How to Train for Your First 10K


Runners preparing for a race
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The 10K is a wonderful distance race for both beginning joggers and hardcore racers.

The 10K is a race full of legend and lore, heartbreak and triumph. And because it's a moderate distance, it offers challenges for both novice and expert runners. If you're setting out to run your first 10K, understanding the obstacles you'll face will help you not only complete the race, but cross the finish line with a grin instead of a grimace.

The 10K designation is an informal name given to a 10,000-meter race. Track and field fans know that a formal 10,000-meter race is run on a track. A 10K, in contrast, is usually run on a road or as a cross-country event. That distance, if you're not metric-minded, is 6.2 miles, or about one-half of a half-marathon.

With both casual and serious runners, 10K races are extremely popular. They appeal to beginning runners who aren't yet ready for marathons, but also to long-distance runners who use 10Ks to learn to run faster and to run more often, thanks to the reduced recovery times associated with shorter races.

So you don't have to consider yourself a runner to complete a 10K. You don't really have to be in great shape, either. Some modest, short-term workouts will help you complete the race.

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Training is relatively light compared to the practice and workouts that go towards a marathon, which requires around 18 weeks of training. In contrast, you can go from pretty out of shape to 10K form in about eight weeks.

One of the best things about running in general is that, unlike a lot of sports, it doesn't require you to spend a lot of money on fancy gear. Of course, as with any hobby, if you become more serious about running 10Ks or other races, you can spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on associated gear, entrance fees and other related expenses.

For your first 10K, though, it's best to keep things simple and to focus on the experience of completing a race of more than 6 miles for the first time in your life. It's an accomplishment you won't soon forget.

Expectations for Your First 10K

Runner checking his time
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Don't worry about checking your watch. You may have trained really hard for your race, but don't expect to set a record time your first attempt at this distance.

Your expectations for your first 10K will depend on how you arrived at the starting line to begin with. Some people have ultra-competitive friends who goad them into running their first race. Others simply decide to get into better shape and just fall into the idea of running a 10K after hearing about an event.

If you've never run before (or if it's been 20 years since you've done anything more strenuous than walk the dog) and are unsure of your abilities, consider scaling back your ambitions. You might want to start with a shorter distance, such as a 5K, until you have a better idea of how running affects your body.

No matter what scenario resulted in registering for a race, you should approach the 10K for what it is -- your very first 10K. You may want to take your mental cues from runners who advocate a Zen-like approach to new race experiences, in that they just let the race come to them.

Anticipating the race with all sorts of high expectations and unrealistic hopes is probably not the healthiest approach. Many novice runners sabotage themselves mentally and emotionally before races by setting high goals and wracking their nerves about their impending performance long before the starting gun.

To avoid psyching yourself out, focus more on each preparation run instead of dwelling on the race. Complete your training regimen in a disciplined manner and learn to enjoy the challenges and rough spots as much as you do the highs of easy, pain-free runs. In short, just enjoy the journey of the training process.

One great thing about 10Ks is that the training and recovery time is relatively short compared to longer races like marathons. Should you fail to finish or miss your goal time by a wide margin, you won't have to wait months before you can try again.

In other words, once you've put your first 10K behind you, you can absorb the experience, set new goals immediately, and move forward with real confidence and understanding of how exactly to achieve those goals. Keep reading to see exactly how you can prepare yourself for your first race.

First Time 10K Training Routine

Calendar
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Your most important training tool just might be a calendar. It helps you track your accomplishments and plan your goals.

A 10K requires thoughtful workouts that are geared specifically towards this distance. You won't have to do much research to find a plan because you can find free training schedules all over the Web.

For a 10K, you can expect to see a lot of 8-week training programs. Conveniently, most running programs are listed in printer-friendly table format. You'll see an example on the next page.

If you're totally new to race preparation, realize that training doesn't require you to run seven days per week. Most regimens direct you to run four to five days per week, and many plans will let you substitute cross training activities (such as biking or swimming) for one run per week.

A beginner's regimen won't push you to set any land-speed records. It will, however, acclimate you to running specific distances and help you build your endurance for a 10K run.

After you choose a training program, commit to it. Tell your friends and family about the race. Regardless of whether they support your endeavor or show up to watch, knowing that they know about your goal will apply some psychological pressure to your efforts and push you follow through.

Many runners obsessively time their practice runs. If you really want to nail down statistics associated with your workouts, there are hundreds of high-tech gadgets that can track your speed, calories burned, distance, running route and other relevant information. Some are equipped with heart monitors, which help you see exactly how your body responds to the workout.

Before you splurge on an expensive GPS tracker, consider using a device you already own. Many smartphones let you use feature-loaded running apps that are just as accurate as standalone gadgets. Plus, you'll be able to make calls in the event of an emergency. But don't feel pressured to buy any of these items. All you really need is a comfortable pair of shoes.

