10 Things I Learned From Running My First 10K
On the 18th June 2017, I completed my first formally timed 10k run for the Glasgow Mens 10K, and I was raising money for Cancer Research UK as well. After months of training from the couch to 10k, diet, running plans, running gear, injury and recovery, here's what I learned from the experience.
I began with an idea that it would be great to run a marathon, the only problem was that I had several lower leg injuries. That didn't stop me, however, and after several operations, I felt like I could give running a try. I had the operation in March 2016, the next run would have been June, and that really didn't allow enough time for post-op recovery and training, so I set my target for June 2017.
Having spent several months training hard, I estimated my course time to be around an hour. My personal best during training was 1:06:59 and I felt confident in beating that on the day. The training course I run has lots of steep hills and rough terrain, and Glasgow being relatively flat by comparison I was hoping to make up those 7 minutes.
On race day I achieved a time of 57:33, despite it being the second hottest day of the year. I was so pleased with that result, a full 9 minutes off my personal best.
There were many highs and some lows on my path to running a 10k, so here are the top 10 things I learned along the way to completing my first 10k.
1. Start Slowly
If you've never run before, or haven't run for a long time, it's going to take time for your legs to get used to the stress of running. Common symptoms include shin splints, blisters, heel pain, cramps and sore hips. These can all be very painful, so my advice is when you first feel shin splints, stop and go home. Let your legs recover for a few days. The alternative is weeks of pain or a possible stress fracture.
Your bones and muscles will adapt and become stronger when they are subjected to a stress, so start off by running slowly and by running short distances. Build up speed and distance gradually and make sure you get plenty of recovery time in between. This will give time for your body to adapt and become stronger. Don't be tempted to skip recovery, after stress, your body will restructure bone and it can be more fragile immediately after, increasing the risk of damage. Allow 2-3 days for new bond growth and stronger bone.
2. Get Decent Running Gear
I originally started off by buying some cheap trainers, mainly because I didn't want to spend much money on something I wasn't sure if I wanted to do, or could do. The first few months of training were a combination of running, getting shin splints, then after resting up, running again back where I was before I stopped. The cycle repeated and I didn't make any progress. I eventually got fed up of the constant injury, so I went to a local running store to get some advice and proper shoes. All I can say is that with proper footwear I've not had shin splints since I can run faster and farther for longer. So I highly recommend going to your local specialist running store and investing in some decent running shoes.
3. Pre-Run Stretches
It is important to warm up before exercise and to cool down afterwards, however, I found static stretches would increase the chances of me pulling muscles and getting cramps, especially in my calf. I generally warm up and cool down with a brisk walk, but sometimes do a dynamic stretch as well.
Static stretches are those where you hold a muscle under tension for a period of time, such as touching your toes or holding knee to your chest. A dynamic stretch is one which involves movement, such as swinging leg lifts.
4. Running Style
Your running style, like footwear, is vital to distance running. I discovered quite late on that my stride length was far too long, causing an aggressive heel strike. This sudden jarring of all the bones between my heels and hips was causing damage, shin splints and probably lead to a stress fracture. By shortening my stride, and slowing down, I was able to run for longer at a more even pace without injury (and therefore faster).
I recorded a slow motion video on my iPhone, you could do the same, or have someone watch how you run as you run past them.
5. Diet is Key to Performance
As the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. If you want to have any kind of success when running a 10k you need to eat properly, and you need to eat differently pre-run and post-run.
Before running you need to stock up on carbohydrates as this will fill up your glycogen stores. Glycogen is the primary fuel for muscles so you need to make sure that they have a good supply before the race.
After running, I found a mix of high protein and high calcium to be beneficial to speed up recovery, as well as taking on board additional carbohydrates to replenish those glycogen stores.
6. Vary Workouts
There are many different kinds of running, from the steady run, intervals, speed training, hill training and distance running. I found several short interval training sessions, and the longer distance training was the best for me, and as my intervals became longer by overall stamina improved significantly.
I started with 30 second run at about 80% of my maximum effort, followed by a 2-minute walk and repeated that 10 times. Slowly over the next few months, I would increase that to 60 seconds running and 60 seconds walking. I'd then run 5-8k at a slower, more comfortable pace which I could maintain for 2-3k at a time.
It's also a good idea to train not only on the flat but includes hills as well. If you find yourself coming up on a hill, run up it, don't stop and walk up. It will hurt, to begin with, and you may not make it to the top first time, but keep doing it and you will improve.
7. Do some core strength training
Running isn't just about leg strength and stamina, you need to have a strong core as well. Having a strong core will support your body whilst running and allow you to run more efficiently.
Add in some press ups, sit ups, crunches, squats, split squats and some dorsal holds to get that core stronger.
8. Fix things earlier, not later
Don't do what I did and wait until the last minute to get some problems sorted. I knew I had a problem with my running style and running gear but waited months before actually doing anything about it. As a result, I was training, getting injured, recovering, and by the time I started training again I was back at stage 1 again.
9. Scout out the route
It's always good to have a recce of the route beforehand, so you know where you're going and the sort of terrain you will be running over. This includes if you're running up hills or down hills, will it be on tarmac, concrete or grass? Know where the hydration and rest points are so you can plan your pacing.
10. Finish Fast
Start the race slowly, don't worry if others are passing you by, you're not running to beat anyone. If you're anything like me, I was a little nervous at the start, unsure what to expect. This puts extra stress on your body and muscles so a nice and gentle start gets them loosened up. Build up to your normal running pace in the first kilometer and maintain it. Towards the end of the race, especially the last 100m or so I gave it everything I had in a sprint to the finish line. Better to expel all your energy towards the finish line, that right at the start of the race.
11. Bonus Tips
Here are a few quick pre-race event tips I learned along the way.
Don't overdo it
Give yourself a week off before the race, or if you must go out only go for a gentle run. This will help any injuries to mend before the race nad not cause discomfort on the day.
Get ready the night before
It's going to be a nerve-racking day, and a little stressful if it is your first event. Do yourself a favour the night before and get your kit ready, pack any bags and lay out any equipment you may need. On the morning of the race, there is less to worry about since everything is ready in advance.
Don't over dress
Ideally, you should dress as if the temperature were around 10 degrees C warmer than it is. That means if it's a mild 10°C out, you should dress as if it was 20°C out. It may feel cold to start with, but once you get going you'll soon warm up.
Dont try anything new on the day
Race day is not the time to try a new warmup routine, breakfast, new shoes or techniques. Go with what works and stick with it. The last thing you want is to pull a muscle because your warmup was different.
Keep moving after the race
This one isn't always possible, but when you stop running you need to cool down properly to allow the lactic acid which has built up to be absorbed and processed. If you stop after the race and don't move, you'll likely end up with sore muscles for a few days. In my first race, the finish line was so crowded it wasn't possible to move, let alone stretch. I hurt for about a week afterwards.
Are you about to run your first 10K and looking for advice? Are you an experienced runner with tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Here's a cool video from the Glasgow 10k, filmed from a drone camera with a few clips from around the Glasgow course.