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How to Pace a 10k

Amanda Wendorff

Once you’ve signed up for a 10k race (6.2 miles) and done the necessary training, the next thing to consider is how to execute on race day. Knowing how to pace a 10k running race can make the difference between a celebratory finish, knowing you’ve fulfilled your potential, and a painful slog just to finish. 

In this article, we’ll discuss various race strategies for a 10k and help you find the best approach for yourself. Specifically, this article will discuss:

  • How to pace a 10k run
  • What should your 10k pace be?
  • Common mistakes made with pacing in a 10k run
  • What does 10k race pace feel like?
  • What should your heart rate be in a 10k running race?
MOTTIV app user Matt Codiamat competes in a race!

Pacing Strategies for a 10k Run

There are generally three approaches to pacing a 10k run:

  1. NEGATIVE SPLIT: Running the second half faster than the first half
  2. EVEN SPLIT: Running the same pace throughout the race
  3. HOLD ON FOR DEAR LIFE: Starting fast and hanging on

We’ll discuss each of these strategies below. 

Negative Split

Negative splitting means pacing so that the second half of the race is faster than the first half.  

For example, a 10k runner may negative split a 60-minute 10k by running the first 5 kilometers in 32 minutes and the second 5 kilometers in 28 minutes. 

Negative splitting is an advanced technique, and many elite runners have used this strategy to set personal bests and records. For example, at the Chicago Marathon in 2022, Emily Sisson negative split the marathon to finish in 2 hours, 18 minutes, and 29 seconds, setting the United States national record. 

For more novice runners, negative splitting can be difficult. To execute it well, you need to have a clear pacing plan and expectations of how you can finish. Creating and executing this plan requires a few skills that new runners need time to develop: 

  • Great discipline. Keeping an easier pace at the beginning of the race when adrenaline is high can be very difficult.
  • Sense of pace. While GPS watches can help, a good negative split race requires a runner to have a great internal sense of how fast they are running.
  • Dialed-in race pace. While many elite runners can accurately predict precisely how fast they’ll be able to run in a race based on years of training data, beginner runners often need time to determine their running capabilities.

Even Splits

An even split pacing plan is similar to a negative split plan, except that instead of getting faster as the race progresses, you hold the same pace throughout. For example, a runner aiming to finish in 56 minutes should run as close to 9 minutes per mile (or 5 minutes, 35 seconds per kilometer) as possible.

Like a negative split plan, an even pace requires good discipline to lock into your goal pace, a great internal sense of pace, and knowledge of your abilities. 

The “Hold On for Dear Life” Plan

Finally, the “Hold On for Dear Life” 10k race strategy is the most common (but ill-advised) approach for new runners. 

In this approach, you run hard from the moment the race starts and then dig deep to hold your pace as the race progresses. 

The “Hold On for Dear Life” plan is high risk/high reward. If you start hard when the gun goes and can maintain your pace or limit the decrease in speed, you may be rewarded with a personal best or a finish time that exceeds your expectations. However, if you start too hard, you may blow up early and struggle with the remainder of the race.

What’s the Best 10k Pacing Strategy?

Studies have shown that for most runners, the best 10k race strategy, leading to the fastest race times, occurs when runners execute either an even split or a slight positive split (where the second half is just a bit slower than the first half). 

With this approach, you’ll need a good sense of your personal anticipated race pace. To find your 10k pace, consider the paces you’ve held comfortably in 10k training during some of your faster interval workouts. For example, if you can complete a workout of 6 x 1 mile at a 9-minute per mile pace, aiming for a 9-minute mile or even a bit faster in a 10k race would be reasonable.

Once you have a 10k goal time in mind, you can use our pace calculator to determine your race pace: 

Alternatively, if you’ve recently completed a 5k race, you can use the same calculator to estimate an equivalent 10k pace. 

Once you’ve determined a goal race pace, aim to start the event at or just a bit quicker than your goal pace but still at a controlled effort. 

