Improving 10k time on the road is the dream of many amateur and serious runners. We won't talk about the extreme end today, but runners between the times of 32 and 60minutes for road 10km race.
To be clear, 32 or even 40 minutes can be actually a winning time for certain 10km events, so I have to say that performance is relative, but let's just stick to a pancake flat, pretty straight all road event. Turns, stairs, switchbacks, elevation, slippery surface, wind, cold, snow, obstacles and more, all contribute to race times.
I have been coaching basic strength and conditioning since the early 2000s and running for 8years now. I am researching all the time and keeping an eye on amateur and professional performances constantly. I check local and international race results and follow up on training routines of individuals on GPS based sport web-platforms like strava, garmin connect, polar, movescount and more.
I have been seeing the biggest mistakes most people make, over and over again. The same exact factor 15 years ago and today. When these runners join an athletic club, it is even more accentuated.
Running Too Fast
Overspeed training is a big factor for not achieving your athletic goals. I remember myself too, how hard I was trying to break 35minutes for a 10k. I pulled off a 3 x 3000m workout at 3:07/km pace 4 weeks out, tapered and my time was 34:56 for that 10k PR. That was 3:29/km pace and 22 seconds slower, than my endurance training pace was, and way slower than my short interval session's speeds were. I broke my 35 goal, but actually all of my training sessions were indicating a sub 32minute 10km time. I was way over my head in training and instead of gradual, constantly elevated training load, I often maxed out. I got carried away at club sessions, but alone too. I focused too much on milage and top end speed.
I recently checked a runner's profile who started following me on a social media platform and this is actually what triggered this article. He is just coming back from an overuse injury, but already back at the old habits. Running 1:15s for 12 x 400s and 3:20s for 5 x 1000. He just broke his PR by a couple of seconds, completing a flat road race on 35:55.
The question is why would you run 3:07/km pace during your fast intervals and 3:20/km at your endurance sets, if your race pace is 3:35 ? Injury risks are extremely high and elevated during training and because of that strain, during racing too.
Also the training stimulus is going in the direction of critical speed, what will be more likely translated to a finishing kick, instead of your overall pace. The problem comes when most or all of your workouts are like this.
Speed slash endurance speed improves, if a lot of time spent at those speeds. At VO2-low and at threshold. It would be way more beneficial for all beginner athletes to run slower, but increase volume at that speeds. On the other hand, once a functional volume is achieved, it is not necessary to over-increase volume or to make the runs faster. You can play with the volume of the individual workouts and with the recovery times. You can max out volume in a week and cut back the next. You can spread your volume of speed into 6 workouts or do it in two. This will stimulate your aerobic system on a way, that surely you'll be stronger, more resilient and confident and your 10km PR will be on the way.
I had of course some speedy background, but my best half marathon I ran at 3:30/km pace, was coming from 4months of zero speed training period. I followed the MAF method, what is a special HR training system. It translated to 4:10 to 4:35/km average pace for all of my runs. I did a 10 x 1km on 3:45/km set every second week. My average milage was around 65km a week. I broke my PR with no watch and no struggle. There can be anomalies and strange happenings, but it is rare and maybe once in a lifetime. Strategic smart work, however always works !
Example for 35min - 3:30/km - 10km
This is what you were waiting for. To see what I am talking about. Each athlete is different and training plans, training times, distance, periodisation, tapering and all are very much individual:
12 to 16 sets @ 1:22 /w 1:10 to 1:22 recovery to increase endurance
8 to 14 sets @ 1:22 /w 30 to 45sec recovery to increase VO2
15 to 25 sets @ 1:22 /w 1:45 to 2min recovery to imprint movement
5-6 x 400 @ 1:17/1:18 /w 2:30 to 3min recovery for speed every 3rd week
3-4-5-6 X 1000 @ race pace /w 2min recovery
3 x 2000 @ race pace /w 3min recovery
2 x 3000 @ race pace /w 4-5min recovery
4000 + 2000 @ race pace /w 4min recovery (16days out top)
3-4 x 1000 @ 3:25 /w 5min recovery every 3rd week, NOT on the week of the 400s speed set and at least 2 weeks out from race
The frequency and the delivery dose is entirely by knowing yourself or known by your coach. I might make my athletes do 6 x 400s @ 1:22 /w 2min recovery on Monday, 2 x 2000 @ 3:30/km /w 4min recovery on Tuesday, 10 x 200 @ 41 /w 60s recovery on Wednesday. Thursday will be a 7km tempo broken down to 7 x 1000, what will be a great structured speedplay and make the athletes feel like pros doing surges. 1000 @ 4:00/km + 2000 @ 3:30/km + 2000 @ 4:15/km + 1000 @ 3:30/km + 1000 @ 4:00/km.
Then 4 days easy running. Not jogging and shuffling. Easy running ! The long run on Sunday should not be more than 16km on soft surface, what would include 15minutes brisk walking at the beginning and at the end. The Monday workout would be again, most likely some athletic drills, mobility, stretching and barefoot easy running around the track.
The following week, the single workout volume might increase but the frequency would drop. Tuesday could be a 17 x 400 @ 1:22 /w 1:22 recovery and Friday a 7 x 1000 by doing doing the first 3 @ 3:30/km and the second 4 at 3:28/3:29.
You can see the trend now. No need to run 15 / 20 /30 seconds faster than your race pace. Instead of stimulating threshold power or VO2, you are straining a finishing kick speed, what will not translate to the endurance pace you need for a 10km.
I have one more advice to you runners. Plan out a longer than advised build period. 5months is great. Include 1 or two 5km races if needed motivation and fitness testing. Run smart and hard, with a goal of not breaking form !
Subscribe to two 10km race on back to back weekends. This will ensure that in case you got sick, have a small niggle or stomach flue, or just woke up with the bad foot, you have a back up plan for the week after. Also it is not new to see athletes having two breakthrough performances.