A 5 & 10k Olympian On How To Improve Your 5 & 10k Run

Photo: via @domscottrunsa.
“Come on, come on, come on, get through it” – the lyrics to Blur’s “Tender” that get me through a 10k run. I like to run either a fast 5k or a medium 10k. As soon as I get near the 20k mark (a half marathon), I’m wiped out, bored and almost certainly injured, and the thought of a full marathon (42k) makes my right knee weep. It feels unnatural for my body to run further than 10k, but there’s always the pressure to move up to a longer distance. At 3.1 and 6.2 miles respectively, a 5k and a 10k are noteworthy distances that don’t take much time out of my day, and I feel well good after. According to South African Olympic middle-distance runner Dominique Scott – who completed the 10k at the Rio Games in a personal best time of 31 minutes 51 seconds – there’s nothing wrong with that. In her training, Dominique runs anything from a mile to 15 miles – but only to make her better at the 5 and 10k, and she’s never been tempted to run a marathon; my kind of woman.

In addition to healthy knees and a social life, the 5 and 10k distances happen to span some of the most scenic routes in the world, like along the Great Wall of China (just under 10) or across the Golden Gate Bridge and back (just over 5), which I ran a few days ago with Dominique in our bouncy new adidas UltraBOOST X trainers, and where she talked me through the middle distance after a coffee – which surprisingly, she doesn’t advise against before a run!

What’s your favourite distance?

Probably 5k. It’s a good, solid race with a fast pace but still on that endurance side.

What’s your personal best time for 5k and 10k?

5k is 15 minutes 25 seconds. 10k is 31 minutes 51 seconds.

What’s the longest distance you’ve ever run?

In practice, I think the most I’ve run is 15 miles. I’ve never actually raced a half marathon before but every Saturday, I run between 12 and 14 miles, which is a half marathon, as part of my training.

The natural progression is from 5k to 10k to half marathon to marathon – should we always be trying to run further?

Definitely not! Do what excites you – if it excites you to run a half marathon, go do it and see how tough you can be. But if you love the 5k, just try to get faster. If you always move from a 5k to a 10k or a 10k to a half marathon, obviously the distance is longer so you have to dedicate more hours to the treadmill, and maybe you don’t have that much time to train. Also, the longer distance, the more likely you are to injure yourself. And, well, not everyone likes running that far!

What’s been your most difficult race? And how did you get through it?

I ran a 5k two years ago. I was in great shape but the race went out too fast for me – I was running with Olympians. I got to the 3k mark and I was in the well, I was so tired, and I still had 2k to go. But instead of walking off the track and calling it a day I thought, ‘Ok, I’m still on track for a personal best’, so even though I slowed down dramatically and I was hurting a lot, I was determined to make the most out of that situation. At that point it’s all mental, how bad do you want it?

Can you suggest some simple improvements to technique for 5k and 10k runners?

It’s not even the running I would tell them to work on. It’s more about doing core exercises like working on your abs, and stretching. Even as a professional runner, I hate stretching! Runners are actually super lazy when it comes to stretching – we’ll go out and run for an hour but we can’t be bothered to stretch when we get back and it’s so stupid! Stretching keeps your muscles fresh and allows you to go back out the next day and run again. It also gives you flexibility that you need to run and helps prevent injury. To be a good runner, you need your abs and your glute [bum] muscles to be strong; if they aren’t, you’ll get tired a lot quicker.
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I have real trouble with inclines on a 10k run. I can do it flat, but as soon as I meet an incline, I lose it. Any tips for those hills?

Your arms drive your legs, so arms are really important when you’re going uphill – use them. A lot of people think you have to lengthen your stride, or even shorten your stride on an incline, but I advise keeping your stride the same. And don’t look down – always look up.

Do you recommend running on the balls of your feet for these distances?

Yes. But once you’ve landed on the ball of your foot, you need to release and drop your heel down; you cannot just be planting on your toes because, well, I just don’t know how people do that – you’re going to get really sore calves. But you don’t want to heel strike either [land on your heel]. You want the ball of your foot to touch the ground first, then drop your heel and push off again with the ball of your foot.

If you’re running a 5k or a 10k, how do you pace yourself? Slow at the start and try to finish on your fastest k at the end? Or start fast while you have energy and slow down at the end to warm down?

You definitely don’t want to finish slow because that’s just demoralising. Pacing yourself really does take a lot of practice and training. You need to learn how fit you are. Don’t start out too hard because you don’t want to get to a point where you feel so tired you can’t go on, I think it’s better to get to the 9k mark in a 10k and feel great and be able to run the last k hard. You’ll feel a lot more empowered at the end of the race.

Ok, lastly because I never know – is it a terrible idea to have a coffee before?

No! The bad thing about coffee is it makes your stomach work… so you may end up needing to go to the bathroom, but you can always stop. I like having coffee before I run because it gives me a bit of energy. I think it’s fine!

Sign up to some free middle-distance runs from the new adidas studio, led by adidas running captains, at 152 Brick Lane. Details here: www.adidas.co.uk
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