Run for your life
Stay fit and healthy by training for your first 10k

By Dagny Scott Barrios

Fishing for a fresh fitness challenge? Planning and training for a race provides a buzz of motivation, but the 5k you did last summer is so … been there, run that. And the marathon—well, that’s practically a full-time commitment, requiring more time or energy than most of us have.

Tucked nicely between those two distances is the 10k; at 6.2 miles it’s a challenge all right, but one that’s achievable without too much strain on the schedule—or the legs.

Are you a social runner? Enlisting a training buddy can motivate you to go the extra mile. Novice runners may want to join a local running club to meet potential exercise partners. To find a running club in your area, log on to Road Runners Club of America’s website: www.rrca.org. Completing a 10k is a healthy goal for mind and body. You’ll need to get to the point where you can run comfortably for about an hour. That requires disciplined, consistent training. But don’t fear if you haven’t run this way before. Our six-week program will serve as your guide and help get you ready for race day.

Getting started
If you run at all, you know the sport is a minimalist’s dream. A pair of shoes, half an hour, and you’ve got the makings of a good, solid workout. Still, a little thoughtful preparation can ensure your training and race will go well.


  1. Wear the right shoes. Worn-out running shoes, because they’ve lost their ability to cushion and support the foot, are a primary cause of injury. Even new shoes can be a problem if they’re the wrong type for your running stride. Every body has its own way of moving, and running shoes are designed to correct specific inefficiencies in these biomechanics. Visit a running specialty store where the salespeople are knowledgeable and can help you choose a shoe that’s right for your stride.
  2. Get a watch with a chronometer. Athletic watches can be fancy or simple, with prices to match. You don’t need a glamorous one for running; just a simple stopwatch function will do because you’ll be running by time—say, for 30 minutes at a stretch—instead of basing your training on miles. Timed running serves a few purposes: You don’t have to find measured routes, and you are reducing the mental pressure by not knowing exactly how fast you are going each day.
  3. Have a planned workout time. If you wait all day to find time to run, you never will. You have to make the time. Plan your workouts as a priority just as you would brush your teeth every day. Consistency is the most important training strategy. No one particular workout is the key; rather, the compounded effect of conditioning day after day is critical to success. Think of it this way: Taking the time to take good care of yourself isn’t selfish—it’s smart.

The training schedule
The six-week schedule (see sidebar) assumes you can already jog for 30 minutes at a stretch. Move the workouts and days off to suit your work and family schedule, but try to alternate hard days with easy or rest days. You can train indoors on a treadmill, too. If you’re a purist, set the treadmill at a 1 percent grade to make up for the lack of wind resistance inside.

Be sure to run the up-tempo portions of the Wednesday workouts one notch higher than your usual jogging speed, but not at a sprint level. A good rule of thumb is that as you run you should still be able to talk to a running partner, but doing so should be an effort.

Race Day
When race day dawns, don’t be surprised if you have the jitters. Most runners do, to a certain degree. Take comfort in the fact that you’ve completed the training; it’s time to trust your body. Follow these tips for an optimal performance.


  • Set two alarms. You’ll sleep better if you’re not worried about oversleeping.


  • Eat a snack about an hour before running. A bagel or a banana are popular choices. Don’t eat anything unfamiliar lest you suffer stomach upset.


  • Drink a glass of water when you get up. Most runners won’t need to drink anything during a 10k race, but let thirst be your guide.


  • Have everything you need—clothes, shoes, sunglasses, gloves, and so on—set out the night before, so you won’t be rushed the morning of the race.


  • Leave yourself an extra 10 minutes or so to get to the race, in case parking proves difficult.


  • Warm up by jogging slowly for 10 to 15 minutes. Do some gentle stretching, too, to work out the morning kinks.


  • Line up at the start according to your estimated race pace. Some larger races will mark places for runners of each pace. If not, leave the front of the pack for the experienced speedsters.


  • Your race pace for your first 10k should be just slightly faster than your typical training pace. Don’t start too fast. The most common mistake beginners make is getting carried away with excitement and starting at a pace they can’t possibly maintain. Needless to say, the second half of the race can be excruciating. Your race pace goal for a first 10k should be just slightly faster than your typical training pace, anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute per mile faster. Pace yourself conservatively, and plan to come on strong at the finish.


  • Be sure to take it easy for a few days after the race. Walk and jog for 15 to 30 minutes a day until you don’t feel any residual soreness from the race.


  • Did you make the finish line?
    We want to hear about your triumph on the track, road, or trail. E-mail us your successful race story at deliciousliving @newhope.com. Finally, pat yourself on the back. Not everyone can run a race of more than six miles. Even if the race didn’t go as well as planned, look for positive aspects and progress. That’s how you learn for your next race experience.

Now about that marathon …

Dagny Scott Barrios is the author of Runner’s World Complete Book of Women’s Running (Rodale Press, 2002) and the soon-to-be-released Runner’s World Complete Guide to Injury Prevention (Rodale Press).

Photo courtesy of Bolder Boulder.