedule, this one and on Thursday. One of the Easy Days can be an optional rest day, though I’d recommend not taking both Easy Days off in a week unless you absolutely must for some reason. At the very least, take a 30-60 minute walk in lieu of exercise.

Of course, if you’re injured or very sick and it knocks out more than a few days of training, consider dropping out of the race. I’m not saying absolutely drop out: In many cases you can still run the 10 Miler, but you need to level your expectations. However, sometimes the best move is to cancel off and fight another day. Be smart.

Thursday: Speedwork.

On Thursday, run speed repetitions lasting from 400 to 1600 meters, depending on how used to speedwork you are. It’s always smart to do a brief 10 minute warmup jog before any speedwork, and to rest at least 90 seconds between every repetition.

  • The ideal place to do these reps is on a standard competition track (where one lap is 400 meters). Cinder or asphalt tracks are also okay, though often they’re shorter, so verify the measurements and make sure you’re running the correct distance.
  • You can also measure off a stretch of path on a trail or in a park: 400 meters is roughly 1/4 mile, and 1600 meters is about a mile. Use mapping software like G-Maps Pedometer to scout nearby locations and map out a training path. In Las Vegas I’m nowhere near an accessible running track, so this is often my best option. Many of you are in the same boat.
  • I do not recommend using a treadmill for speed reps. There’s a delay in reaching the needed speed and in slowing down for recovery intervals. Plus, if you tweak or pull something, you can’t immediately slow down or stop on a dime if needed, which can turn a minor tweak into an actual injury. You also can’t run and adjust your velocity by feel, which I consider important in speedwork. The treadmill forces you to run a particular speed until you change the settings or stop it.

How long should your reps be? The less experienced or comfortable you are with running this fast, the shorter your reps need to be. If you’re experienced and already run mile repeats all the time at 10K pace or faster, then just do 1600 meter repeats. If you don’t do a lot of speedwork, stick to 400 meter repeats. They just need to be long enough to be challenging for you.

For those who don’t have access to a track and/or don’t care for the metric system: You can measure them out by quarter miles, long city blocks, however you wish. Or do them by time instead. For example, 2 minute repeats. Or 4 minute repeats. Don’t go longer on a repeat than 8-10 minutes.

If you can’t use a track, run in an area where you can run uninterrupted.

How far each of your reps should be depends on your current capabilities, which is why I advise a range. But I do recommend two things:

  1. If you are doing 400-1600 meter repeats, do a minimum of 6 reps at 400 meters. Or 4 reps at 800 meters. Or 3 reps at 1000 meters. Or 2 reps at 1600 meters.
  2. If you’re doing it by time, do a minimum of 6 reps for 2 minute repeats. Multiply the number of repeats by the amount of minutes, and make sure the total is bigger than 12. Do at least 2 repeats, and again don’t do a repeat longer than 8-10 minutes.
  3. No matter how you measure or track them, do as many repeats beyond the minimum as you comfortably can, with a key exception….
  4. Run no more than 30 minutes worth of reps. By that I mean that if you add the times of all your reps they should total no more than 30 minutes, rest periods not included. For example, someone who can run 800 meters at 10K pace in 4 minutes should only run 7 of those reps (4x7min = 28 minutes. If they ran one more rep, that’d be 32 minutes and exceed the limit).

 

Why train at 10K pace, even though you should not necessarily run that pace in the 10 Miler? Along with working on running economy, a common and useful goal in speedwork, the key is a concept from The Hanson Brothers called strength running.

By training at length at a harder pace slightly above your goal race pace, you in turn develop strength in endurance that makes that race pace feel “easier”. By the time you train at that race pace in the final weeks, it should feel a lot easier to maintain for several miles (which you will need to do on race day!).

Friday: Easy Day.

We discussed this above for Wednesday. The same rules apply here.

Saturday: A 60-90 minute easy run.

On Saturday you want to do one easy-intensity run that lasts an hour or more. You don’t need to run longer than 90 minutes, and you shouldn’t. This obviously works on the aerobic endurance and time on your feet that the race will require.

Time on your feet and time spent in an aerobic state is the important factor here, which is why I set this by minutes rather than miles. It’s within the 60-90 minute window that your aerobic demand and development peaks during an endurance run, so hitting that sweet spot in aerobic work at least once each week is key during your 10 Miler training.

If your endurance and ability allows it, other aerobic workouts during the week may allow you to approach that 60 minute mark. But it’s not as important as hitting and exceeding that mark in this workout.

Sunday: Rest.

Some high-volume runners would prefer to do a workout every day and may not need a rest day. For most, I say don’t worry about it and just take this day off. Let your body absorb the week’s training, and reload for another week of training.


Week 5: The Step Back Week.

The schedule I show above should be followed for four consecutive weeks. On the following week, you step back on some of the intensity to give your body an extra recovery boost. The first stepback week (Week 5) comes ahead of the more intense Thursday workouts during the next training block.

The key difference in the step back week is to eliminate the speedwork session and replace it with a regular 45-60 minute run. This is similar in length to the Fast Finish run, but you should not worry about a fast finish. Just do the run, similar to how you just do the longer 60-90 minute run.

There are other subtle differences to this step back week:

  • Err on the side of shorter Easy Day workouts, 30 minutes max.
  • The 60-90 minute long run is just 60 minutes.
  • The fast finish long run is a shorter 45 minutes, with a 10-12 minute fast finish.

After this step back week, you resume a more normal, albeit slightly tougher schedule.

Weeks 6-9 Changes:


Change #1) The 10K Workout becomes the Threshold Tempo Workout.

