There’s a reason ten kilometres is the most popular race distance. For new runners, it’s achievable but challenging and for more experienced runners, it’s a chance to show off speed and strength.
But if you’ve just completed your first 5K run, then a 10K race may feel like a long way off. You may be thinking that the 5K run felt hard enough; that there’s no way you could have done two loops of that course – it was tough enough just walking back to the car afterwards.
But, let me let you in on a secret. Everyone feels like that at the end of a tough race, whatever the distance. I swore after doing my first half-marathon, that I could never run further than that. And admittedly, I still haven’t got round to running a ‘proper’ marathon, but last year I did run an ultra-marathon. And yes, I was adamant at the end of THAT that I couldn’t run another step. But I know that if that half-marathon had been 15 miles rather than 13.1, or the ultra 45 miles rather than 41, I would still have made it to the finish line.
This is the secret to the mental game of running. Whatever distance you are there to do, you can do. If you’ve done the right preparation, you just need to keep that distance and the finish line in mind, and with a bit of grit and determination, you will get there. So if, as you’re proudly clutch your 5K medal and hug your supporters, there’s a tiny little voice inside of you saying ‘but what if I could run 10k?’, I am here to tell you that you can. However much it feels an impossible challenge at this moment in time.
Mental toughness aside, as with any race, the right preparation is key. I’ve pulled together ten top tips to give you the best chance of achieving the result you deserve on race day.
1. Give yourself enough time to prepare
Doubling your distance doesn’t happen overnight. Leave yourself plenty of time to build up your training gradually before race day. This ten-week training plan may provide a useful guide to the rate at which you may want to increase your training. Remember – you can adapt it to suit your target time.
2. Don’t over train
Aside from doing no training at all, probably the worst thing you can do is over train. If you’re pushing your body hard, it needs recovery time. This is as true if you’re a beginner runner as it is for an Olympic athlete, though your tolerance for training will be quite different.
Make sure you schedule in rest days each week and prioritise rest time as much as you prioritise training. Rest activities may involve going to bed earlier, having a hot, relaxing soak in the bath or spending an evening watching Netflix (yes, you can quote me on that).
3. Include some strength and flexibility training
As you’re pushing up the distance, strength and flexibility training becomes more important to keep yourself supple and avoid injury. This set of basic strength exercises don’t require any special equipment and at least one can be done in front of the telly. 🙂
Evidence shows that increasing your flexibility can improve your running performance without adding extra miles. Incorporate these exercises designed to improve your range of motion, into your running routine and you should soon notice a difference.
4. Add in speed work
You may be thinking this is starting to sound a bit too hard-core, but remember – everything is relative. Your speed work is not going to be the same as Mo Farrah’s speed work. It just means having a session a week where you run or jog faster for shorter periods of time.
Speed work gets your body used to running at different speeds. Over time, it will make you faster and fitter – whatever pace you run at. Have a look at this post on speedwork for beginners for some suggested sessions (hint: if you’ve never done any speedwork before, I’d start with the 5K sessions and build up to the 10K).
5. Invest in a foam roller
It may not look like much, but this humble piece of kit can help prevent injury and improve recovery. I’m not going to lie, it’s not always the most comfortable exercise, but stick with it. If you’ve no idea where to start, there’s a good article here with some basic exercises.
6. Get to the race in plenty of time
Last weekend, I turned up at a race with just enough time to nip to the toilet and get ready before heading to the start. I wasn’t anticipating a half-hour queue for the loo. After that, getting ready was a bit of a rush and needless to say, I wasn’t in a very relaxed frame of mind when I got to the start!
Don’t make my mistake: leave yourself plenty of time to get to the race (taking account of traffic) and get ready. There are often long queues for the toilets so take this into account! That way you’ll get to the start physically and mentally prepared for the race ahead.
7. Stay relaxed and positive
Stay relaxed. Easier said than done, right? But remember, you’ve done all the hard work in preparing for the race – all you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line.
For some people, listening to music helps them relax and focus ahead of a race. (Though be aware that many races now ban headphones during the race itself.) For others, having a friend along to keep them company is a better way to keep their spirits up.
8. Warm up properly
I know, warming up is the number one rule of running without injury. You don’t need me to tell you that. If you’ve got all the way to race day injury-free, then I imagine you’ve been doing a good job of warming up for your training runs. So don’t go and blow it on race day. Yes, it’s hard to warm up when you’re outside the comfort of your own home. And yes, it’s even harder to stay warm when packing into a pen with a hundred of other runners, all impatiently waiting for the start of the race.
But even a short warm up will help prepare your body physically for the race ahead. A gentle jog from the car park (or the train station) to the start of the race will help warm you up. Once you’re in the designated start area, keep your arms and legs moving, even if you have to do a bit of jogging on the spot to stay warm!
9. Set off steadily
If you’re in a big race, you may not get much choice about this! The crowd-shuffle at the beginning can continue well past the official start line. But even so, resist the temptation to start off fast. It’s hard when you’re feeling excited and raring to go, but you’ll feel the benefit of a slow start later on in the race.
Practice this in training. Time yourself for the first half of your run, then reset the clock for the second half. Your aim is to complete the second half in a faster time.
10. Give it your all
By the time you get to the nine-kilometer mark, you’re going to be feeling pretty tired. Your legs are screaming at you to give them a break, and getting oxygen into your body feels much harder than it did eight kilometers ago.
But you’re nearly there! Nothing can stop you now. So if you’ve been going slow and steady up to this point, now is the time to give it your all. Hear the cheers of the crowds lining the approach to the finish? They’re cheering for you. See the banner up ahead with that beautiful six-letter word emblazoned across it? That is your finish line. Run for it with everything you have left. Then congratulate yourself on having smashed your first 10K race.
And as you hang your 10K medal proudly alongside your 5K medal, you may think that was as far as you could possibly go. And for that run, it was. As for the next race? Well, that’s for another day.