Training for a 10K race is difficult. It isn’t a sprint, so running shorter distances on a track isn’t as crucial, but it’s not even a half-marathon either—so sustained long distance runs aren’t as beneficial. And your pace needs to be fast, but not too fast, or your body will be gassed long before you cross the finish line. With correct training, nutrition, and a proper mindset, you can get faster. It’s just a matter of knowing how.
So, we asked David Roche, this year’s USA Track & Field 10K Trail Champion (with a time of 41:21), to give us some quick, easy-to-use tips on improving your 10K time. Here's how he says you can find the right training balance and up your mental game.
1. Be consistent — Your race time will never improve if you don’t practice, but Roche warns to not overdo it with a long, difficult run every day. “Get into a routine of something that you can do to just get out the door,” he says. “ Even if it is 10 to 15 minutes a day—build off that.” The benefits that come from running consistently, whether it’s everyday or every other day, outweigh the negative side effects that result from overdoing it, both in terms of mental exertion and physical exhaustion.
2. Run hills, hills and more hills — Unless you are at the professional level, working on the track will be unnecessary. What is needed, though, are the dreaded hill workouts, which will provide you with all of the adaptations you’ll need for a faster 10K. Roche likes to incorporate a hill run into his workouts once a week on a slope that takes about one minute to scale. After a 15-minute warm up, he recommends running up the hill almost as fast as you can, turning around, and jogging back down. Complete this six to 10 times at a hard pace. And once a week on a non-hill day, at the end of your run, find a steep hill (six to 10 percent grade) and simply conquer it for a quick hill sprint. “These work almost every system that you will use in a 10k,” Roche says.
3. Push yourself to the limit — While Roche doesn’t advise pushing it to the limits every time you compete, he does recommend killing it for at least one race. “Don’t be afraid of going out there and actually racing,” he says. “You’ll never know what you are capable of unless you push it to the edge, or even step over the edge.” Most runners will be surprised by their abilities if they start a little faster than they feel is comfortable. So next race day, go out as hard as you can—and try to maintain that pace the whole race.
4. Slim down — “Weight plays a big part in running a 10K,” Roche says. “The biggest nutrition change you can make, even if you aren’t trying to lose weight, is to not be afraid of a big salad.” A loaded salad will give you the same substance as a bowl of pasta, but without the extra calories. Roche recommends loading up on leafy greens mixed with plenty of protein and healthy fats, like those found in nuts or avocados. The day before the big race, however, keep your meals light and packed with proteins and quality carbs, like sweet potatoes or eggs. This will ensure you’ll fuel up the best way—without overdoing it.