Intervals are a very effective way to improve running performance. However, to maximise the benefits of interval sessions we need to be specific to the activity, or intensity that we are trying to improve.

In this article we’ll take a look at 10k pace intervals, the benefits of including 10k specific intervals in your training and the optimum type of 10k pace interval session.

The benefits of using 10k specific intervals

If you’re looking to specifically target 10k races, then it’s very important to include 10k pace intervals within your training schedule. When we talk about 10k specific intervals we’re really talking about intervals that are run at speeds close to, or slightly quicker than your current 10k race pace and train you to cope with actual physiological conditions you will experience during the race. This is important for a number of reasons: 1) In terms of the specificity of training it’s very important to include a percentage of training at race intensity or pace. 2) This trains your neuromuscular system to become more efficient when running at these speeds. 3) This trains the key energy pathways that you will be using on race day and exposes you to the same specific physiological stresses that you will experience during a 10k race. 4) This trains you to become mentally more comfortable with the specific demands of running at 10k pace, which is important since it’s known that we are better able to tolerate the physiological pain associated with an activity that we are used to in training.

Maximising the benefits from 10k pace intervals

In order to maximize the benefit from these sessions you need to keep the pace of the intervals at around, or slightly quicker than 10k pace and utilise relatively short active running recoveries. Ideally, we want the recoveries to be run at an intensity that is just slow enough to allow us to complete all the intervals at our target pace. This will feel ok at the start of the session but should become increasingly more challenging as the session progresses.

By keeping the recoveries short and making them active running recoveries we increase the average intensity of the session which better simulates the actual physiological conditions experienced during a 10k race. If you run this session correctly then you will find that you get the combined benefits of running intervals above lactate threshold intensity (so you are stimulating improvements in the lactate threshold), a very high aerobic training stimulus (since you are running the intervals at above 90% VO2max), combined with the training benefits of running a prolonged training session (25-35minutes) that even when accounting for recoveries is equivalent to a tempo pace run.

How to run 10k pace interval sessions

10k pace intervals can either be run as a track based interval sessions or run by time and pace using a gps watch.

10k pace track interval examples10k pace running intervals

Of the track sessions the 1000m intervals seems to be particularly effective. Typically, I like athletes to run around 6-8x1000m at a pace that is just slightly quicker than 10k race pace (approximately 0-2% faster than 10k pace), with a 200m recovery, run at a pace that is around 50-70% slower than their interval pace.

If you’re a 33minute 10k runner you would run the 1000m intervals in 3:14-3:18 (3:14-3:18/km, or, 5:12-5:19/mile – equivalent to 32:20-33:00 10k pace), and you would then run your 200m recovery in 59-67seconds (4:57-5:37/km or 7:58-9:02/mile). So in this case the 33minute 10k runner would be running intervals at a pace equivalent to 32:20-33:00 10k pace. Even when you factor in the recoveries, this athlete would complete 6 x 1000m and the 200m recoveries (7000m total) at an average pace equivalent to a 34:40-36:20 10k. So the average pace is equivalent to a tempo run whereas the intervals are equivalent to, or slightly quicker than 10k pace.

For the time based session, the 3-4minute intervals work well. For these you would run the intervals at the target pace for the interval duration, followed by the recovery interval, again sticking to the target paces – see chart at bottom of the page.

How effective are 10k pace intervals?

Most runners should see a fairly significant improvement in 10k performance, following a consistent block of 10k race pace interval training. If you’ve not included these types of sessions previously, then you should see a measurable improvement following 6-8 weeks of focused training, but for best results stick with this and the benefits will compound over a period of months. A 1-2minute improvement in 10k time following 3-6months of weekly tempo interval training is not unrealistic. The amount of improvement will likely be greater with slower, or less well trained athletes.

When I first started using these intervals I was running 10km in around 33:00 minutes. Initially, I was running sessions of 6 x 1000m in around 3:15/km and around 60seconds for the 200m recovery. Unsurprisingly, the first session felt pretty tough, but as the sessions became easier, the pace of the intervals increased and the length of time to run the recoveries started to decrease. After 5-6 months I was able to complete the intervals in around  3:05-3:10 (30:50 – 31:40 10k pace) and the 200m recoveries in around 50seconds. At this point I was running the interval session (7000m total – 6 x 1000m intervals + 5 x 200m recoveries) in ~23:10 – equivalent to 33minute 10k pace. Unsurprisingly, this was reflected in an improvement in 10k performance and a new PB of 31:37.

A key factor in maximising the benefit of these sessions, is the need to be strict with hitting the target interval times/paces and recovery times. Effective pace control is key, especially for the first couple of intervals – it’s more beneficial to be able to pick up the pace over the last couple of intervals, rather than falling off pace because you started off too quickly.

10k Pace Interval Summary:

  • 10k pace intervals are a very specific way to improve your 10k running pace by improving your speed-endurance at 10k pace.
  • They also improve your rate of recovery by training you to recover when you are running. This will help you to recover from surges at the start of a race, and help you to cope with pace changes during a race.
  • 10k pace intervals also improve efficiency at race pace, improve your maximum aerobic capacity, increase your lactate threshold, and increase your level of fatigue resistance.

Key points for optimising tempo interval training:

  • Try to stick as closely to the target 10k pace intervals as possible – if possible pick up the pace over the final 1-2 intervals.
  • Be strict with the recovery times and don’t slow the recoveries in order to run faster reps! We’re trying to improve our ability to run at around 10k pace, so to maximise this benefit we want the minimum recovery needed to maintain this pace.
  • Complete 1x10k interval session per week in the build up to key 10 races. For best results also include some faster intervals or hill repetitions.
  • As the 10k pace sessions begin to feel easier, start to increase the pace of the recoveries and then when ready look to increase the pace of the intervals.

10k Pace Track Interval Pacing Charts

Below are links to 10k interval pacing charts. The following charts provide the target interval pace (imperial and metric), and  interval times for 1000m, 1200m, 1600m and 2000m 10k pace intervals. The charts also include target times and paces for the recovery intervals.

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