You know you can run a 5K. Maybe you've already finished one. But a 10K?! It has a notch-up-from-novice feel that's appealing and if we're being honest, a little bit intimidating (though not as intimidating as a half or full marathon). If you are a new runner, you might wonder — should I go for it?
If you've covered at least two miles, three to four days a week, for two months, the answer is: heck, yes, you should! The 10K is where endurance fun begins. It propels most new runners into uncharted, but highly rewarding, territory — about 60 minutes of continuous running.
Hitting that hour mark will push your cardiovascular fitness skyward and increase your leg strength (not to mention give you an excuse for a victory dance). Plus, the added endurance can also boost your 5k time and lead you to longer races like the half and full marathon.
A 10K Training Plan for Beginners
To train safely and effectively, follow this 10K plan for beginners that was created by Andrew Kastor, coach of the Mammoth Track Club (formerly the High Sierra Striders) in Mammoth Lakes, California.
The eight-week program strikes the ideal balance between building aerobic endurance and prioritizing injury prevention by mixing bouts of steady-state running with run-walk workouts.
Your Goal: Finish your first 10K without walking.
You're Ready If: You've been run-walking at least two miles, three to four days a week, for two months.
Time vs. Miles: You'll run by time for most of the workouts, so all you need is a watch. Your weekend long run is in miles. The workout will help you develop a sense of your pace per mile and let you rest assured that you'll be able to cover the distance on race day.
Warm-Up and Cooldown: Start and end each run with a five-minute walk. Walking not only prepares the body for running and cools it down afterward, but it increases time on your feet, which extends your endurance, says Kastor. Additionally, warm up for every run with dynamic stretches (those that involve movement) and cool down at the end with static stretches (ones you hold in place).
Read more: 12 Running Mistakes You Could Be Making
How to Train for a 10K
Since you'll be building on your already solid running foundation, the best way to do that is by varying the type, duration and intensity of the workouts you do. This plan features four different types of workouts — run/walk, easy run, long run and cross-training (all of which are explained below) — that switch up how long and how hard you run so that you're constantly improving.
"Walk breaks are simply the best way to build running safely because they reduce stress on the ligaments and tendons," says Kastor. The run-walks also add to your overall endurance. The continuous runs, which progress from two to six miles, train the body to "go long" — that is, they'll get you to the finish line without walking.
Here's a breakdown of all the terms you'll see in your 10K training plan:
Intensity/Pace: Do every workout at a comfortable, conversational pace: 60 percent to 65 percent of max heart rate, or a 5 on a rate of perceived exertion scale (of 1 to 10). "Faster, harder running increases injury risk," says Kastor. Finish the distance first; then, once you have six months of running on your legs, you can aim to finish it faster.
Run/Walk: When you see "2x5 minute run, 1 minute walk," that means you'll run for five minutes, walk for one and then repeat. Days with "3x5" means you'll do that three times. Keep the walk brisk but don't skip it; walks make adapting to running safer and more enjoyable.
Easy Run: These are steady, continuous running done at an easy pace. If you're winded or having to struggle to get through it, just slow down — the pace that gets you through is the right pace.
Long Run: Long runs are the big daddy of distance running, the critical workout that develops endurance. If a nearby bike path has mile markers, you're golden. If not, use a fitness tracker or running watch. Alternatively, you can find a track (four laps equal a mile), measure a mile in your car or use U.S. Track and Field's mapping tool.
Cross-Training: On cross-training days, stick to non- or low-impact workouts like yoga, swimming, cycling or light strength/weight training (which also helps prevent injury and increase your pace). The added exercise will boost your running and overall endurance and prevent you from getting bored or burned out.
Rest Days: A rest day means no workout — kick back and enjoy, knowing that it's during this down time that the body heals and gets stronger.
Days of the Week: Training has to fit into your life, so switch out the rest and running days as work and family commitments demand. Try to keep the rest days spread out over the week though; in other words, avoid running four days in a row and resting for three.
Other Helpful Resources for Your First 10K
Getting a solid 10K training plan for beginners is only the first step. From what to eat to how strength training can help you run faster and prevent injury, here are some additional guides you'll want to read before hitting the starting line.
- Strength Training for Runners: focus on lower body and core exercises
- Best Stretches to Do Before Running: make sure they're dynamic (involve movement)
- The Best Yoga Poses for Runners: use these after each training run
- What to Eat Before a 10K: and how much water you need to drink
- How to Ease Muscle Soreness With a Foam Roller: do these moves after you run your first 10K to soothe your achy muscles
- Jeff Galloway Training: "Walk Breaks?"
- University of Michigan: "The Importance of Rest and Recovery for Athletes"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Cross Training"
- American Heart Association: "Warm Up, Cool Down"
- USA Track & Field: "Run It. Map It. Share It. - A Database of America's Running Routes & Tracks"
- Coach Kastor: "About the Coach"
- Mammoth Track Club: "Running at Altitude"