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  • Writer's pictureJames Diamond

Basics of Race Strategy: Preparing for the 10k

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

Excellent advice that goes a long way in the running world. In a basketball game, if you’re tired you can call a timeout to catch your breath. Unfortunately, for us runners, once the gun goes off, we can’t stop until we cross the finish line. For that reason, 80% of a person’s performance is often determined by the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the race. The consequences for not properly preparing can be felt harder the longer the distance. With Spring Trail Chase approaching, I’d like to go over some of the keys to preparing for a successful 10k race.


One week out from the 10k, recovery should be a priority. Whether you are peaking for this 10k or using it as a stepping stone for bigger races down the line, the intensity of the event should be taken seriously.

If you normally run 2 hard workout sessions per week, have the 10k replace your second hard effort. For example: If your workout would normally be a 4 mile tempo on Monday and 8x400m on Wednesday, then the adjustment would be to turn the tempo into an easy day, run the 400’s on Wednesday, and race the 10k that weekend.

For runners who do 1 hard workout session a week, reduce the volume or intensity of that session. For example: Cut a 4 mile tempo back to 3 miles or reduce the pace on your typical 8x400m from mile race pace to 5k race pace.

On easy runs, remain disciplined by keeping the efforts under control. This can be checked by using the heart rate monitor on your watch or running with a partner, making sure the pace remains conversational. If you struggle keeping your runs easy, you might want to cut back your easy run volume 1-3 days before the race.

Eliminate Unknowns

For road and trail races, the course will play an important role in your race strategy. A good way to do this would be to incorporate the course into your tempo or easy run days. Knowing where hills are, where the course narrows, and where the spectators are, will help you build a race strategy that plays to your strengths and eliminates unknowns.

On race day, stick with routines you're comfortable with. Now is not the time to try a new warm up, a new breakfast routine, new sports bra, running shorts, or running shoes, etc. You’re already going to be pushing your body to its limit on race day; we want to eliminate the chances of chafing, sickness, and blisters as much as possible.

Race Plan

It helps to mentally break the race into 3 pacing segments, The Set Up, The Race, and The Fight.

The Set Up runs from the start of the race through mile 2. For this segment, you should feel relatively comfortable and set a pace that is either slightly faster or slightly slower than the pace you hope to average. Whether you open a little fast or a little slow is dependent on the type of runner you are and how you like to approach this race.

The Race Phase is the middle section of the race. This is the part that people struggle with the most. Doubts will start to creep in, but you need to shut them down. When it comes to racing, your subconscious will start to weaken before your legs are truly at exhaustion. If you’ve been training regularly and had a wise first 2 miles, you are strong enough to stay strong through mile 4.

The Fight Phase, over the final two miles. Keeping a positive mindset is step 1 to surviving this phase. However, once you realize that it is normal to be hurting at this stage in the race, it gives you a new mental tool to respond. Focusing on staying with another runner or passing them gives your brain something to focus on besides the fatigue. Putting your focus on your competition can reduce those voices in your head that want to focus on slowing you down. Don’t focus on your pain; focus on your race!

Training, eliminating unknowns, and race planning are three key factors that will take you to the next level. By racing often and experimenting in practice, you’ll eventually find a “system” that works best for you!

- James Diamond, CARA Manager of Coaching & Training Programs

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