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Category: Race Strategy

Running your best 10k

Posted on November 4th, 2016 by

It is the time of the year when the Mornington Chasers Club Championship 10k returns to Regent’s Park. Many of you are looking forward taking part and want to do well, perhaps running a personal best. Running your best 10k is an art. Mastery takes practice and good judgement. In this week’s blog, we explore how to a run your best 10k.

The last time I watched a 10,000m race was during the Rio Olympics. Do you remember who won the gold medal? Of course, Mo Farah won the gold medal for Great Britain. However, who won the women’s 10,000m? It was Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia. While running well at a high level for the previous years, Almaz Ayana was less of a household name. When Almaz Ayana ran the final, she smashed the 23-year-old world record by Wang Junxia in the fastest women 10,000m in history. Arguably it was the greatest performance by a female distance runner. As a spectator, I thought she would not be able to sustain this pace and would pay for it towards the end. She did not slow down, in fact, she speeded up. Ayana’s winning time, in her 2nd 10,000m race ever, was 29:17.46. A new world record. She completed the 2nd half of the race in 14:30.64, faster than the first half by running 10 seconds faster than the Olympic Record for the 5,000m. Some athletes questioned the performance, though Ayana had the 5,000m credentials and superior running technique compared to her competitors, which makes such a performance possible.

When we look at Almaz Ayana’s performance, there are principles we can apply to our running as well. We cannot match Ayana’s training age, ability and performance. Nonetheless, tactically, we can apply similar principles to optimise our performance. Let’s have a look at a few points we should consider whenever we run a 10k.

1.) Rest the Day before Race Day

We start with the most obvious piece of advice. Make your day before race day a rest day. When you are running a 10k on a Sunday, then rather opt to volunteer in your weekly parkrun or drop the cross country race on a Saturday afternoon. If you want to do well, you either need to prioritise your races or you have to lower your expectations.

You will do yourself no favours, if you give your best effort in a parkrun or if you put into another big training session the day before. A typical training cycle involves overloading your body followed by recovery. When you overload your body too close to the target race, you will not have enough time to recover. When you plan to race on a Sunday, then do your hard last session on a Thursday. Allowing enough time, 2-3 days, for example, will ensure that your body has time to recover.

Making last minute changes to your training routine or going for a sports massage the day before a race is also not a good idea. You will only end up fatigued. Take it easy on a Saturday, perhaps occupy your mind with non-training, sports or running activities. You have trained hard for the race, relax and look forward to the race. There is no magic session or workout you can do to get an edge during the last 24 hours.

On race day, follow your tried and tested breakfast routine and make sure your energy stores are up. You don’t have to go through a carbo loading phase similar to what marathon runners do the days before a marathon, though being fully recovered and fuelled up is key. When racing a 10k, the majority of your energy resources will come from muscle glycogen, the runner’s super fuel.

2.) Get familiar with the route

Having organised a 5k race this summer, I was surprised how many participants are not reading the instructions and have a look at the course map. It turned out that we had to disqualify 20 odd runners who took a short cut, knowing or unknowingly. To mitigate the risk of going the wrong way, spend time familiarising yourself with the course. Most running events publish the course map on their event website.

Find out if it is a point to point, out and back, or a lap course. Check for any undulations to spot slower or faster sections of the race. Perhaps your running buddies have done the race before. Ask them what the course is like and find out if there are fast and slow parts of the course. With the Running Tracking site Strava for example, you can find out about course segments and can work out how to adjust the pace.

The Regent’s Park 10k route is quite straightforward. The course is flat and runs on a concrete path. It is a three lap course. The course is run anti-clockwise. One lap is a bit over 3km or 2 miles. The slowest section is around the fountain. It feels like running slightly uphill. This part of the course breaks the running rhythm, focus during this part and aim to get back on your target pace quickly.

We can control the weather. We don’t always have no wind or perfect running temperature. Check the weather report and adapt your race strategy based on circumstances (heat, cold, wind). When it is windy, try to run in someone’s slips stream for a bit, when hot and sunny opt for the spots with shade.

3.) Pre-race Warm-up Routine

As you noticed, we spend a lot of time warming up on a Thursday evening before the main track session. The purpose of the warm-up is to get your body ready and prepared for the intense running action. We spend time warming up your muscles, priming your nervous system making sure all muscles fire on time and get your mind ready for the main session. Technically, we do dynamic stretches, running form drills and strides.

