The Top 10 Tips for Running a 10K

Coach Pete Rea and Olympian Abdi Abdirahman share their secrets for running a personal best

Sep 30, 2011
Outside Magazine
Coffee Beans

Caffeinate    Photo: Puuikibeach on Flickr

Abdi Abdirahman

Abdi Abdirahman

Running a 10K feels like “dealing with a mild hangover from start to finish,” says Rea. In short, it’s perfect for New Year’s Day. Presenting a quick list of everything you need to know to cross the finish line in personal record time, from the start of your training to post-race recovery.

Your advisers:
Pete Rea
and Abdi Abdirahman, three-time Olympian and four-time USA 10K Champion.

1. Find a training partner.
A partner will keep you honest and help you stick to the program. “If you’re running by yourself, you can always make excuses not to train,” says Abdirahman. When you train with someone, you have to be there. No excuses.

2. Race before your race.
“Never have just one major race you’re prepping for with nothing along the way,” says Rea. Need motivation to do your tempo run? Jump into a local 5K five weeks into your 12-week training plan. As an added bonus, you can work on fine-tuning your race nutrition before your main event.

3. Caffeinate
While some question its use before a race, Rea is a proponent of caffeine in limited quantity. In general, he likes to take in 100–200 mg of caffeine—the equivalent of an eight-ounce cup of coffee—40 to 45 minutes before the race starts. Not only will it wake you up, but it will also reduce your overall perception of effort, says Rea. Experiment early on during training runs to find out what works for you. “I wouldn’t wait to find out you’re the person who takes four sips of caffeine then your whole gastrointestinal system turns to mush and you’re crapping everywhere,” says Rea.

4. Stick to what you know on race day.
Your pre-race dinner, your breakfast, your warm-up—all of that should replicate waht worked during training. If you didn’t usually drink caffeine in the weeks leading up to the race, don’t do it before the starting gun. “Whatever you do on race day should have been practiced every single time you did a hard workout,” says Rea.

5. Warm up.
Don’t let your warm-up be the first two miles of your race. Jog easy for 10 to 15 minutes, then throw in a few 100-meter accelerations to get your heart rate up, so you’ll be ready to go at race pace when the gun goes off. “If you’re not warmed up, your muscles aren’t as viscous, your body won’t rid itself of waste product as effectively, and you’ll have to run your first mile slower,” says Rea.

6. Chill out.
Abdirahman likes to keep to himself on race morning and listen to music by artists like U2 and Jay-Z so he can stay relaxed. There will be a lot of other nervous people at your race chattering away about splits and PRs and strategies. Don’t let their worries become yours.

7. Run your own pace.
If you’re doing the race with someone and he goes out too fast for you, don’t run with him. Determine your goal pace by doubling your 5K time and adding a minute or a minute and a half, then stick to it. “Keep a check on your excitement, and enjoy the race,” says Abdirahman.

8. Strategize.
“The most effective way to run a fast 10K is to run the second half faster than the first,” Rea says. Dial back the first two to three miles, running two to five seconds per mile slower than your race pace, so you feel controlled—almost like you’re going a little too slow. Then open it up on the back half. Pick it up to goal pace for four miles, then if you’re feeling good, it’s game on to the finish. Check out the course profile before racing. If the first half is flat or downhill and the back half is more challenging, this strategy won’t work. Try to even split the course by starting out at your goal pace and holding onto it through the finish line. Got a flat course or a downward slope on your last 5K? Plan to run the last portion faster than the first.

9. Embrace the pain.
The burning pain you feel while running a hard 10K is from lactate building up in your muscles—the same pain you get from lifting heavy weights. It should go away five to 10 minutes after you finish. “When you cross the finish line and you’ve accomplished your goal, all the pain that you went through while running goes away. That’s the happiest moment of the race,” Abdirahman says.

10. Walk it off.
Grab some water and get in some calories when you finish, then keep moving. A 20-minute walk will help your recovery. Once you’ve cooled down, put your legs in cold water for 12 to 15 minutes to help reduce inflammation. “The single worst thing you can do is cross the finish line, throw on your sweatpants, jump in your car, and drive home,” Rea says. “In terms of recovery, you’ll be a mess for the next threeo r four days.”