Secondary Menu

10 Weeks to a Better 10K: How to Increase Your Speed and Endurance

The 5K foot race has become ubiquitous on any given weekend. Check your local race calendar and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to lace up your shoes, don some lycra, and feel smug about doing something good for your health in less than an hour. Ready to race a bit further? Off to a half marathon or marathon go most runners, leaving the 10K the black sheep of the foot-race family.

A long time ago (20 years) in a land far, far away (the East Coast), I was a 10K specialist. It’s still a distance for which I hold a yen and coach runners to enjoyment and success. Training to complete a 5K and improve your time is fairly straightforward. Even a haphazard (or no) plan will work to some degree. But for the runner planning to double their event distance from the 5K to the 10K, taking time to plan training makes the difference between success and frustration.

Double Your Distance
In doubling your race distance to 10K from 5K, working the extra distance into your training should proceed quickly. If your long run for a 5K has been four miles, increase your weekly long run to eight miles within four weeks. Pretty simple stuff, eh? There are a few things to consider, though, before you smugly lace the shoes and head out for some mileage.

Warm Up and Cool Down
A warm up is exactly what your body needs before you put it through its paces, whether it be more miles, stairs, hills or track workouts. Preferably you are warming up for 10 to 15 minutes before you start your training, and your warm-up includes light calisthenics, stretching, and one-quarter to a half mile of running. Your cool down can look suspiciously like your warm up. The cool down starts your body on the road to recovery. Your body actually gets stronger during recovery, not during the actual training, so the sooner you start recovery, the better.

Add Flexibility
The extra distance means more wear and tear on your body, so if you’ve been neglecting your stretching, this is a good time to commit to it. The stretching will help you avoid injury and is part of a good warm up and cool down routine.

Commit To Your Core
In our build-up to a 10K, adding functional core training is an important component of success. “The torso (core) is the link between upper body strength and lower body strength, but is often trained in an uninspired and unintelligent manner at the end of a workout,” says Michel Boyle author of Functional Training for Sports.

If you are like most people, you probably have experienced low back pain in the past. The result of an intentional, functional core training program is decreased back pain, more endurance, improved performance and a decreased risk of injury. Regardless of your running goals, building a strong core is for you. Sit-ups and crunches form the basis of many core workouts. Crunches are a good place to start, but going beyond that will yield a stronger core. A better approach is core stabilization and integration. Planks, side planks and glute bridging are much better options in learning how to draw in and utilize your core.

Rest and Recover
By the time you reach week five, it’s time for a recovery week. Depending on your training and race schedule, you should plan to have a recovery week every three to five weeks. Keep your long run, drop one of your track, hill or stair climbing days, and take an extra day to do something nice for your body.

Get More Sleep
The most basic strategy for recovery is sleep and rest. When we sleep, an increased rate of anabolism (the synthesis of cell structures) and a decreased rate of catabolism (the breakdown of cell structures) occurs. You need only 45-60 extra minutes of sleep each night for more human growth hormone (Hgh) to be released – just what an athlete needs! Although sleep experts generally agree that most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum performance, the first thing they will tell you about sleep is that there is no “magic number” for hours of sleep per night. Not only do different age groups need different amounts of sleep, but sleep needs are also individual.

Another reason there is “no magic number” for your sleep results from two different factors that researchers are learning about: a person’s basal sleep need – the amount of sleep our bodies need on a regular basis for optimal performance – and sleep debt, the accumulated sleep that is lost to poor sleep habits, sickness, awakenings due to environmental factors or other causes. When we don’t get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be difficult to “pay back” if it becomes too big. Consider, though, that lost sleep is lost for good. “Catching up” on sleep is merely getting rested, it’s not getting lost sleep back. Trying to make up for lost sleep in a day or two by “sleeping in” disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm and continues to disrupt sleeping patterns over subsequent days. The moral of the story: get more sleep on a regular basis. Really. Plan your evening activities to get in bed 30-60 minutes earlier each night than you do now.

Increase Leg Strength
In weeks one to five, we’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve increased distance, we’ve added a warm up and cool down, we’ve added core training into our routine, and we even took a rest. In weeks six through nine, we’re going to focus a bit on leg strength. By increasing the strength of your muscles, the less percentage of total force production capabilities you need to exert on any given stride. This means more speed and endurance. Hill and stair repeats are a proven method for increasing leg strength. I recommend doing two hill or stair repeat workouts for weeks six and seven, and then in weeks eight and nine, cut back to just one. During week 10 (your race week) you’ll take the day you usually do hills or stairs as a rest day. In weeks eight and nine, the day where you were doing hills or stairs you can turn into a distance day (five to six miles) or a track day.

To get the most out of your training, it is key that there is a plan and a schedule for executing specific workouts. Take some or all of my suggestions, find a 10K for which to train, and have some (fast, long) fun.

Jonathan Siegel, CSCS is Director of Coaching for JDS Sportcoaching, LLC. He is fascinated by articles that promise ten weeks to better abs, sex, butts, hill climbing and gas mileage. Contact him at or [email protected].

This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of Colorado Runner.