The 10K distance is a sweet spot: At 6.2 miles, it’s double the distance of a 5K, but just under half the distance of a half marathon. That makes it a race nearly anyone can train for without having to sacrifice every one of your weekends for long runs.
“All runners are seeking that optimal challenge zone that asks them to focus, train, and try hard,” says New York Road Runners coach Annick Lamar. “The 10K can be accomplished by most new runners, but it can still be an extremely rewarding challenge for experienced runners, too.”
If you’re thinking about running or racing 6.2 miles, here’s everything you need to know to figure out how fast you can go—and how to make sure you hit a good 10K time on race day.
How to Find Your 10K Pace
On the most basic level, your 10K pace is the pace you can hold consistently for 6.2 miles. If you’ve never run that distance before, that’s okay. Coaches and runners use a couple of different methods for gauging pace. One is rate of perceived exertion, which ranks your effort level on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 being no effort and 10 being max effort).
“The go-to standard for a 10K is an eight out of 10 on the RPE scale,” says Lamar. Perceived effort is one of the most valuable ways that you can figure out what the best pace is for you, explains Chris Knighton, a USATF-certified coach specializing in 5K through half marathon distances. “It teaches you to rely on your own body and intuition rather than technology, which may or may not be accurate.” That’s because if you go by pace or heart rate, there are a number of factors that can mess with those numbers including elevation, inclines or declines, weather, or overtraining.
Another way to determine your effort is the talk test, or how breathless you are at a certain pace. “You should be able to regulate your breathing and speak some words, but it should feel like a challenge,” says Lamar.
And if you have run a race or specific distance recently, you can use that finish time to determine a good 10K time for you. Online, you can use the Runner’s World Race Time Predictor tool, but in general, your 10K pace will be around 45 to 60 seconds per mile slower than your best mile time or somewhere between 10 and 30 seconds slower than your 5K pace, says Knighton.
“The faster you’re looking to finish your race, the tighter that window is going to be,” he adds. “But it pays to be conservative, because you always speed up at the end.”
Just remember, a calculator isn’t equipped to factor in elements like how hot or humid it is on race day, how much sleep you got the night before, and what you ate before running. “These calculators can help set a baseline for you, just be very thoughtful how you use them,” says Lamar.
What’s the Difference Between Current Pace and Goal Pace?
OK, let’s say your current run pace is 9:53 per mile (that’s the average mile pace on the running app Strava, according to 2021 data). That means you could walk out the door right now and run 9:53 per mile for just over six miles, no problem.
But maybe you think you can run (or want to run) 9:43 per mile. That’s your goal pace.
The challenge is determining a realistic goal pace. “You have to recognize that even with professional athletes, their goal pace is sometimes less than half a minute faster than what they’ve done previously,” says Lamar. Since a 10K requires a combination of speed and endurance, shooting for the moon in terms of a PR may not be the most realistic option.
“For beginner runners, your goal pace should only be 30 seconds to a minute faster than what you’ve run previously,” says Lamar. “You want to be thinking about taking out small chunks of time—10 seconds per mile would be very successful—over the course of six miles.” Of course, you can always build on that.
If you’re a first-time 10K runner, don’t stress about goal pace. “It’s more about finishing,” says Knighton. “The first time you race that distance, have fun and do your best. That’ll establish a baseline for the future.”
How to Set Up Your Training to Run Your Goal 10K Time
The 10K might be the first race you’d have to regulate your pace as a runner in a way that you don’t have to in shorter distances. You want to settle in and stay in control during the first two thirds of the race (4 miles), so you can hit the gas in the final third (2 miles) to finish strong.
If you only focus on one type of workout, Knighton recommends it be the tempo run. “For a 10K, most runners are going to struggle with endurance more than speed,” he explains. “You may be able to run a 7:30-minute mile, but it’s the endurance of being able to run a pace for six full miles that you need.”
A simple way to structure your tempo run would be this: warm up for 10- to 20-minutes, then run 20-minutes gradually building up speed, running most of it close to that 7 RPE and finishing the last few minutes near that 8 RPE, says Knighton.
But speed runs and long runs are important, too. “If you want to race at an effort level of eight out of 10, you should be doing a lot of speedwork at a seven out of 10,” says Lamar. And “running for an hour or longer—at a slower pace—is also going to increase your endurance and really help you feel comfortable going the distance.”
During all of these workouts, you can work on the psychological factor of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable so you know how to manage fatigue late in an effort and aren’t experiencing that for the first time during the 10K. “That might mean doing some longer intervals that approach an eight out of 10 effort level towards the end of those intervals,” says Lamar, “or it might mean picking up your pace in the home stretch of a long run. You don’t need to live there, but you want that awareness of what that 10K pace will feel like when your legs are tired.”
So, how long does it take to train for a 10K? Obviously, this answer is going to be different for every runner depending on experience and fitness level, but “it takes at least three to four weeks of consistent training to see any benefit,” says Knighton. If you’re really looking to improve at a 10K and hit that goal, he recommends giving yourself at least 10 weeks to train but up to 16 to 20 weeks (yes, that’s the same amount of training time some people take for a marathon!). You want to give your body time to absorb your training, adapt to it, and perform better the following week. Rinse and repeat, and you’ll be running a faster 10K in no time.