If you're new to running, a 5K is probably the first event on your calendar. The 3.1-mile race is a manageable distance for newbies yet popular among runners of all ages and skill levels. And while training for other races requires quite the time commitment, you won't need to schedule tons of running to prepare for this distance.
Whether you're training for your first race or looking to shed minutes off your 5K time, it's crucial to set realistic goals and plan accordingly.
Average 5K Time and Pace
Running statistics show finish times for the 5K vary according to factors like age, sex and experience. If you're running your first race, you can use the national average statistics below, provided to LIVESTRONG.com by RunRepeat.com and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), to get a general idea of how you can expect to perform.
2018 National Average 5K Times
0 to 20
20 to 29
30 to 39
40 to 49
50 to 59
The average 5K pace per mile is about 13 minutes for women and 11 minutes for men, resulting in finish times around 42 and 35 minutes, respectively. More experienced runners may be able to keep an 8-minute mile pace, finishing their 5K in about 26 minutes.
But 5K races aren't only for runners! Plenty of people opt to walk a 5K, using it as an opportunity to get some lower-intensity exercise. If you're planning to walk the race, you might clock in around 19 minutes per mile, which means you can expect to finish in a little over an hour.
If you're an experienced runner, you may find yourself blowing the national average out of the dust — advanced runners may even be able to cross the finish line in under 20 minutes. And while the current IAAF world record times may leave you feeling humbled (whether you're a newbie or seasoned runner), finishing a race is an outstanding accomplishment, so no reason to feel discouraged.
World Record 5K Times
The current IAAF world records — both set in 2019 — for the outdoor 5K are:
- Women's: Sifan Hassan, 13:44
- Men's: Julien Wanders, 13:29
Prepping for Your First 5K
Even though 3.1 miles is a relatively short race (especially compared to the 26.2-mile marathon), it's no distance to scoff at. If you're new to running, you want to set aside at least eight weeks of training before you hit the race course, recommends Meg Takacs, trainer at Performix House and founder of the #RunWithMeg app.
Most training plans are formatted in an interval-style regimen. Begin with a walk/run program of 20 to 25 minutes, recommends the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Train in intervals (for example: run two minutes, walk one minute), slowly adding more running time each week, while keeping your rest consistent. You can safely increase your running distance by about 10 to 15 percent each week. Before long, you'll hit the 5K point.
Once your training plan nears its end, give your course a run-through or drive-by (if possible) before running the race, recommends the ACE. This will help you familiarize yourself with the hills and loops of the course, so you aren't surprised on race day.
Throughout your training, make sure to fuel properly with plenty of water and healthy whole foods. On race day, avoid high-fiber and high-fat foods, as they can cause bloating or cramping. Drink at least 16 ounces of fluids a few hours before you toe the starting line on race day and between 7 and 10 ounces of water during the run, according to the ACE. Look for tables along the course where volunteers hand out water, or carry a small bottle with a non-slip hand strap with you.
If Running Your First 5K Feels Daunting, Start Here
Improving Your 5K Time
Whether you're a beginner or sub-20-minute-5K runner, there's always space for improving your time. Varying your running workouts and incorporating some strength and cross training can help you shave minutes off your race pace.
Mix up the types of running workouts you practice, Takacs says, by incorporating aerobic training (low-effort running), tempo running (comfortably challenging), sprinting (max effort) and incline running.
Running is a repetitive motion, so it's important to include different training modalities to avoid overuse injuries and improve running efficiency, according to the ACE. Exercises like goblet squats, lateral lunges and single-leg deadlifts, among others, can help build lower-body strength and improve your pace.