On week 6, we replace the Thursday 10K workout with a Threshold Tempo workout. This is an uninterrupted run of a few miles, at a pace 15 seconds slower per mile than 10K pace. You warm-up for 10 minutes with an easy jog, then do the rest of the run at Tempo.

This Tempo pace is right around your lactate threshold pace. If you actually know your lactate threshold pace, use that pace. Otherwise, use a pace 15 seconds slower than your 10K pace.

Though I generally recommend avoiding the treadmill for speed reps, you may use a treadmill for your first try at this workout. This allows you to run at the exact speed/pace you’re trying to run.

This workout follows the same strength running principles discussed earlier. But this time, we add an endurance component, where you work on that strength over a longer, uninterrupted distance.

How long should this Threshold workout be? We start with a standard 20 minutes at this pace. You’ll know after the first such workout how much farther you can go next week.

If the first tempo workout was too easy, jump right away to 30 minutes next week. If you finished the first workout feeling closer to death:

  1. You can stay at 20 minutes for next time if stepping up to 25 seems like too much.
  2. Absolutely take the following Easy Day off.

The max length this workout will reach is 45 minutes. Again, you’re running this slightly faster than the actual race pace: If you can manage 45 minutes at this tempo pace, running 60+ minutes on race day at the (slower) actual race pace will feel more do-able.

Change #2) The Long Run includes a brief section at Race Pace.

This is a concept borrowed from Hal Higdon. You start your 60-90 Saturday run as you usually do, at easy pace.

However, at a point about 10-20 minutes into the run, speed up to your actual race pace and run that pace for about 10-15 minutes.

If in doubt about how race pace feels, run the first attempt at this workout on a treadmill and keep the workout to 60 minutes.

The goal of this workout wrinkle is just to practice running at that pace, to ingrain the feel for it. Race pace should feel roughly a level more difficult than a moderate running pace (a typically brisk easy run), but not as difficult as your other speedwork.

This is a good opportunity to find out if your chosen race pace is too fast. If it feels too difficult, dial back the pace (and your expectations) until it feels as I described.

After about 10-15 minutes at race pace, slow back down to a regular pace and finish the run. This pace session will make the overall long run a little bit more challenging, and ideally you should run a little farther than your previous 60-90 minute runs. But this workout shouldn’t be that much more difficult than the previous long runs.


Week 10 Is Race Week.

Monday – Strength Training. Take it easy.
Tuesday – 45 minute Race Pace run.
Wednesday – Easy Day.
Thursday – 30 minute Race Pace run.
Friday – Rest.
Saturday – Rest, or RACE DAY.
Sunday – Rest, or RACE DAY.

1) Do a lighter version of your strength training.

Definitely strength train on Monday, but do fewer reps and/or a shorter session. You want to avoid feeling at all sore on Tuesday. You are tapering to prep your body for this weekend’s race.

2) Your entire run on Tuesday and Thursday is at Race Pace.

Forget the fast finish run and forget the speedwork. The only run workouts you do this week will be entirely at race pace.

These should not feel like arduous workouts. If there was any doubt whether you picked a good pace or not, they’re going to disappear here. This pace should make each of these runs feel like a brisk moderate run that’s slightly challenging but not unsustainable. You should finish each of these feeling like you could continue at that pace for another half hour if you had to.

The Tuesday run will be as long as your fast finish run, 45 minutes. You’re only running one pace here: Your 10 Mile race pace. You should finish this run feeling like you could keep going at this pace for another several minutes.

The Thursday run is only 30 minutes. Obviously, you have a race in 2-3 days and you need to rest up rather than wear yourself out. This is just about practicing race pace. Get the workout done and call it a day. Hopefully you finish Thursday’s workout feeling like you barely got started and could have gone another half hour easy.

If you’re dying at any point in these runs, you absolutely picked too fast of a pace and you need to dial your expectations back now. Pick a moderate pace you can hold for an hour and run that instead.

3) Friday is a rest day.

Prior easy days were optional rest days, but this is a mandatory rest day. In many cases your race’s packet pickup for bibs will be today. Get your bib and gear, and relax.

Hopefully you’re chomping at the bit to go out and run. Hold tight today: You’ll get your chance this weekend!

4) If your race is on Sunday, you get an extra rest day.

Lucky you. For example, those who run the Fort 2 Base 10 miler in Northern Illinois will get Saturday off before Sunday’s race. Enjoy that extra rest day: You worked your butt off and earned it.

For those who run a Saturday race, I’m sure you won’t mind. You’ll most likely be chomping at the bit after the extra time off to get out there and run.


Race Day: Start easy, finish strong.

My original 10 Miler post focused on racing strategy for the race, and that mirrors my recommendation for Race Day: Start easy, finish strong.

Hopefully, the race pace feels comfortable and you can settle into that pace after 2-3 miles. Don’t worry out of the chute if you’re a little slow. Let the crowd thin out and then settle in.

Keep your effort moderate, steady, and manageable. Only after mile 6 should you kick it up a notch and push yourself to hold race pace.

After mile 9, go as hard as you think you can sustain from there through the finish line.


I hope the plan I outlined helps you get ready to run a distance that’s become more popular in recent years. I hope this helps bridge the gap between more popular training methods for similar distances, and gets you specifically ready for the 10 Mile distance.

Best of luck!

10MilerTraining

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One thought on “Training for a 10 Mile Race

  1. […] As for how to train for this race… click here for full info on a 10 week training plan to get you ready to run the 10 Miler. […]

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