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When looking at how to run a faster 10k, it’s important to put this distance in context. A step down in distance, we have the 5k with speed endurance being key – ‘start fast, maintain, dig in until the end!’ On the other side there is 10 miles, half marathon and the full marathon whereby endurance over a longer distance becomes increasingly important. The training then reflects this, with a faster pace being practiced for 5k than marathon. A 10k is the halfway house; there is a requirement to run at a fairly fast pace, for a significant amount of time.
A fast 10k is tough and it’s going to hurt. Tell yourself this, accept it and embrace the pain! Training not only prepares your body for a 10k race but also your mind for the 8th, 9th and 10th kilometre. Our brain is the largest user of glucose in the human body and will do all it can to maintain a decent supply. Of course when you begin a race, your muscles are busy converting all that lovely glucose into energy to propel you forwards. Don’t let your brain trick you into slowing down, it’s just being selfish trying to use all of your glucose! Be strong, think about other things; your form, the surroundings, the last episode of Game of Thrones, anything to distract you.
Any physical activity uses a combination of aerobic and anaerobic respiration to fuel your movement. Aerobic comes to the fore on longer distances such as the marathon and involves converting the oxygen you breath into energy. This is a more sustainable form of energy as the oxygen is being constantly replaced, supplying your muscles with what they need. When you run at an ‘easy’ pace, this means that you are running at a speed that makes maximum use of aerobic respiration.
Anaerobic respiration is the process of breaking down glucose to create energy. Even with good preparation and the use of energy gels, the human body cannot ingest enough glucose to replace that which is used whilst running and so eventually, you run out. A by-product of this process is lactic acid which, if enough of it builds up in your muscles result in pain a la ‘feel the burn.’
A 10k race will use around 97% aerobic respiration and 3% anaerobic. This doesn’t mean that you run 97% of the race just through breathing and then the final 3% anaerobically. Both processes occur simultaneously however operate depending on the rate at which the energy is required, i.e. for a 400m race your breathing can’t possibly keep up with your energy requirement and so this distance will take energy from around 43.5% anaerobic respiration.
All this means that to run a fast 10k you’re going to need to find a plan that involves improving your aerobic base whilst also including a few tempo runs and speed sessions to help anaerobically.
Signing up for a race is the best way to commit to training for a 10k. The more expensive the better so you’re less likely to pull out… You’ll also find that no matter how fast you run in training, you’ll never match alone what you will achieve in a group of other runners. There’s something in the ancient part of our brain that responds well to running as a pack.
Many beginner plans will have you building up to eventually running your goal distance of 10k. However, if you’re now trying to improve at your 10k time you’re going to need to up the distance a bit. This will help improve your aerobic base (how fast you can run whilst holding a conversation) and crucially, make the distance of 10k seem easier. If you’ve run a few 12, 15 or even 20k runs in your training, you might feel a little more confident standing on the start line of a 10k.
This is the process of running sets of smaller, faster distances to get your body used to running at a faster speed. Try and make these add up to at least 5k if possible. There are lots of examples of my speed sessions in the Training Diary section of this site however a session could look like this pyramid – 1x 400, 2x 800, 1x 1500, 2x 800, 1x 400. Run each set at the same pace, which should be a little faster than your target pace for your 10k.