Spending 10 to 15 minutes warming up before the race can be beneficial. Especially now in the winter, it helps us to increase the body temperature, which will allow us to get more out of the first half of the race. Without a warm-up, it will take you 1-2 miles before you are firing on all cylinders.

Instead of a full warm-up, a reduced warm-up, consisting of 5 minutes of easy running, 5 dynamic stretches ((lunge, leg swings, knee lifts, hamstrings, arm circles), 5 running drills  (high knees, butt kicks, grapevine, skippings, single leg kicks)and 5 strides is a good compromise. Your pre-race warm-up routine should become 2nd nature.

4.) Keep an eye on your kilometre splits

Wherever you race, make sure the course is measured accurately and is certified. There is nothing more annoying racing on a short course and facing an inquiry from your running friends about a suspiciously fast run. For example, the Regent’s Park 10 is measured under UKA Rules and the course has kilometre markers. The course is well known, three laps and the course is accurate.

Those of your relying on a GPS watch, should consider changing the settings from miles to kilometres. Kilometre splits are more frequent compared to mile splits, which allows you to control the pace better and make decisions about your pacing sooner.

Slightly more advanced you could get even more frequent feedback during the last 2km and set alerts. For example, every 500m and every 100 metres for the last 500 metres, which would indicate to you at what stage you can start your finishing kick. However, I strongly advise practising the approach first. It has happened before, that some courses have poor signal or have some sharp corners, resulting in short measure.

Alternatively, in case you have a very basic watch, check the course is marked in kilometres or mile. It has happened before that the kilometre or mile markers have been misplaced. Luckily, this won’t happen, as most of you will be running in the Regent’s Park 10k.

5.) Pacing strategy

What is the best way to pace a 10k? There are three options. Go hard from the gun and run as fast as we can. After the first couple of kilometres, it will become tough to maintain the pace, and you start to slow down gradually. When we run beyond out target race pace, we start to build up lactate during the early stages at a high rate. Also, we burn glycogen as the source of energy rapidly. The combination of lactate build up, and glycogen burn will ask for trouble. Sooner or later, our pace will be forced back into a running pace which we can maintain for a prolonged period.

In contrast, we can start a bit slower than the 10k race pace and up the pace during the race and build up towards a strong finish. A negative split will be a better strategy compared to the mentioned positive split. Aiming for a negative split will avoid building up lactate early on, though we can face the risk that we start too slow and lose out some time due to being too careful right from the beginning.

The best strategy is an even paced strategy, to maintain a level of intensity which can hold throughout the race. An even pace ensures that we accumulate lactate only at a slow rate.

6.) Team Work Makes the Dream Work

Consider to team up with a fellow club member who will be running at a similar pace at yours. Agree on the pace so that neither of you is either running too fast or slow. Further, agree on a pacing protocol. For example, change the lead every 400 meters and more frequently towards the end.

The Regent’s Park 10k offers pace groups too. Try to communicate with the pacers and make them aware that you are running in the pace groups. Some pacers are better than others. Those who provide encouragement and run close with the group are the best. However, everyone runs their own race in the end and you cannot outsource all pacing duties.

7.) During the Race: Mental Strategies

Focus on the runner in front of you. Once you get close, target the next runner in front of you. Avoid sticking to a runner when the pace feels uncomfortable and push on. Nonetheless, drafting behind a runner can give 2-3 seconds per kilometre by maintaining the same effort. When running through bends and corners run along a tangent, covering the shortest distance from one end of the corner to the other. Small marginal gains, can turn into big improvements.

Maintain a positive outlook, perhaps even when going through pain try to smile. Otherwise, your subconscious can take over your mind, which can send you the wrong signals, forcing you to slow down.

Apply positive reaffirmations or mantras.  For example, ‘Today, I smash it!’, ‘I can do it!’, ‘I am really enjoying this now!’

8.) “Just One More Mile”

Mo Farah’s working motto when battling with hard running sessions.

Thinking about the entire race distance from the start can be psychologically overwhelming. Even if we have covered those distances in training, the pressure of wanting to do well and pushing our physical and mental limits can be daunting.

Try to break the race down into smaller parts and conquer each part first. For example, the first half or the 2nd half of the 10k, in laps, or segments. Approach each segment at the time. Equally, you can run each kilometre or mile at the time without thinking about the mile before or afterwards.

