Guide to Preparing for a 10K
You’ve signed up for an upcoming 10k and you’ve blown the cobwebs off your running shoes. Great, its time to start training!
Not so fast Forrest Gump!
Before you hit the gym and start putting in the miles and repetitions, there’s a few things you’re going to need to know when structuring your training, especially if you aren’t a frequent runner and haven’t trained intensely for a running event before. This blog post will provide you with all the necessary training and nutrition information to not just survive but thrive in your first 10k event.
How to Survive a 10k
Developing the Aerobic System
After 1-3 minutes of activity, regardless of intensity used, exercise becomes predominantly aerobic. As such, developing this system is the most important factor to consider when preparing for running a 10k. The aerobic energy system is most effectively developed when exercising between 60-70% max heart rate. Adaptations to this kind of training include improving VO2 max by improving the number, size and surface area of mitochondria, increasing the volume of the heart, and increasing capillarisation of our muscles. This kind of training is often described as ‘building the aerobic base’, and when prepping for a 10k will be longer duration running sessions.
First time? Build up Slowly
If you have little to no previous endurance training experience, ensure that you start slow and build up your mileage gradually. Even if this begins with 10-15 minutes of continuous exercise, that’s great. Ensure you take rest days to ensure adequate recovery, and focus on adding a little more distance each time you run. If your longest run of the week is 3-4 miles, attempt to lengthen it by a quarter to half a mile every week, gradually accumulating more training volume. Don’t try and be the hero that runs as far as they possibly can in their first training session. This will increase your likelihood of injury and add excessive fatigue that may affect the rest of your training that week. Remember, quality over quantity.
Vary your distances
In order to ensure you recover effectively from training, performing harder and easier workouts across the course of the week is recommended. If you constantly attempt to add more distance to your best every training session, you will likely begin to run the risk of injury and overtraining, particularly if you have minimal prior running experience. Performing 1-2 intense sessions where you are attempting to put more distance on your current personal best, and 1-2 lower intensity ‘recovery’ sessions where you run at a slower pace for a shorter duration is suggested. This easier day will still help to maintain and develop the aerobic system, but will not be so intense that recovery demand is excessively challenged.
Warm up appropriately
Before setting off on any run (or any form of training session, for that matter), make sure you perform some low intensity activity to raise your heart rate, and some dynamic warm up/activation drills to promote postural balance and help to activate muscles that are key for maintaining efficient running mechanics (glutes, hamstrings and anterior core being the most important). The less experience you have running, the more of a priority this should be. It is all too common to see individuals set off too quickly and end up pulling a muscle/injuring a joint from failing to acclimate their body to the training stimulus in the session. Avoid any static stretching pre training, unless it is then followed by an extensive bout of dynamic stretching, Static stretching alone has been shown to reduce force and power output in subsequent activity, however when performed prior to dynamic stretching these negative effects appear to diminish. Foam rolling can be an effective way to reduce the perceived ‘tightness’ in a muscle and create a short-term increase in the stretch tolerance in a muscle due to a reduction in neuromuscular tone, and therefore may be used effectively during the warm up protocol.
Developing Maximal Strength
Performing strength training improves robustness by strengthening the muscular system, connective tissue and improving postural health, making you less susceptible to injury. Strength training also improves running economy by requiring you to produce less overall relative force during each running stride, improving stride efficiency and enhancing the body’s ability to use oxygen. Due to the fatiguing effects of strength training, be careful with how much total resistance training volume you prescribe, as this may result in adaptations that are divergent to the adaptations you require for a 10km event (see previous article on the interference effect).
It is recommended that strength training is performed with reasonably low repetitions (1-5) to avoid the development of excessive muscle soreness, with no more than 12-15 total sets per training session. Large compound movements like squats, deadlifts and overhead presses are advised for their demand on core strength and their overall global strengthening effect, and direct core work such as planks, rollouts and anti-rotation drills such as paloff presses are recommended
Pro-tip: Try and stay away from crunching/sit up movements. These have the propensity to tighten up the hip flexors, resulting in negative postural adaptations that could hinder both running economy and the increase injury risk to both the lower back and knees from an adverse distribution of forces during running.
Training for a 10k will most likely mean that your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) is about to go through the roof, so if you find yourself craving extra calories throughout the day, do not ignore your body and give yourself permission to eat more. Calorically restrictive diets are disadvantageous for a performance goal such as running a 10k as they do not provide the body with enough nutrients to adequately recover from the training load. If you have body composition goals in conjunction with training for a 10k, your maintenance calorie level will most likely increase significantly, and so increasing calories may still result in a body re-composition throughout the course of the training period leading up to the event.
Pre-training, ensure you are consuming enough carbohydrates to sustain your energy levels throughout the session and ensure it is something meal that sits well with your stomach and is easily digestible. Attempt to find a pre-training meal that is consistent and makes you feel energised for a run, and stick with it even on race day. Post-training, ensure you have a balanced meal with a protein source to promote muscle repair, and a carbohydrate source to help replenish muscle glycogen stores.
The night before the race, it is advised to have a carbohydrate-based evening meal with a lean protein source, but avoid anything too high in fat such as excessive dairy or pastry, that may be slow to move through your gut and sit heavy on your stomach.
Hydration is of upmost importance throughout the day, but especially during training sessions. Ensure you are consuming adequate amounts of water during all training sessions, perhaps with the addition of an electrolyte drink/powder to allow the water to be better retained by the body.
How to thrive in a 10k
The training and nutritional information discussed above is critical for allowing individuals to complete a 10k safely and effectively. But what if you already possess enough fitness to complete a 10k, but desire to push for the best time possible? You should still incorporate all of the aforementioned strategies, but here are some additional training interventions you may wish to consider…
Sprint Interval Training
Shorter high intensity bouts of exercise with active/complete rest periods are very effective for developing anaerobic power and capacity, important contributors to high levels of running performance. This training aims to generate a high level of lactate acid and therefore improves your ability to tolerate it, allowing you to perform at a higher workload even in the presence of this fatiguing by-product. High intensity sprints can be performed on either the treadmill, on a track, or on other cardio equipment such as a rower or stationary bike. For the purposes of keeping the training stimulus specific to the 10km event, either a track or a treadmill is recommended. Performing work periods of 30 seconds-3 minutes followed by recovery periods of 30 seconds– 3 minutes is the best way to develop the ability to sustain workload at high percentages of V02 max, and effectively tolerate and buffer lactate. Training closer to 30 seconds and you will be developing anaerobic power, and training closer to 3 minutes and you will be developing the ability to sustain anaerobic power. However, this kind of training is exceptionally fatiguing, and therefore shouldn’t be performed more than 1-2 times per week.
Plyometric training (jumps & bounds) can aid in the development of running economy by improving the storage and release of elastic energy, improving the efficiency of technique and resulting in a lower relative effort per stride. For more experienced trainees this can be advantageous, however less experienced individuals should be careful implementing this training as it carries a high injury risk with high joint loads exhibited. For these individuals, movements like depth drops and low box jumps can be an effective way to train the reactive properties of a muscle without the risk of injury. Performing 3-5 sets of 3 repetitions on these movements before strength training sessions is sufficient to create the required training response.
I hope you have found valuable information within this blog post, and I wish you all the best in your 10k training!
Matt Brown, FX Fitness Experience Personal Trainer