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10 Truths about the 10K

Way back in the Dark Ages of the First Running Boom in the 1970s and 1980s, the 10K was considered THE distance race for “regular” runners.

Only nuttzos did marathons—few women among them—and no one had even heard of a half-marathon.

Today, I feel like the 10K (or 6.2 miles) is the overlooked middle child of racing. It doesn’t get as much attention: Only 56% of runners who responded to Running USA’s 2017 National Runner Survey were interested in running a 10K in the upcoming year, in contrast with 75% eyeballing a half-marathon.

Shalane Flanagan, 2017 NYC marathon champ, set the U.S. women's 10K record of 30:52 (!!!) in Boston in 2016.

(Interestingly, across the pond, the 10K is the most popular distance in the UK.)

And that’s a shame because I’d argue that the 10K is a worthy and humane distance challenge.

Many of us, me among them, say “you can train for and run a half-marathon and still have a (mother’s) life.” But probably we’d have more time for (a mother’s) life—and be less tired—with a 10K.

When I ran my first road race in the late 1980s, the women's only New York Mini Marathon 10K, I practiced by running one loop of Central Park every Saturday morning joined sometimes by a co-worker or two. During the week, I’d do a couple of 3-milers.

And it was enough! It IS enough!

With that in mind, here are 10 fun facts and a few tips about the 10K.

My mother (center), sister Leslie (right) and I (in my Grete Waitz pigtails) did the New York Mini Marathon together in 1994 and 1996.

1. The 10K is the largest race in the U.S.!

Wait, didn’t I just say the 10K is overlooked? Yes, but a handful of legacy events continues to thrive. The Peachtree Road Race, held on the Fourth of July in Atlanta, is so big—nearly 57,000 runners do it every year—that the winner has collected his award, gone back to the hotel and showered before the last wave of runners has even started. It sells out in minutes. When I was growing up in Atlanta in the 1970s, you had to finish the race under a time of 55 minutes in order to get the T-shirt. That tradition lives on, sorta: today the Peachtree Road Race is as much party parade as competitive event, but the coveted T-shirts are still handed out at the finish.

2. It’ll be over soon enough.

The Peachtree Road Race’s 1970s requirement of sub-55 minutes is a pretty aggressive pace for a “regular” runner—that’s 8:52s—which explains why the first running boom was a bunch of skinny men in tiny shorts. To finish a 10K in an hour and change, you’d need 9:45s, which is still plenty fast. Even 12:00s gets you in around an hour and 15 minutes, which is really not too long for your family to hang out waiting for you, and let’s go to brunch already!

3. You could train 3 hours per week—or less!

If you can commit to three 30-45 minute sessions of running (or run/walking) a week plus work up to a weekend long run of around 60 minutes, you’re basically good for a 10K. More advanced runners will do well by going a bit farther than the distance once per week (up to 8 or 10 miles) and adding a session or two of intervals. If you’re already running at least 6 miles every weekend, you’re good to go this weekend!

Kathrine Switzer (being wrestled off the 1967 Boston Marathon course) helped organize the first women's only "Crazylegs" Mini Marathon 10K (below right), where Grete Waitz (top right) would twice set the world record (1979 and 1980).

4. You could run the OG women’s only race!

The 1972 New York Mini Marathon (10K), one lap of Central Park, was the first women’s only race. Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to wear a bib in the Boston Marathon, helped organize it and was one of the 78 finishers. Fred Lebow, the Czech maestro then behind the NYC Marathon, hired a handful of Playboy Bunnies to attract publicity. Yep. They called it a “mini” marathon because of the era’s miniskirts and because, well, you know, many people thought women couldn’t run a WHOLE marathon. The race, held in June, is to this day one lap of Central Park and a chill-bump-inducing celebration of how women, old and young, have taken over the world of running. Yay!

5. … Or another legacy 10K

While we’re kicking it old school, there are a handful of legacy 10Ks in standout locations, some of which may be near you! Cooper River (Charleston, SC), Monument Avenue (Richmond, VA), Crescent City Classic (New Orleans), Beach to Beacon (Cape Elizabeth, ME).

6. You could do the 10K + [other race distance TK]

If you travel to a race destination, you might as well run more than one race and collect more medals and swag, right? That’s what people tell me, anyway, and it’s the idea behind events like the Bermuda Triangle Challenge (one mile, 10K, half-marathon), Runner’s World’s Hat Trick (5K, 10K, half-marathon) and Disney’s Dopey Challenge (5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon).

Pro tip from a “pro” who has NEVER done a multi-race challenge: Start slow, back off, eat and rest in between events. Good luck with that!

7.  You could run each mile (a little) faster than the one before

A 10K is the perfect distance for this—start out slow and run each mile a little faster, finishing strong. You will feel like a rock star, promise!

