Focus on all-out 10k speed over winter, and you’ll be strides ahead when you come to race next summer, says coaching editor Phil Mosley

Being a better triathlete and running a fast 10k go hand in hand. Whether you’re training for a sprint, Olympic, or Ironman-distance triathlon next year, the fact remains that you can’t be a good triathlete without first being a decent 10k runner. Your 10k PB is a landmark by which people will judge you, and one that’ll stay with you for the rest of your life. It’s important that you make sure yours is a good one.

Run 10k faster than everDuring the summer it can be hard to squeeze in a 10k with so many triathlons around, but during the winter there’s no excuse. Doing one every six weeks or so throughout the winter can give you a good indicator of your training progress, as well as satisfying your need for competition during the off-season. It’s a race distance that’s grown in popularity over recent years and you could probably find one every weekend without having to drive any more than about 90 minutes in any direction.

Most triathletes recognise the importance of running a fast 10k, but don’t know how to go about achieving it. One common approach is simply to run more often, or harder. This works well to a certain extent, but there’s a limit to how much you can do before you start to get tired, sore and injured. To improve beyond this, you need to be clever about your training, and look at methods other than good old hard graft.

I’ve taken the methods of some of the world’s best athletes to help you improve. Stick with them over time and I’m confident they could help you run up to two minutes quicker for a 10k.

Monitor your fatigue

Elite athletes such as marathon world-record holder Paula Radcliffe take careful note of their fatigue level and base their daily training decisions around it. For Radcliffe, this means recording her waking heart rate every morning, and skipping training when it’s too high or too low. Remember that your body recovers and adapts to your training in the hours and days between each session. If for any reason your body doesn’t sufficiently recover between training bouts, you’ll start the next one in a state of over-tiredness. This can become a downward spiral, where your body never gets a chance to adapt – in effect you’ll be training hard, but without getting any fitter.

Heart-rate variability monitoring is the latest method of measuring your tiredness. It works on the basis that the time-gaps between your heartbeats become more evenly spaced when you’re over-tired. Some high-end heart-rate watches measure this, but I prefer using an iPhone application called ithlete (www.myithlete.com). It enables you to do a one-minute test first thing every morning and gives you a green, amber or red light to suggest whether you’re ready for hard training or not. Keeping track of your fatigue levels is a great way of maximising your training time, and gives you the confidence to take a rest when it’s needed.

Track your progress
Something that elite runners do, that the rest of us often ignore, is tracking our progress over time. All it requires is a cheap heart-rate monitor, or if you want to take it a step further, a GPS speed and distance watch. It allows you to see whether or not your training is actually working, and enables you to pace your races better, based on your performances in training.

One advocate of this approach is GB international marathon runner Steve Way: “I use a Garmin GPS watch on all my runs, and upload the data to an online training log that gives me loads of statistics. During my base training period, I look closely at my average heart rate per mile – it’s like a measure of my efficiency. It changes day to day, but over time I can see whether or not it’s improving. It gives me the opportunity to change my training if I can see I’m not getting any faster.

“When I’m sharpening up for a 10k or marathon, I do race pace efforts and monitor my speed and heart rate. I know I can run a marathon at a heart rate of 166 beats per minute, so I’m always looking out for my speed at that heart rate in training, as it gives me a reliable indicator of my form.

Periodise and mirror your training
Periodising your running involves breaking up your year into separate phases, each with its own specific focus. It’s a proven method of improving your performance, allowing you to spend time making improvements in one area, rather than always trying to do a bit of everything.

The focus of your run training should be mirrored in your cycling and swimming. For example, if you’re trying to boost your running endurance you should make sure your swims and cycles are of a similar intensity. The master of this technique was six-time Ironman world champion Mark Allen, who would do 100% of his swimming, cycling and running at a relatively easy effort throughout the winter months. Mirroring your training focus will give you a cross-training effect, and increase your body’s rate of adaptation.

Get a regular massage
It may seem a bit indirect, but getting a sports massage every two weeks is one of the most potent ways of speeding up your running. Anyone who’s been for a massage will know that masseurs will say something along the lines of: “you’re particularly tight here”, or “your legs feel bad today”. It’s all vital feedback, giving you advance warning about potential injuries, and indicating when you need a couple of days rest. Regular sports massage could help you achieve the holy grail of running training – consistency. Without it, you’ll be taking one step forward and two steps back.

It’s a method that was used by double-Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes in the lead up to the 2004 Olympics. Following an injury-ravaged career, Holmes decided that rather than waiting for another injury she would see her physio regularly, whether she was injured or not. Getting regular check-ups meant she avoided injuries and trained more consistently, and she attributes much of her success to this.

Be weight aware
I hate banging on about weight loss as a way of improving your running, but it makes such a huge difference that it can’t be ignored. Put simply, if you want to shave two minutes off your 10k time, the quickest way you could do it is by losing excess body fat.

Knowing that you need to shed body fat is the easy bit – actually losing it is the challenging part. If I knew the secret to weight loss I would be a millionaire by now. I do know that eating less isn’t normally an option for a hungry triathlete, so it’s normally a case of eating better or training more. Achieving this is often a case of motivation, and that’s where I find this online calculator comes in handy, giving you an idea of your 10k personal bests at different body weights. Seeing how fast you could be if you weren’t carrying excess fat is enough to put anyone off that extra slice of cake. Visit www.runningforfitness.org/calc/weighteffect.php.

Pace your perfect 10K

How to predict your 10k race pace, based on a one-mile time trial

First you’ll need to run a one-mile time trial, and record your time. Here’s how:

  1. Warm up with for one mile at a slow pace
  2. Run 800m as 4 x (100m easy, 100m at 1-mile race pace)
  3. Run a timed 1 mile, hard. Aim for even pacing. Finish feeling that you couldn’t have run more than a football field at the same pace
  4. Warm down. Walk for 5 minutes, then jog a slow two miles

Then, take your one-mile time and multiply it by 1.15 to get your predicted 10k race pace in minutes per mile. This prediction assumes :

  • You do the training needed for your 10k target time
  • The temperature on the race day of your race is 24 ° C or cooler
  • You pace yourself correctly

This article first appeared in Triathlon Plus magazine.