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How to Race Your Best 10K

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Today it is double the pleasure, double the fun for some tips on how to run your best 10K. In case you missed it, I recently wrote a post about my strategy for running your best 5K. From a big picture perspective, the strategies are very similar. Keeping it simple is often best (and let’s face it, easier to remember when you are deep in the pain cave during the actual race). There are a few key differences though, so read on to find out more.

Warmup: I like to do at least 2 easy miles pre-race. The caveat here is to use your own judgement as far as what you think your body can handle, based on your experience level and overall mileage. After your warmup miles, pick up the pace and do a few strides to stir up the aerobic enzymes and prime the engine before heading to the start line.

Here’s how the race should go down:

First 10%: Avoid the early sprint out and ease into the pace. Start off as smooth as possible and use the first half to three-quarters of a mile to settle into your race rhythm and goal pace. Remember that you will soon be passing all of the folks who started out too quickly. I don’t know about you, but catching other runners during a race really motivates me to run harder. You might as well “let” them have a little head start and then focus on reeling them in. Not only does it make sense physiologically, but also it’s just more fun that way.

Middle 70%: Once you settle into your goal pace range, get comfy and plan to stay here for a few miles. There is more room to negative split and run to your true potential and also more room to have a goal pace “range” in a 10K, as opposed to a 5K. For example, I try to give myself a 10 second goal pace range during a 10K, whereas during a 5K, I likely have a specific pace that I am targeting. I would suggest running the first mile at the upper end of your goal range and easing it down as you go. After you pass the 5K mark, so 50% of the way into the race, do a quick reassessment of the pace. Do you feel good? If so, you might want to lower your goal range at this point and start picking it up just a tad. Do you feel okay? If so, you are likely running about where you should be running at this point. Focus on keeping a consistent rhythm and cadence and let the pace take care of itself. Do you feel bad? Hopefully not, but if so, don’t stress about it. Slow your pace down a tad and let yourself regroup. You can (and will) still finish this thing strong.

Last 20%: During the last mile and a quarter, challenge yourself to compete and give it your best effort. Focus on someone ahead of you and work to catch them. You can do anything for one mile. Check in with yourself every quarter-mile and count them down. Less than four laps around the track to go, less than three laps around the track to go, etc. It’s time to leave whatever you have left in the tank out there on the course. Don’t worry too much about your pace at this point, just give it all you’ve got. If you follow this strategy, you should be able to make your last mile the fastest of the day and that, my friends, is a wonderful feeling.

Cooldown: I also like to get in 2 more miles post-race (again, use your own judgement here). This will help you flush out your muscles and will promote recovery. It can be difficult to make yourself do anything else after the race, but trust me, it is well worth it!

This is a simple pacing strategy that has served me well over the years. If you are competing for placement or running on a course that has significant uphill or downhill sections, then you would definitely need to factor those things into your plan. For the most part though, your training prepares you for race day and the magic will happen on its own as long as you have put in the work during training.

Try this strategy at your next 10K and let me know how it goes!

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