Pro tip: Know the course route beforehand—if you’re dealing with mid-race hills, you’ll need to start that much slower.

8. You should eat a little something ...

A piece of toast, a small bagel, a banana (whatever works for you). You might be able to finish a 5K on coffee alone, but not a 10K. But you also don’t need to fuel up as you would for a half-marathon.

9. And have a strategy.

First-timers and other friendly folks out for a fun day are smart to start slow and run at a comfortable pace the whole way. Speedsters targeting specific race goals recommend hitting the first mile about 10 seconds slower than goal pace, doing the middle 4 miles at goal pace and running as hard as you can to the finish line. And then you puke. Fun!

My father "appropriated" (ahem) balloons from the start of the Mini Marathon (then sponsored by L'eggs), my first 10K.

10. What is YOUR favorite 10K race or 10K story or 10K tip every mother runner should know? Let us know!

10 responses to “10 Truths about the 10K

  1. I love the 10 K distance. Wish there were more of them held locally. For me a 5K is almost 2 short to be worth the hassle – would rather just go for a quick 3 mile run. But a 10 K is worth the fee and the waiting around to start. Also a great distance to gradually work on a getting a little faster without injury yoursellf

  2. I think that the 10K is often overlooked by mother runners because we sometimes feel pressure to go further and further. But I have found it to be just as satisfying to aim for time goals in the 10k than to train for a half marathon (my furthest distance to date). I’ve also found it much easier to fit the training into my schedule, as you mentioned in your article.

  3. The 10k distance was my very first race. I love the Great Cow Harbor 10k on the north shore of Long Island. It is top rated in the country and Olympians have run it. The course is challenging, the spectators are fantastic, and the party at the end is a bunch of fun.

  4. Love the 10K distance and going on a “girls weekend” to do a 10k race means you can still have a few cocktails the night before the race and have a good run! We plan to do this next month at the “Across the Bay 10k” in Annapolis. Can’t wait to run across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge!

  5. The Bolder Boulder 10k is my favorite. It’s been around for 40 years (I’ve run it 21 times) and is one of the largest in the country as well. I run in the early waves and have looped back to the starting line to walk it again with my boys several years. It ends in Folsum Stadium and they put on a fantastic Memorial Day celebration after all have finished. They also now have the professional race occur after so everyone can watch the pros race on the big screen and cheer them finishing in the stadium.

  6. I am not a long-distance runner, and my preferred distance is still a 5K. However, my husband loves the 10K distance, so once in a while, we run a 10K “together.” I don’t mind the training for it; when I’m training for a 10K I get in 3-4 runs a week, with the long run over the weekend. By the last week, I am running an hour for my long run. Our first 10K together was at the Donna Marathon Weekend, a race for the cure (breast cancer). In the race weekend’s 10th anniversary in 2017, they added a 10K (previously a full, half, and 5K). We ran that race in 2017 and 2018, and I dropped like 6 minutes off my time this year. Unfortunately, they moved the location of the race weekend, and will no longer be doing the 10K, so we are going to have to find another 10K in the same time of year, so we can have comparable weather conditions (cooler in February) to try to beat our times! We both have personal bests from this year in February. For our anniversary this past weekend, we ran the Under the Oaks 10K in Jekyll Island, GA, and although the course was nice and sometimes shaded, south Georgia in early October is still pretty hot. We are already on a hunt for our next 10K together, and think we found one in St. Augustine, FL, the Gingerbread Man. Should be fun, and my hubby will be gunning for an age group win.

  7. After toeing the line for 9 half marathons in the last 4 years, I took a break this year with only a handful of 10k’s on my schedule. I love the 8k-10k distance. Long enough that I need to train for it, but short enough that it doesn’t take up half my day. (I’m a solid 12 minute miler, with a half pr of 2:46.) I was considering a half for next year, just to round up to having done 10, but I’m pretty happy with the 10k distance. There are some really cool ones around that I could definitely make into racecations.

  8. 10k is definitely my favorite distance! And my current favorite 10k race is the Indian Run in Hocking Hills State Park in southeast Ohio in September. It’s a trail race which offer 5k, 10k, 20k, 40k and 60k distances. My running friends and I turn it into a girls weekend away, and we can each run the distance that suits us best. Each runner gets a medal – a pottery arrowhead with the logo stamped on, made by kids at the local high school. It’s a wonderful race!

  9. Oregon Roadrunners Club does a 10K series, 6 10k’s in about year for a great price. You get to run out in a bit smaller communities other than downtown Portland and all the races are well supported and one even gives pies for winners. Fun times!

  10. Wow, bringing back memories! I ran the Legg’s mini-marathons when I was in high school (1977-1981)! I even have a photo of me from that event – somewhere. Thanks for walking me down memory lane!

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