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.
What Makes the 10 Miler Different:
The 10 Mile race distance sits between the 10K (6.2mi) and Half Marathon distance. Elite runners can race each distance equally well (though obviously such runners will focus on one versus the other).
Most recreational runners however feel a distinct difference between the effort each distance requires, and the 10 Miler falls squarely between both.
The 10K is the longest distance most can “race” without it feeling like a substantial endurance challenge. The Half Marathon requires substantial aerobic endurance to be able to suitably race it rather than just run and survive it. Some runners even “bonk” at the end of half marathons, even though a well trained runner should have enough glycogen and aerobic endurance to run well beyond 13-14 miles without bonking.
The 10 Miler just begins to tap the bottom of the jar of most runners’ aerobic endurance, and that’s if you run it wisely. A runner who goes hard as they would in a 10K will end up gassed in the final 2-3 miles. The 10 Miler is the shortest race distance at which one needs to pace their running as they need to in a Half Marathon.
Still, you can go a bit harder in a 10 Miler than you need to in a Half Marathon. The ideal 10 Mile race pace is right below where your lactate threshold would be, the point where you body produces muscle-slowing lactate faster than it can process and clear that lactate. The longer you spend past the lactate threshold, the quicker you tire and the quicker you hit your wall.
Your ideal 10K pace in fact is at or just above lactate threshold. Anything faster (5K, mile time trial, all out sprints) is well above it. The reason runners survive and thrive in those efforts is that those efforts are typically a lot shorter. A 5K blows past the threshold, but most seasoned runners finish 5K’s in under half a hour or less. Many runners finish a 10K in under an hour. Sprinters of course are done in seconds. In each case you’re well below your body’s lactate overload limits.
So, back to the 10 Miler. I find the simplest approach is to run 10 Milers mostly as a long distance run (as the half-marathon runners do). Having given the matter 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 6 miles of the race at a steady but easy pace to maintain.
- You run the next 3 miles or so while holding a comfortably fast effort
- Run the final mile at as fast of an effort as you know you can hold for a mile.
- Notice this strategy is not 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 fast, 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:
- Start the race at half marathon pace, and hold this pace until Mile 6.
- At Mile 6, pick it up to a 10K effort. Don’t expect to hit your actual 10K pace. You’ll be somewhat fatigued at this point. 10K level effort is enough. You want to treat this portion like the last half of a 10K, except don’t kick or accelerate as you would in mile 5. Just pick up the effort like you’re trying to run an even 10K with a slight negative split.
- At mile 9 (or if this is a 15K, mile 8), work up to more of a 5K 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 effort level that you can carry in that final mile to the finish line. (Side note for Chicago 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.)
- Once you see the finish line and know you can reach it, 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.
Again, an optimal 10 Mile pace is right below lactate threshold tempo. 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.
If you can’t go at least 6.5 miles straight at your desired intensity, asking you to do it for 10 is probably too much. This is why I brought up the previous Hadfield strategy recommending you run by feel, start easy, finish hard, and basically assure yourself an excellent negative split.
That said, if you insist on finding a specific 10 Mile goal pace, I recommend this:
Add your half marathon pace and your 10K pace together, then divide by two.
This gets you very close to your lactate threshold. If you’re above that threshold, you’ll find out the hard way: It will tire you enough that you gradually slow down within an hour. This pace at its hardest is more like a tempo run you’d hold for 60 minutes max.
If you have a few weeks before starting training for the race, you can gauge your actual 10 Mile race pace through trial and error testing. Make sure you don’t have any speedwork or long runs within 2 days of doing the below:
- Pick a comfortably fast 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.
- If you find you can’t run at least 6.5 miles at that pace, wait a week and try again at a pace 5-15 seconds per mile slower (3-9 seconds per kilometer), depending on how difficult your last attempt was. 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.
- Unless you aim for a pace that’s far too high, you should find out a suitable (or at least attainable) 10 Mile race pace by your 3rd attempt or so.
That is for all intents and purposes your 10 Mile pace. You can train accordingly with that pace until race day.
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.