Runners are a competitive group by nature. Whether you compete against others or for your own PRs, you likely have wondered how your times stack up in different distances. This article will delve into what is considered good timing for a 5K (the answer may surprise you!)- and how to improve your 5K time.
How Many Miles is a 5K?
A 5K is 3.1 miles. If you are running a 5K road race, you will run approximately 3.1 miles. However, if you do not run the tangents well, your GPS watch may read 3.2 or even 3.3 miles at the end of a road 5K.
If you are running a 5K trail race, the distance measured by your GPS watch may not be precisely 3.1 miles. Trail races are often less precisely measured than road races.
A 5K race can also occur on a track. Most tracks are 400m per loop. A track 5K involves running 12 loops around the track.
Factors Affecting Timing in a 5K
Several factors affect what is considered a good 5K time. For example, a good 5K time on the track will be different than on the trails! Physiological, mindset, and environmental factors all affect your timing in a 5K race.
Like any race distance, your fitness going into a 5K race is a top determinant of finishing time. Endurance and speed (velocity at VO2max) will impact your 5K time.
While a 5K is the shortest common road race distance, it is still an endurance event. According to a 2019 review in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, the 5K is 95-97% aerobic for elite runners (12-15 minutes). For recreational runners with an average 5K time of 20 to 40 minutes, the 5K is even more aerobic in terms of energy production.
Because of the significant contribution of aerobic energy pathways, your overall endurance will contribute to your 5K time. If your goal to to run a good 5K time (relative to your fitness), you will want to maintain enough weekly running volume to have good endurance.
For elite runners, 5K pace is right around 90-100% of their VO2max. For recreational runners, 5K pace will be slightly below their VO2max but well above their lactate threshold. Regardless of pace, velocity (speed) at VO2max will significantly impact their average 5K time. The faster you can run at your VO2max, the faster you can run at 90% of your VO2max.
Short, fast intervals done at approximately 5K pace or slightly faster will improve your speed at the 5K distance. Since you still need to build endurance, typically you will do these fast intervals once per week. Strides done once or twice per week will also help develop your 5K speed.
Related: VO2max Interval Workouts
The surface type will impact your 5K time. If you ran at the high school or collegiate level, you likely had different times for your 5K on the track compared to your 5K in cross-country. An outdoor 400m track is very fast, due to the flat and responsive surface. Road running 5K times will vary based on the hills and elevation gain. Trail or cross-country 5Ks will be slower due to the soft surface and the hills.
Similar to any other race distance, weather conditions will impact 5K time. A temperate day with cloud cover, temperatures in the 40s to 50s, and minimal winds will yield a faster finish time. A windy day, hot weather day, or sub-freezing day will affect performance.
The 5K may be short compared to the marathon, but that does not make it easy. A 5K race occurs at a very high-intensity. For a good portion of the race, physical discomfort will be high. You may experience burning muscles, mild nausea, and the overwhelming urge to slow down.
Because of that, mindset contributes to your 5K performance. To run your fastest 5K, you must anticipate that the race will have uncomfortable moments. If you can develop your mindset to cope with this discomfort and not back off the pace, you will be able to run a faster 5K time.
The 5K World Record
As for 2023, the 5K world record for women is 14 minutes, 21 seconds, and 21 milliseconds. This is a pace of 4:30 minutes per mile/2:48 minutes per kilometer. This world record was set by Ethiopian runner Gudaf Tsegay at the Monaco Diamond League.
Joshua Kiprui Chepteigi of Uganda ran the men’s world record ever in 2020, with a time of 12 minutes, 35 seconds, and 36 milliseconds. This is an average pace of 4:03 minutes per mile/2:31 minutes per kilometer. Similar to the women’s world record, the men’s 5K world record was run on an outdoor track.
As the world records, these times are representative of the fastest 5K ever. World records are at the limits of human performance and thus are not a litmus test of what constitutes good timing in the 5K for 99% of runners.
What is Good Timing for a 5K?
While many elite runners run below 15 minutes in the 5K, good timing for a 5K is different recreational runners for recreational runners. A 5K takes hard work in training and on race day. Whether you run an 18 minute or 45 minute 5K, your finish time should be celebrated!