For example, if your goal race pace is 9 minutes per mile (or 5 minutes, 35 seconds per kilometer), aim to start at around 8 minutes, 55 seconds per mile, or 5 minutes, 30 seconds per kilometer. You'll beat your goal time if you can maintain that pace for the entire 10k run. If you slow down a bit, you’ll likely still match your goal. 

Common Mistakes Made in Pacing a 10k

Starting Too Fast

By far, the most common pacing mistake many runners (including experienced runners) make is starting the 10k too hard.

A successful 10k race effort should be raced entirely under your lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold is an exercise intensity at which your muscles produce more lactate than the body can clear. 

Once you exceed your lactate threshold, things get much, much more difficult. In particular: 

  • Your breathing becomes labored
  • Your muscles begin to burn
  • You start to feel like your legs are failing
  • The effort feels much greater
  • Your pace declines

Many beginner runners start 10k runs so quickly that they exceed their lactate threshold within the first five minutes. It soon becomes difficult to breathe, the muscles become very fatigued, and the runners have to slow down or walk. This is not an enjoyable way to complete a 10k! 

To avoid this outcome, it's always a good idea to hold back a bit at the beginning of the race. A good way to think of a 10k is to break it into three segments: 

  • Start to Mile 2 (or Start to Kilometer 3): Hold back a bit, gradually building effort. You should be working hard, but your breathing should be controlled, and you should be confident that you can increase your pace.

  • Mile 2 to 5.5 (or Kilometer 3-9): Hold your race pace, working hard and finding a rhythm, but still feeling under control.

  • Mile 5.5 (or Kilometer 9) to finish: Go all out, run as hard as possible, and hold on for dear life.

Starting Too Slow

A less common pacing mistake is starting too slow.  This may happen if you’re faster than you thought you were, you're nervous about the distance, or you just got caught up in the crowds. 

If you start a 10k too slow, you’ll likely finish wondering if you could have had a faster time. No worries! Find another 10k to enter, and see if you can start a touch faster and still finish strong.

The best way to avoid the pacing error of starting too slow is by knowing and trusting your abilities before you start the race. In your training plan, incorporate some faster intervals and see how your body handles certain paces. You’ll almost certainly be able to hold a faster pace in a race than during training.

Also, to avoid the crowds in the first few minutes of larger events, get to the starting area early and position yourself closer to the starting line as you feel comfortable. 

What Does 10k Pace Feel Like?

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: 10k races, done right, are painful! 

For a 10k race, you should run your race at a brisk pace, building towards your threshold, and then finish strong enough that when you hit the finish line, you’re not sure you could run another minute. 

That said, you don’t want to (nor could you) run the entire 10k at your maximum effort. A 10k effort should: 

  • Feel relatively easy for the first several minutes, like you’re holding back
  • Start feeling harder by the 3k mark
  • Be difficult between 3k and 9k as you breathe hard and feel the burn in the muscles, but feel like “controlled speed” with your running form staying smooth
  • Hurt a lot for the last 1k, as you run your fastest to finish strong

What Should Your Heart Rate Be During a 10k?

If you watch your heart rate during a 10k race, you should see it rise fairly quickly in the early miles. Once you reach about 10 minutes into the race, your heart rate should settle mostly in high Zone 3 to Zone 4.  As you reach the finish, you’ll likely see your heart rate rise to within ten beats of your maximum heart rate. 


There’s no doubt about it, a 10k race is a challenging endeavor. But if you nail the pacing in your 10k, you’ll be able to finish knowing that you maximized your potential. 

In this article, we discussed:

  • A few different pacing approaches
  • The smartest pacing strategy for most amateur runners: starting a bit faster than your goal pace and holding on
  • How to find your goal 10k pace
  • Some of the most common 10k pacing errors
  • What your heart rate should be during a 10k

Before lining up for your first 10k, it’s a great idea to sit down and plan out your race. Then, use your discipline, experience, and technology to follow that plan. Trust us, there’s nothing better than crossing a 10k finish line knowing you executed the race to the best of your ability! 

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Amanda Wendorff

| Author

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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