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.
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.
(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.
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!
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!