The Average 5K Time
Social media can skew our perception of average 5K time. Performance rating calculators provide an understanding of 5K performance. These calculators rate performances as a percentage of the estimated performance limits.
According to the Running Calculator from Tinman Endurance Coaching, the 50% performance grading for the 5K for men is 24:50 (7:59/mile or 4:58/km). For women, the 50% performance graded 5K time is 28:22 (9:07/mile or 5:40/km).
Performance grading does not fully reflect actual 5K participation amongst recreational runners. As races become more inclusive and popular, a larger demographic is represented in finish times. According to the statistics analyzed by RunRepeat, the average 5K time is 35:22 for men and 41:21 min for women, respectively. These statistics include all 5K participants: runners, run-walkers, and walkers.
Good 5K Times, By Age
The RunRepeat statistics help us understand a good 5K time based on age. VO2max can decline with age, so 5K times may slow down across the decades. However, training will help you maintain your average 5K time as you age (or even get faster).
The average 5K time by age (as of 2018):
- <20 years old: 31:28 (men)/ 38:38 (women)
- 20-29: 33:19 (men)/ 38:44 (women)
- 30-39: 34:36 (men)/ 40:13 (women)
- 40-49: 35:24 (men)/ 41:40 (women)
- 50-59: 36:34 (men)/ 43:57 (women)
- >60: 40:42 (men)/ 48:41 (women)
Again, these numbers include both runners and walkers. You can see the overall trend of slightly slower times with age.
What is a Decent 5K time for a Beginner?
What is a decent 5K time for a beginner? Any time that you are able to finish a 5K in! Covering 3.1 miles is a huge accomplishment as a beginner runner. Once you feel more comfortable with the distance, then you can start focusing on running a faster 5K.
What is a Good 5K Pace?
A good 5K pace is a finishing pace! Running a 5K is hard, whether the challenge is the distance or your pace. You can both celebrate your current finishing time and want to get faster in future 5Ks.
Running performance is individual. Instead of thinking about a good 5K time compared to others, you can compete with yourself. Working to a 5K PR is a worthwhile goal for many runners. Even if you do not PR, you can assess if you ran a good 5K time based on your race experience. Did you push yourself to your limits for that day? Did you follow your race strategy? How much did you enjoy the experience?
How to Speed Up Your 5K
No matter your 5K time, you can run a faster 5K. Experience racing the distance, 5K specific workouts, and a training plan or running coach will all help in improving your 5K finish time.
Race Multiple 5Ks
Pacing a 5K is a skill. You need to know how to push through that discomfort, how to start out fast but not so hard you burn out, and how to have a fast finishing kick. Fitness will contribute to that. However, the only way to learn how to pace a 5K is to repeatedly practice it.
Since you recover quickly from a 5K, you can often race multiple 5Ks per year. Each race will give you another opportunity to practice pacing and learn how to push your limits.
Related: How to Pace a 5K Race
Do 5K Specific Workouts
5K training should include a variety of workouts: easy runs, short intervals, tempo runs, etc. 5K pace workouts are not the only workout you do – but they are also not a workout you want to skip.
These 5K pace workouts help you understand how the effort should feel on race day. You can also use these workouts to assess your fitness and set a realistic 5K goal pace. You can do these workouts on a track or on terrain similar to your race. Always include a warm-up and cooldown run with 5K-specific workouts.
Sample 5K workouts include:
- 2-3 x 5 minutes at 5K pace (2.5 min jog), followed by 5 x 1 min faster/1 min jog
- 3-6 x 800m repeats at 5K pace (jog 200-400m recovery)
- 3-5 x 1K at 5K pace (jog 300-400m recovery
- 6-8 x 600m: first 400m at 5K, then final 200m slightly faster (400m recovery jog)
Hire a Running Coach or Use a Training Plan
Your first 5K may have followed a couch to 5K training plan, and now you are wondering how to get faster. Or, you may have only raced a 5K as part of other race preparations, and never trained for the 5K distance specifically. Either way, you will see results if you follow a training plan or work with a running coach.
Increase your knowledge, decrease your run time with the Foundations of Running E-Course!