Lessons learned from running my first 10K

I’ve been a casual runner for years, and most weeks, along with a couple of sessions at the gym, and morning workouts using Vytalz’ online personal trainer, I put in about 15-20KM per week.  Usually every other day I’d run roughly 5KM.  I’ve never really raced, but I have a good idea of my fitness levels, and I was pretty sure that I’d have no problems training for and running my first 10K race.

Like most people, I probably over estimated my fitness levels, and underestimated the effort that you need to put in when running a 10K.

running my first 10K

My first race was a disaster.  I did a few training runs about the right distance ahead of the event, and I did OK on them, but when it came to race day, I went out far too fast, and after about half the distance I was totally ruined.  I ended up walking most of the last 5KM with sweat streaming off my face, and finished the race in well over an hour.  Not good enough for me.

7 Lessons learned from Running my first 10K

Here’s 7 things I wish I’d known before, and lessons I put into practice, and which really helped with my second attempt.

Give Yourself Time

Most of the training plans you see on Runners World and specialist forums have a minimum of 4-6 weeks of carefully planned sessions in them.  You need that.  If you’re regularly running 5KM, you might think you can easily step up, but you’re putting a totally different amount of stress on your body by running twice as far.  You need to build up the miles to train your body to be more efficient.

You start burning fat rather than sugars after about 30 minutes of exercise, which is kind of like burning diesel instead of petrol.  If you haven’t given your body time to adjust to longer periods of exertion through a decent training plan, things won’t go well.

Build the Miles

Your training plan isn’t just about taking more time, it should be about adding more miles.  If you want to perform well over 10KM, you need to be able to comfortably run 15KM.  Or more.  Having the ability to run further means that you can run shorter distances more comfortably, which means more speed.

Build the Speed

A race is not like a quiet jog through the park on an autumn day, and no matter how much you tell yourself that you don’t care about your time, you will.  Pootling round the course getting overtaken isn’t fun.  Sure, you’re probably not going to win when running your first 10K, but you probably don’t want to finish last.

It’s not enough to just build more distance into your training.  Most decent plans will include days where you focus on shorter, more intensive work-outs.  Things like fartlek training can be painful, and it seems counter-intuitive to run shorter when you want to run longer, but making your body work harder means you will have more energy for race day, and rather than having people pass you, you’ll be able to maintain a steady, faster pace throughout the race, and be the one passing others.

Get Decent Running Shoes

Running a 10K can be fun, but bad shoes will totally wreck your experience.  A poor fit means blisters and a lack of decent support puts you at a higher risk of something like plantar fasciitis (painful).

If you’ve got a lot of miles on your shoes, then the soles will be compressed and less forgiving, and if you have a non-standard gait, then your shoes might make running uncomfortable and increase injury risk.

Go to a running shop, have your gait analysed, and buy the shoes they recommend.  Your feet will thank you.

Prepare

Your training plan is preparing for the race, but you also need to prepare to race.  Before running your first 10K, make sure that you’re properly fed.  Eat a decent carb rich meal the night before, drink plenty of water, eat a snack, and have a wee before you line up for the start.  An average person will burn close to 800 calories during a 10KM run, so it’s important to have enough sugars on board to avoid “bonking”.

Read the briefing materials for the race carefully, and look at a map of the route,  Most races have marshalls around the course, but it’s still useful to know where you’re going.  If you have the chance, walk or jog the course ahead of race day so that you know where the tough parts are.

Have a Race Plan

Although you might be running your first 10K race, your training plan should mean that you’ve run the distance plenty of times before, so you should be aware of how your body reacts through the race.

There will be distance boards throughout the race so you can see where you are up to.  If you’re running to a target time, then you’ll need to hit certain milestones along the way.  For a 1 hour target, you’ll need 6 minutes per kilometre.  If you’re significantly over or under target at each marker, your pace should change.

Don’t Give Up – Unless You Need To

When I was running my first 10K, I desperately wanted to throw in the towel.  I went off too hard, exhausted myself, and pretty much crawled over the line.  That wasn’t fun.  I didn’t give up which made it all feel a bit better at the end.

There are times when you should give up though.  If continuing means that you’re going to aggravate an injury, quit.  A slow time isn’t a reason – it’s a motivation to improve.

What Happened Next

That race was a disaster.  I finished slowly, felt terrible, and got a time well outside what I thought I was capable of.  But I learned from running my first 10K, and put the lessons into practice for my second.

Second time around, I did more things right, planned, gave myself time and miles, and even did some sprint training.  Whereas the first race took me almost 1 hour and 10 minutes, the second was much better.  I finished in 52 minutes.  It was close to 20 minutes behind the winner but it was a fantastic step up, and I felt like I’d earned the medal at the end.