Once you have completed a mile, you can correct your pace, but don’t try to overanalyse regarding what you should or could have done and try to predict your finishing time. Also, avoid erratic pace changes.

9.) The Closing Stage

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, says the famous line from a song. In a 10k race, typically from 7 to 9 kilometres requires special attention. We start to heart a bit, start to get feeling tired, though everyone goes through the same experience and will go through the same pain.

When going through the closing stage, apply signal words to keep you alert and focused. Perhaps reminding you of the famous Billy Ocean song or a Don’t Stop me know from Queen will make you sail through this phase.

Typically, the last kilometre takes care of itself. We know we are almost there and can start to prepare for the finish. Ideally, we want to make the last kilometre the fastest. Ask yourself, can you give more?

10.) Put in a Devastating Finish Kick

A good finishing kick gives us to squeeze a few more seconds out of the last kilometre. When you revise the route mark out a point from 400 to 300 meters away from the finishing. For example, the last turn in the Regent’s Park 10k before the finishing straight and start to increase your knee lift, cadence and stride width. Pump as hard as you can with your arms and control your breathing. Don’t start too soon, rather wind up the pace during the last 5km, 400m, 200m to go so that you reach your maximum speed when crossing the finishing line.

‘The Babyfaced Destroyer’ Tirunesh Dibaba or Mo Farah have a great finishing kick. Nobody can match their speed. When they start their finish kick, they will not allow getting past.  Once they start and commit to their finishing kick, then there is no holding back. Both have a long winding up kick, fast last lap type of kick or quick surge in their repertoire.

You never know if there is a finishing camera, so make sure you finish with a big smile and celebrate. Once finished, rather than standing and getting quickly cold, keep on walking to allow your body to cool down slowly.

11.) Afterwards: Cool Down the Engine

Once we crossed the finish line and managed to catch your breath, try to get into dry clothing as soon as possible. When your shirt is still wet from all the sweat and your body temperature quickly falls you will end up feeling cold and will be prone to get a cold.

By now you have accumulated lactate in the body and your muscles feel soreness. As we learnt from the blog on active recovery, a very slow jog for 1-2 km will help to accelerate your recovery by moving the lactate around the body and fuelling the muscle again. A gentle cool down jog can work wonders and can speed up your recovery.

If time permits, within half hour of the race gently stretch the major muscle groups.

12.) Rehydrating and Refuelling the Beast

In a 10k, depending on pace and weight one can easily burn up to 1,000 calories including the calories burnt after the race due to an increased metabolism.

It is vital for your recovery to replenish glycogen stores in muscles and start the muscle rebuilding through protein synthesis. Start to replenish fluids within 30 minutes of exercise.

The best window for replenishing muscle and live glycogen stores is within 30 to 60 minutes after the race. Make sure you have at least 300-400 calories, consisting of a 4:1 mix of carbohydrates and protein. Consuming protein along carbohydrates promotes better protein synthesis and muscle rebuilding. Apparently, many studies suggest chocolate milk is a cost-effective, non-sports specific product, post-race recovery drink. Within about two hours of your race eat a well-balanced meal.

As a word of warning, skipping a post-race snack is not an option. It will delay your recovery and you risk of not meeting your minimum daily energy expenditure, which can cause you a headache and illness.

13.) Retrospective Reflection

Regardless of having run a personal best, a seasons best or a personal worst, there is always something we can improve. It’s through self-reflection we can identify aspects of our performance we want to improve. Important with this is to look at the data and avoid opinions or bias.

In the last blog post, we introduced the concept of a retrospective. To begin with, revisit your performance and outcome goals. Key questions, runners should be asking themselves after the run is what worked well for the race, what did not go to plan, what could I do differently and what’s my plan of action for my next race. Only through a more formal review runners will be able to embed the learning experience form a 10k race and become unconsciously competent in racing 10ks.


Having reviewed a runner’s typical experience of what makes up a good 10k and having provided suggestions on how to turn a good into a great 10k. Chasers should be prepared and confident when it comes to the Club Championship. The 13 points covered can be refined as a checklist and reviewed from a race by race basis.

I hope all Chasers will reap the rewards for their hard training. It’s now time to put everything into practice and run your best  10k. I wish you the best of luck. Go Chasers!

Urban Bettag coaches for the Mornington Chasers and leads the development of their track training and mentors their junior coaches. He blogs and shares his wisdom about running on the Hare Brain Blog every Friday (sometimes Sunday).