Whether you're looking at a 10-mile run as a fitness goal or weight loss milestone — or to fulfill a dare — how long it takes to get in shape will depend on where you're starting from.
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If you're not used to distance running, the trick is to start with what you're capable of now, and then gradually increase your distance or level of exertion until your body is ready for the full 10 miles.
Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer for how quickly you can get in shape for a 10-mile run; it all depends on your levels of fitness and endurance when you're getting started. However, you should start seeing real progress within a month of beginning a focused training plan.
Read more: Couch to 5K: A Running Plan for Beginners
Training for a 10-Mile Run
If you've never run before, your first training "run" might be a walk — and there's nothing wrong with that. Everybody has to start somewhere, and the idea is to create a progressive training program that gradually prepares your body for the impact and exertion of a 10-mile run.
You can make a lot of progress by simply going for a walk or jog and tracking your distance and speed. Then set a goal to gradually increase either the speed, duration or frequency of those walks/jogs. This will start building the base of cardiovascular endurance and muscular fitness that you need to run faster and for longer distances.
However, once you're ready to really commit to that 10-mile goal, you'll progress a lot faster if you use a distance-specific training plan. Many running coaches offer these for free or a very low cost, but you can also access a variety of customizable plans online. The best plans let you enter your current pace for running a mile along with your goal distance, and then give you exact speeds and distances to aim for in each training run.
A typical beginner program mixes one long run in with a speed run (to make you faster) and a tempo run (to help you hold a faster pace on race day) during the week. The long run typically peaks at just below your actual race distance — so for a 10-mile run, you might gradually increase your long-run distance to about 8 miles.
No matter where you're starting from, gradual progression is important. In an interview with UC Davis Health, physician and sports medicine expert Brandee Waite recommends not increasing your mileage by more than 10 to 15 percent at a time to reduce your risk of injury. She also notes that if you're new to running, setting some interim goals before that first long race can help. If you're building up to a 10-mile run, that might mean doing a couple of 5K races, or a 5K followed by a 10K. (A 5K is equivalent to 3.1 miles, and a 10K is equivalent to 6.2 miles.)
If you want to get ready for a 10-mile run, you do need to focus on running — it's the only way for your body to become conditioned to that particular level of impact and exertion. However, don't forget to leave yourself time for cross-training pursuits like cycling or aqua jogging, which will help build the aerobic fitness and muscular endurance you need, while reducing the overall impact on your body.
Always check with your doctor before starting a strenuous new exercise program.
Nutrition for Runners
Once you get into true distance running territory — think 10K (6.2 miles) and beyond — it's time to start thinking about eating specifically to fuel your runs. When you're just starting out, it's hard to go wrong if you follow the Department of Health and Human Services key recommendations for healthy eating. They include eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and high-quality protein sources like seafood, lean meats and poultry plus nuts and seeds.
What you leave out is just as important: Limit your intake of added sugars, saturated fats and added sodium, because those won't help you on your quest for world domination by running.
As you gradually level up to a more serious runner's diet, the American Council on Exercise notes that getting enough carbohydrates is critical to maintaining adequate glycogen stores in your muscles. That gives you the most readily available energy source for exercise. If you're regularly doing extended runs or other strenuous training, ACE recommends bumping the carbohydrate content of your diet to between 55 and 65 percent of your daily calories, while still emphasizing fruits, vegetables and adequate hydration.
Speaking of calories: If weight loss is one of your fitness goals, it might be tempting to starve yourself. But your body needs adequate calorie (and nutrient) intake to fuel itself during those long runs and to rebuild itself after. So track your exercise and your calorie intake, and aim for no more than the 500- to 750-calorie deficit recommended by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. All other things being equal, this sets you up for a healthy — and sustainable — weight loss rate of around 1 to 1.5 pounds per week.
Hydration for Runners
Staying hydrated is critically important too. The Mayo Clinic Health System provides a set of recommendations for race runners that can be helpful during long training runs as well. They suggest drinking 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your race, as well as drinking before and after the run — because hydration is an all-day activity, not something you only do right before you hit your stride.
Monitoring how you feel, and the color of your urine, both during and after long runs can help you gauge your hydration levels. Drinking water with added electrolytes, or adding electrolyte powder to your water, ensures that your body has the minerals needed to actually made use of that water, instead of simply flushing it through your kidneys and out again.
Beware of commercially made sports drinks. Although some of them are excellent, many of them contain lots of added sugar and may have 150 or more "hidden" calories you don't think to look for — both true kryptonite if you're running for weight loss.
That said, you might find that you need an extra calorie boost to keep you going during long runs. One of the many benefits of a gradual approach to race training is that it gives you time to suss out how your body responds to the exertion and what it needs to stay energized. Experts' recommendations are the best place to start, but if you listen to how your body responds it will help you fine-tune your approach.
Self-Care for Runners
There's no denying that it takes a lot of effort to get ready for a 10-mile run. Anything you can do to make that ongoing effort fun — whether that means listening to your favorite music as you run, recruiting a friend or using a mobile app that "gamifies" running by pretending you're being chased by zombies — will also make it easier to stick with your training plan.
But there are some less obvious things you should be doing to make running easier on your body and, ultimately, more fun. The first is remembering to honor the recovery time in your training plan, because that's when your body rebuilds for the next effort.
Make sure you get plenty of sleep, too. As noted in a systematic review published in a 2017 issue of Advances in Preventive Medicine, getting enough sleep appears to have a very real effect on your athletic performance — even if the mechanism behind that relationship isn't entirely understood.
Finally, don't forget to always warm up before your runs, then cool down and stretch afterward. Do full-body strength training that includes plenty of core work, and consider practicing myofascial release. All of these practices will help keep your body limber and strong, which in turn helps your running.
- Health.gov: "Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- Advances in Preventive Medicine: "Interrelationship Between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review"
- American Council on Exercise: "Nutrition Support for Long-Distance Running"
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "Healthy Eating Plan"
- Mayo Clinic Health System: "Tips to Keep Runners Hydrated"
- UC Davis Health: "Is It Safe to Go the Distance?"
- Hospital for Special Surger: "Myofascial Release (MFR): An Overview"