There are many reasons to adorn a solid pair of trainers and hit the pavement. Whether it's a resolution to start the new year off on the right foot or a long term personal health goal, running is achievable for many.
Once you’ve got your laces tied tightly, you will inevitably start setting goals for yourself with each run.
A question that commonly pops into mind as you aspire to a comfortable 5k distance is how long should this be taking me?
How Long is 5K?
Before worrying about pace or breaking a PR, it is important to fully grasp just what a 5k entails. The km represents kilometers, meaning your target distance is set for 5 kilometers. One kilometer is the same distance as 0.621 miles.
If you think of this as just over half a mile, it helps to keep perspective in your mind in terms of pacing.
Knowing this, basic math allows us to assume that 5 k in miles is the equivalent of 3.1 miles, which we will refer to as 3 miles for the sake of simplicity.
When discussing pace and calculating an ideal running time, many runners use the process of miles per minute, factoring in converting 5k in miles.
A pace chart such as this one can help set a precedent when determining target running times once you have a pace established.
How Important is a Running Time?
Focusing too much on time can be an easy trap for a runner to fall into. Like with anything health-related, running is a personal journey and the outcome is dependent on factors unique to only you.
This can feel counterproductive if you’re training for a fun run or a race and are highly aware of other people’s 5k times.
Naturally, having a target time is going to help set faster goals. Beating your target and setting new personal bests will help keep you motivated with running, too.
However, there may be more important things about this exercise than just the ticking time associated with it.
According to this article, running can be a form of mindful meditation that can help overcome depression and anxiety.
So even if you feel like you’re not reaching your target time or aren't happy with your race preparation, rest assured that the time you’re putting into each weekly run is time well spent!
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What is an Average Time to Run a 5k?
Before getting too caught up in the averages, first focus on doing your best 5k. There are many factors that contribute to a “good” or “bad” time.
Some of these factors will be within your control, but many more will be external forces weighing in.
Consider these points to start with:
- Are the weather conditions ideal?
- Are you training on a flat surface or with inclines and hills?
- Do you experience muscle cramps or fatigue?
- Do you have a pre-existing injury?
- Do you know what type of metabolism you have?
Many of those things will be out of your control or you will have limited control on certain days.
Then there are things that you have total control over.
- Have you worked out a stretching program?
- Do you take time to warm up and cool down?
- Do you make sure you are hydrated before a run?
- Have you got a training schedule in place to keep runs regular?
- Do you follow a healthy meal plan?
- Have you invested in quality running shoes to support your feet?
Such practicalities and investments outside your actual session will contribute to you being able to run at the best of your ability, thus reaching an ideal target time.
With these factors taken into account, everyday runners tend to hit a target of 25-37 minutes for a 5k.
As fitness and training increases, sub-25 or sub-20 can be achieved for some. 20 minutes for a 5k is an achievable target, but it will take motivation and dedication to get there!
Now, to the averages. An average 5k miles per minute calculation for men is 31:09 and for women is 36:16 (men and women aged 25-29).
Overall, the best way to improve your target is to compete against yourself. Be aware of the averages out there, but set your own pace and your own goal to beat.
Age and Gender Influences on Your 5K Time
Whilst it is key to focus on running your own race, it is still valuable to be aware of other averages out there from other runners.
Whether you are running competitively or casually, having an understanding of average times and paces can help you to cultivate your own target.
There are certain categories that create averages. These tend to be divided into age and sex. However, your overall fitness level has much more impact on how fast you run than any of these.
Let’s take a closer look at these categories and how they can influence your 5k run.
Typically, runners reach their fastest time between the ages of 18-30, but of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.
According to data collected at Pace Calculator in the United States in 2010, the average mile per minute in a 5km for men aged 20-24 is 9:30.
For women in this age bracket, it is 11:44.
Looking at another age bracket of 35-39, the average for men increases to 10:53 and for women 12:03.
This snapshot of data highlights how the average running pace increases with age for both genders.
Naturally, you will be wondering what is a good 5k time by age?
For someone under 30, you should be aiming for somewhere between 29 - 36 minutes.
Over the age of 30, anything between 31 - 50 minutes is a solid achievement.
Looking at the statistics, 30 minutes is certainly a good 5k time and a target worthy of any runner.
I detail my journey to the sub-21 minute 5K, in case your curious about beating these averages.
Biologically speaking, there are structural differences that mean men and women run differently.
While men and women can train together and support each other in their running goals, it is important to steer away from comparing times with someone of the opposite gender.
It simply isn’t a fair comparison for some of the following reasons.
- A male heart is, on average, 20-25% larger than a woman’s, meaning they can pump more oxygenated blood, particularly from the left ventricle.
- Testosterone is a man’s primary hormone which stimulates muscle mass.
- Estrogen, a key hormone in women, is a disadvantage for running as the antioxidant qualities fight free radicals around the body.
- Women naturally have the gift of an extra 5-10% body fat for their potential childbearing, which isn’t ideal for a runner.
So, thanks to physiological development, there is a gender gap between how fast a male can run 5K compared to a female.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of women running fast to close that gap!
In fact, the fastest recorded 5k for a female is 14 minutes!
Any target between 14 and 35 minutes is a good 5k for a girl.
Speed or Endurance: What’s More Important?
Beyond the facts of age and sex, a training program is an important contributor to your 5K run time. There are two key elements to a runner’s training schedule which include speed and endurance.
But just which one promises fast results and possibly a PR?
It can be easy to get caught up in reaching the desired distance without thinking about aerobic performance. Many training guides available and recommended by professional trainers or physiotherapists support the idea of sprint training and tempo runs.
These shorter, faster, and more dynamic runs are integral in maintaining tone and conditioning for achieving longer distances or training for a 5k race.
In addition to sprint training and aerobic focus in your schedule, breaking up the distance is also recommended. For instance, instead of running a flat 5k, focus on doing 1000 meters at your desired mile per minute.
Back it up with a recovery run of 200-300 meters. Repeat this cycle 5 times as part of your training.
Evidently, focusing on both speed and endurance in your training program will play a vital role in reaching your personal target.
Before and After Your 5K
Naturally, it is the run you are focusing on and the target you are trying to improve.
But there is so much preparation work that needs to be put into achieving a good run time.
No one runs 5k in 13 minutes without some serious dedication!
With that in mind, whether you’re aiming to hit a faster 15 minute 5k to win a race or want to go from 30 minutes down to 28, here are some things to do before and after you pound the pavement.
- Warm-up and cool-down stretches
- Aerobic fitness training
- Ensure a recovery rest day
- Have proper running shoes
- Wear comfortable running clothes
- Have a nutritious diet
- Stay hydrated throughout the day
- Have a regular sleep routine
Tips to Improve Your Time
Once you’ve got a regular routine happening, you will naturally want to start challenging yourself.
Remember, the challenge should be about beating your personal best, not just about getting faster.
Your average will always be different from someone else’s and it is vital to work within your achievable limits.
That being said, it is a great focus to shave off a minute or two from your current running pace. With some of these tips included in your training program, you can continue to improve strength, condition, and endurance to push yourself further while pumping out that 5K in miles per minute.
- Maintain a positive mindset. Your mentality matters just as much as your muscles do when you are running!
- Consider doing yoga, tai chi, or something similar to build flexible and adaptable muscle strength.
- Don’t focus just on distance - do 2km or 3km runs to build speed and muscle mass.
- Set yourself a pacer watch to help reach a target mile per minute.
- Try hill running or step work to get all your legs muscles toned and conditioned for the distance.
- Set yourself a race day goal, but remember the bigger picture in terms of your mental and physical health.
Last update on 2020-02-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API