On the next page, we'll look at an example of a basic 10K training schedule.

First Time 10K Training Schedule

Don't just guess at a workout routine. You'll be happier with your race results when you train with a program that's specifically designed for a novice 10K runner.

We've put together a basic schedule for you to try below. Be sure to browse several training programs and compare them. Some programs are intended for advanced or expert runners. If you're a novice, you should stick to a rookie regimen, lest you become overwhelmed by workouts that are designed for people running at a higher intensity level.

Week

Mon.

Tues.

Wed.

Thur.

Fri.

Sat.

Sun.

1

Stretch/XT

2 miles

35 min. XT

2 miles

Rest

2.5 miles

40 min. XT

2

Stretch/XT

2 miles

35 min. XT

2 miles

Rest

3 miles

40 min. XT

3

Stretch/XT

2.5 miles

35 min. XT

2.5 miles

Rest

3.5 miles

40 min. XT

4

Stretch/XT

2.5 miles

40 min. XT

2.5 miles

Rest

4 miles

60 min. XT

5

Stretch/XT

3 miles

40 min. XT

2.5 miles

Rest

4.5 miles

60 min. XT

6

Stretch/XT

3.5 miles

40 min. XT

3 miles

Rest

5 miles

60 min. XT

7

Stretch/XT

4 miles

50 min. XT

2 miles

Rest

6 miles

60 min. XT

8

Stretch/XT

3 miles

35 min. XT

2 miles

Rest

5 miles

35 min. XT

9

Stretch/XT

2 miles

20 min. XT

1.5 miles

Rest

Rest

RACE DAY

XT = Cross training, such as swimming or biking

Keeping your training program close at hand is perhaps the single most effective tactic for success. Make sure you have to look at it every day. Print your training calendar and post on the wall of your kitchen. Every time you complete a training run, cross it off of the calendar.

Not only does this routine provide visual evidence of your accomplishment and reinforce your training, but it's also a constant reminder of your goals. Understand that it's not uncommon for even dedicated runners to miss scheduled workouts. Anguishing about a missed run accomplishes nothing. Just be flexible and commit to making up that exercise as best you can.

If you're training for your very first 10K, we've got some tips to help get you across the finish line. You'll see them on the next page.

Tips for First Time 10K Runners

Runner checking her time
John Howard/Digital Vision/Thinkstock
For your first race, don't get too caught up in a super-competitive finishing time. Take the time to enjoy the event.

As you prepare for your first 10K, you'll probably receive a lot of unsolicited advice from other runners and non-runners alike. Here's one tip you should follow for sure -- if you have any sort of known health issues, and you don't generally exercise much, you may want to check with your doctor before you begin training.

Once you're cleared for workouts, there are plenty of other tried and true tips that may help you have a better race experience. For starters, don't get too wrapped up in finishing in a certain time, especially if you've never run 6 miles before. You can worry about training for a specific time goal after finishing this race. Your first 10K result will provide a baseline performance that you can use to establish future goals.

Also, don't completely overhaul your current diet, especially if you're brand new to running. If you try to add too many big changes to your life at once, you're likely to abandon the idea of running altogether. Besides, as your training intensifies, your body is likely to begin dictating changes in diet, as you make the connection between poor food or large meals and subsequent sluggish runs.

Make sure you understand your training program's lingo. Many plans specify the effort you should put into your run, often by denoting longer runs as easy in effort. If you're gasping or out of breath, you're running too hard. If you can have a non-stop conversation or sing, you're probably running too slowly. You should complete easy runs at a pace that feels comfortable.

Plan your training runs with the race course in mind, and select routes that somewhat resemble the kind of conditions you can expect on race day. If you train in the flat plains of Kansas for a 10K race in Boulder, Colo., on race day you're in for a world of pain. If the race is going to be hilly, you absolutely must train on inclines, either outside or on a machine that simulates the same kind of effort.

You do need to have decent shoes that will withstand the rigors of training, but you don't have to buy the priciest pair you can find. There's evidence to support the idea that very expensive, cushy shoes actually cause more injuries than cheaper shoes, in part because they're so cushioned that they make it difficult to feel how your body is responding to a certain pace or stride. Without that physical feedback, you might repeat a harmful motion and cause an injury.

No matter what sort of gear you decide on, listen to your body as you train. If dull, tired aches give way to sharp stabbing pains, call your doctor and cease running. Or, if you're overwhelmed with enthusiasm about running, be sure not to overlook rest, which is a critical part of absorbing your workouts.

So be mindful of your body, respect the challenges that a 10K race presents and follow your training plan with diligence. With a little dedication and effort your first 10K will be a great experience, and you won't want it to be your last.

For more information about long-distance running and other related topics, jog your memory with the articles on the next page.

Related Articles

Sources

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