The 10K is one of those sweet-spot distances for many runners. Longer than a 5K but shorter than a half-marathon, 6.2 miles is an ideal option for those who want a greater challenge but aren’t interested in the training commitment that half and full marathons require.
No one knows this as well as Greg McMillan, exercise physiologist, National Champion runner, not to mention, one of the most well-known running coaches of our time. After running countless 10Ks and coaching runners who have run countless more, McMillan swears by one workout as the absolute best way to prepare you for the distance.
“It’s not an easy workout, and you probably can’t do it right away, so you’ll need to build up to it with the sequence of workouts outlined here, which, when combined with supplementary workouts, creates an exceptional training plan for your next goal 10K,” he says.
How to do these workouts: The ultimate 10K workout is tough, so you need to train for it. Start with the build-up workouts listed below. Perform a warmup before each workout.
While the 10K build-up workouts occur every other week, the in-between weeks provide an great opportunity to perform other important 5K and 10K workouts. “I like 200-meter and 400-meter repeats performed at 5K effort,” McMillan says. “I find that running slightly faster repeats on the in-between weeks makes 10K race pace feel easier.”
You may even perform a 5K race in preparation for your 10K (see schedule below). “I also recommend at least one tempo run during this build-up; the pace will be slightly slower than 10K pace but will build your stamina for the goal event,” he says.
“It’s a simple workout but oh-so-hard to accomplish. As such, you must build up to it, and this build-up of workouts turns out to be some of the best training you can do to run a fast 10K.”
BUILD-UP WORKOUT ONE: 6 x 1 MILE
Eight weeks out from your 10K, run six 1-mile repeats at your goal 10K pace, taking 3 to 4 minutes recovery jog between each.
“Don’t be surprised if you struggle in this workout,” McMillan says. “Many athletes become worried that their goal is out of reach, but trust me: You just need to complete the workout sequence, and you’ll be ready. One thing I find helps is to just focus on goal 10K pace, not faster. Some runners try to ‘beat the workout’ by running faster, but that isn’t the goal. Start at goal pace and simply hang on.”
BUILD-UP WORKOUT TWO: 2 MILES + 4 x 1 MILE
Six weeks out from your 10K, advance to the following workout: Run a 2-mile repeat at your goal 10K pace then take a 5-minute recovery jog. Next, run four 1-mile repeats at goal 10K pace, taking 3 to 4 minutes recovery jog between each.
“As with workout number one, you will get in 6 miles of running at your goal pace,” McMillan says.
BUILD-UP WORKOUT THREE: 2 x 2 MILES + 2 x 1 MILE
Four weeks out from the race, the workout advances yet again. This time, run two 2-mile repeats at goal 10K pace. Again, take a 5-minute recovery jog after each 2-mile repeat. Then, perform two 1-mile repeats at goal pace, taking 3 minutes recovery between each.
“By now, you should be feeling much more ready to attack your goal time,” McMillan says. “Your body is becoming calloused to the mental and physical stress of 10K pace. If, however, you’re struggling to hit your goal pace even on the first 2-mile repeat, then your proposed goal pace is too aggressive and you should re-evaluate.”
THE BEST 10K WORKOUT: 3 x 2 Miles
After this build-up of workouts, you’re ready to attack the ultimate 10K workout. McMillan suggests you perform this workout nine to 12 days before your race or time trial to allow enough time to recover before the event.
Start with your usual warmup, then run three 2-mile repeats at your goal 10K pace. Take a 5-minute recovery jog between each repeat.
Use this key workout as a trial run for the big day. “Prepare for this intense workout like you will your race—be well-recovered, properly hydrated and fueled, use the equipment you’ll use in the race, run at the time of day that you’ll be racing,” says McMillan. “If you can perform three 2-mile repeats at your goal 10K pace in the last one to two weeks before your race, you will achieve your goal time. Period.”