The anatomy of a race – 10k

People's legs running along a road overlaid by the Ordinary Runner logo

What is it?

The 10k (6.2 miles) is a milestone for any runner. It’s fast become one of the most popular “fun run” distances. In a normal year, you’d have your pick of races, with events staged every weekend, all across the country.

For some it’s the furthest they’ll ever run. For others, a gateway to longer runs. It’s the ideal distance in my view. Long enough to be a proper challenge, but short enough that the training isn’t all-consuming.

It’s also a good chance to enjoy some great tunes. If you need some playlist inspiration, you could do worse than to look here.

Beat the Tide 10k medal
Beat the Tide 10k – a personal favourite

How long does it take?

At the elite end it’s a sub-30 minute dash, with Rhonex Kipruto recently clocking 26:24 – a new road record. Us Ordinary Runners average a more reasonable 58 minutes in the UK. Enough time for Kipruto to catch his breath and go around again.

If you have some parkruns under your belt, you can estimate your 10k pace by doubling your 5k time and adding 10% to 15%. Failing that, try the Runner’s World race time predictor. Neither will be 100% accurate, but they’re a useful guide.


Man's legs during 10k race
Image by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Where the 5k is a flat out, lung-buster, the 10k requires careful consideration. A 5k PB is best achieved by starting fast and holding on, even as legs and lungs plead with you to slow down. You can’t approach 10k in the same way. The 10k demands more thought. It begs for moderation.  

Set off too fast and you’ll blow up way before the end. Too slow and you risk missing an elusive PB. Understanding your potential and planning for it is vital. That is, if a PB is actually important to you.

Otherwise, the occasion, support and atmosphere mean these runs are often genuine fun. Besides, there’s usually a chance to bank some charity bucks along the way. If that’s more your bag, enjoy the feeling of doing good and ignore the clock – 10k is 10k, whether you do it in 26:24 or 1:26:24.


Whichever way you approach the race, you need to arrive with plenty of miles in your legs. Like the half and full marathon distance, 10k requires a big effort. But (arguably) unlike those, you can run the full distance (and further) in training.

How you tackle your training depends on your intentions. Your first ever 10k will be different to any other. Getting round is what counts. Besides, if it’s the longest you’ve ever run, it’s already a PB. Your main training challenge is to amass the miles and get as close to 10k as possible. Stick to one long run each week and increase distance gradually.

People training for a 10k
Image by Fitsum Admasu on Unsplash

If a PB is your aim, your training regime should include both interval and threshold sessions. At the same time, your long runs should stretch beyond 10k. These extra miles condition your legs and lungs for longer distances, leaving some energy for the end of the race. While you’re at it, throw some in strength work and some hill sprints to build that all important resilience.

There are a selection of training plans from Great Run, ranging from beginner to advanced, plus a six week blitz plan. If you don’t even have six weeks to train, Runner’s World have several four week plans: running three days per week, running five days per week, running six days per week.

10K race day


Your training’s complete, you know your target time, and yesterday’s pasta has charged your legs with glycogen. Following a brief pit stop at the end of a long port-a-loo queue, you’re bouncing from foot to foot, waiting for the race to start, wondering whether you should have made that pit stop a little longer, if you know what I mean.

Tension builds with the countdown. Then you’re off, walking slowly as the crowd funnels through the narrow start. Eventually, the course opens out. The crowd thins. Pace quickens. Pulse raised by the occasion. Your instinct is to go fast as runners bound effortlessly past. Unrealistic PB dreams flutter through your brain.

Fight the instinct. Go slow. Take the early stage at a comfortable pace. Don’t worry about target times, your race has only just begun.

Lots of runners silhouetted against a dark sky
Image by Skeeze on Pixabay

Two and a half kilometres down. Legs warmed up. Breathing settled. If everything’s gone to plan, you’ve kept speed in check and you’re feeling good. How about a little injection of pace? Nothing too dramatic, there’s still a way to go.

Regular parkrunners will be familiar with the lazy parkrun – the one where it’s not PB week, but you still turn up and have a go. Treat the middle of your 10k like that. Not a flat out, lung-buster, but no gentle training run either.

Pick a pace you can maintain for the next 5k, and don’t drop below it. If your legs have it in them, speed up throughout the middle. But not too much. You want to save plenty of puff for the end.


Two and a half kilometres to go. That target time is tantalisingly close. The temptation is to drop the throttle and push hard. But 2.5k is a long way. It’s over a mile and a half. Running flat out for a mile and a half is hard enough at the best of times. Four and a half miles into a race, you’ll run out of fuel very quickly.

Sure, give it a bit of gas. But not too much. Keep something back. You’ll need it. See how you feel over the next 1,500. This is where your mental strength matters. And those extra miles you did in training. And the planks, squats and crunches.

The final kilometre is where you step it up again. Not all out. Not straight away. 1,000 metres is still a long way. If you’re looking to hit the finish in full flight, you need to save something for the final straight. There’s little worse than watching those you overtook fly past you as your legs give up over the last 100 metres.

Listen to your body. Wait for the right moment. Then strike.

Let good form drive you. Lift your head. Shorten your stride. Use your arms.

Ignore the complaints. Let your calf muscles burn. Your heart race. Your lungs ache.

Short stride. Quick cadence. Head up.

All the way to the end.


Not immediately after – that’s for medals and selfies and stuffing your face.

The following week. After you’ve sworn off all races, for ever.

That’s when you sign up for another one. An even longer one.

Then you start training again.

Tired runner standing near a sign saying "sign up again today" Discounted prices"
Image by Wolfman3000 on Pixabay

Header image by Miguel A Amutiomi on Unsplash