How I Achieved My First 10K Run (and continued my life-changing running journey)
I started running by following the Couch to 5K program which took me 9 weeks to complete. After finishing the C25K plan I was able to run for 30 minutes three times per week. I knew that I achieved a milestone target and was aware of the importance that it brought to my physical and mental wellbeing.
At the same time I was also aware that after just 9 weeks I was still a very new runner. I knew my limitations.
The fact that I could run 5km in one go didn’t mean that I ran comfortably at all times. There were days where I really needed to grind it out, and I wasn’t sure why.
Now I know.
I was new, I was still developing, my muscles still weren’t strong enough to take me over that distance without the occasional hard work.
At that time I joined Healthunlocked, an online forum where I could find out what other, more experienced runners were discussing, and there was a lot of talk about doing a 10K run. It became clear to me that I had already done some very important groundwork by completing the C25K program, but running the 10 kilometre distance was a slightly different proposition. There was work to be done.
Why run 10K?
Towards the end of my 5K program I simply felt that this distance may not be enough for me. I got to enjoy running and wanted to spend more time out there, certainly more than half an hour that would then take me to complete my 5K run.
10K sounded alright. An hour or so of running appealed to me. It didn’t seem like it’s going to consume a vast chunk of my day. It all seemed pretty reasonable.
What did I have to do first?
I understood that you just couldn’t move to another target until the previous one had been fully completed. The 5K distance needed to be consolidated and I made sure I ran it three times per week for several months. What does consolidation mean in this case? It means that I had to make my 5K distance more comfortable to run, I had to run it stronger and yet feel not too tired at the end. In other words, practice makes running 5K perfect.
At that time I was beginning to discover the importance of regular hydration, dangers of dehydration, benefits of a correct and healthy diet for runners, the meaning of rest, discipline and perseverance.
In the end my 5K practice went fairly easily. The mix of all of the above was not effortless but it did make me a better 5K runner. I knew that some people decided to stay with 5K, participate in weekly parkruns and simply try and get as fast as they can be.
But speed wasn’t really on my radar, it was the distance. I had reached the stage where I could run 5K three times every week and I didn’t feel physically or mentally fatigued. I simply felt ready to step up.
I still didn’t know much about proper training. Terms like interval and tempo runs were not in my dictionary and I didn’t even know how on earth I would get to 10K!
But, I had a strong desire and that was a good enough start.
Finally, I started doing strength work through raw weights, planks, pushups and squats. I simply decided to get better at running and was reading all I could find about it.
How did I approach the 10K run training?
Unlike C25K which was very easy to understand and follow, there wasn’t something similar regarding the 10k program. There was no app around, so I just googled and read many different articles about different approaches.
In the end I decided on ‘ok, let me try this my way and see what happens’ approach.
I kept my two weekly runs at 5K and extended the third, the weekend, one (I heard that’s what many people did). That’s where I made a tactical error. 5K was then quite easy for me to run and in midweek instead of my usual 5K I simply ran 6K. Not a problem. Not an issue. An immediate thought was, ‘this isn’t as hard as I thought so let’s push it a bit further’. That weekend I ran 8km. Well, that was harder, there could be a problem and I could create an issue.
I was moving too fast from one point to another.
The dangers of overtraining
Many think that by ‘pushing themselves’ they would get stronger faster, and achieve more. Even the pros who DO push themselves KNOW how far they should and could go and their coaches are very aware of where they should be. Amateurs have a different mindset and their own enthusiasm can be their worst foe.
By pushing ourselves beyond what we can do we can mess up a bunch of things.
Resting heart rate can go up without us even noticing. Sleep quality will be disturbed and we won’t even know why. We can feel fatigued and simply attribute it to work stress. We get cranky over nothing. Muscles become sore and we foolishly believe that’s how it should be and we are ‘working them out’.
Next thing we notice that our performance is getting worse rather than better and finally, we get injured. I had previously done ALL of that, and more, when I started to run, and got some memorable injuries. As a result, this time around I was able to recognise the bad omens and knew really well what to do.
I slowed down my training by continuing to run 5K and doing strength training during rest days.
So what did I figure out?
I avoided falling into a trap where runners compare themselves to other runners.
I see a guy who is 15 years older than me and yet, he runs 5K ten minutes faster than me. Maybe he’s been running for a long time? Maybe he was a competitive runner in his youth? He’s definitely stronger, that’s for sure.
Quite often people tend to push themselves in order to be the same as other runners and instead of a medal all they get is a knee injury.
Somebody told me that in order to run super fast or super long and fast, I should first choose my parents carefully because it’s all about genes. However, if we train intelligently and according to our individual abilities, we WILL improve and get stronger and faster.
All I had to do was find an appropriate approach that would suit me and take me to the 10K run target. In one piece. And so I decided on the 10% rule.
The 10% rule approach to 10K
What I did was this. I extended my weekend long run by 10% of my overall weekly mileage. In the first week I ran three times 5K, the total of 15 weekly kilometres. I added 1.5km (10% of the total) to my second week’s Sunday run and made that one 6.5km long. My weekly total became 16.5km. With new 10% (1.65km) added onto my third Sunday’s run I was then running 8.15km, whahey! The weekly total extended to 18.15 kilometers, and my new 10% total of 1.81km was making my fourth Sunday’s run 9.96km long! Nearly there!
The reason I chose this fairly quick plan was because I felt I was finally prepared. I did lots of work on 5K consolidation and cross-trained whenever possible. I listened to my body and got to understand the warning signals. That early week when I ran 5K, 6K and 8K in quick succession I simply wasn’t ready, but luckily I knew when to stop and change it.
Listen to your body, it’s crucial!
Did I rush or did I take my time?
I picked the shorter, more condensed training option because my body allowed me to do so. The way I ran it though was very slowly, no rush. The time was completely immaterial, all that mattered was the end result. I trained by running at a conversational pace. I could run and talk. That way I was also building my endurance, getting my cardio worked up, getting stronger by being out there for longer.
When I got to 10K in 4 weeks I felt better than when I completed 5K.
What other factors contributed to that achievement?
Diet, rest and cross-training. I started to understand how all those factors are interdependent. Get it wrong, your runs are laborious. But get it right and you feel at ease.
As much as I was driven by desire to get to 10K, without the full focus and discipline not much would have happened. I learned how to work my daily schedule around running. There were days when the weather was not very agreeable and the run was harder, but I ran all the same, never missing a single session.
What did I do when I got to 10K?
I had already learned from running 5K that I should consolidate the new distance and get more familiar with the timing. So I made 10K my weekend run for some time. I knew that I wanted to go further and into more serious longer runs, but at that moment it was all about tweaking it and getting my 10K running time closer to 1 hour and ultimately, below it.
One step at the time.
When I completed C25K plan I knew that I would never go back to the couch lifestyle again. Once I got the 10K in my running arsenal I grew as an amateur runner. The knowledge as well as experience were building up, and the plans were expanding. I was looking forward to approaching the next phase. And over in the distance I could see that Half Marathon was waiting for me.
I hope that sharing my story, and what I have learned along this journey, will inspire you to get started and to keep going. To keep striving and being the best you can be. In running and in life.
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