Ask The Expert

What Is A Good 5k Time? (And How To Improve It)

We spoke to a group of running and fitness experts to hear their thoughts and top tips on the much-loved 5k distance

Good 5k Time
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What’s a good 5k time?

The 5k is a much-loved distance and is one of the most popular choices for both amateur and more experienced runners.

For beginners who are just getting into running, the 5k can be a great distance to build up to – and more experienced athletes can have a rewarding journey working to improve their 5k times.

So, what is a good 5k time and are there any basic tips to bear in mind when it comes to improving it?

That’s exactly what we asked a select group of running and fitness experts.

Here is what they said.

Testing Running Shoes

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Consider Adding Speed And Strength Training To Your Schedule

Elizabeth Bondi, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, Northern Illinois Foot and Ankle Specialists

When it comes to improving a 5k run time, I recommend incorporating speed and strength training into the weekly run schedule.

These include fartlek workouts, interval training, hill repeats, as well as tempo and sprint workouts.

These various workouts improve both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, which can improve a runner’s 5k time.

I also recommend getting a run gait analysis done by a professional. Poor form can not only affect your run efficiency and increase your time to fatigue, it can also increase your risk for injury.

Another component to increasing speed and running efficiency is running cadence. You generally want to try and be between 170-190 strides per minute.

A “good” 5K time is a very personal time. There is no good or bad time per se. It really depends on the runner’s personal goals, experience, and medical history.

Some runners want to do a 5k for fun or exercise and their goal is to run for the entire distance. Other runners have a set goal time such as running a 5k within 30 or 25 minutes etc.

Other runners are recovering from an injury and are just trying to get back into running safely. So, it just depends on the athlete.

Setting a personal time target depends on your running experience and starting fitness level. It also depends on the amount of time there is between the start of training and the 5k.

Group running

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Those who are new to running should start out slow with a run-walk program and gradually progress from there. The concentration should be more about building up endurance gradually as opposed to speed.

Once the endurance level is achieved, then determining a personal target time can be better assessed.

For more experienced runners, coming up with a personal time target depends on the current base, the amount of training time available, injury history, and time frame until the next race.

I believe that it is important to continually set smaller goals within the main goal to stay on track and not push too hard.

As a podiatrist, injury prevention is very important, whether it is a 5k or a 50k.

When it comes to running, it is important to incorporate strength training, mobility work, and cross-training activities into the weekly schedule. These non-running components of a training program help to not only improve speed, but also reduce injury risk by helping to develop overall muscle symmetry, improve running form and posture, and improve stability.

It is also important to take the time before and after a run to warm up and cool down with some dynamic stretching and mobility work.

Other factors that are important for injury prevention include wearing shoes meant for running that fit properly, proper nutrition, adequate hydration, and adequate rest and sleep.

Woman Running in Park

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Set Yourself Incremental Improvement Goals

Johno Goldsmith, Certified Running Coach

There is no universally good 5k time as far as minutes are concerned. (My personal best is 19:27, which I consider good, even if the world record is 12:35).

A good 5k time is one that reflects your putting in the time and effort to train, showing up to race day prepared, and crossing the finish line with your hands in the air (and not on your knees)!

There are so many elements each of us can focus on to improve even a good 5k time – strength, endurance, flexibility, nutrition, hydration, sleep, and the list goes on – and if you have mechanisms in place to measure these, set up plans for improvement, and then of course execute, you’ll be well on your way to a faster time.

Your next 5k is unlikely to be your final 5k, so I recommend setting incremental improvement goals and putting yourself in a position to achieve and even beat your target times.

Running Man Sun

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A Good 5k Time Depends On Many Personal Factors

Jack McNamara, Personal Trainer and Running Specialist, TRAINFITNESS

The current world record for running 5k is 12:35.36 – but for a lot of runners, even completing in a 5k in double that time would still be a significant achievement.

There are lots of factors that affect athletic performance, most of which will have an impact on a person’s 5k time. These include experience level, age, sex, genetics, diet, injury history, quality of sleep and technical ability. The terrain and weather conditions can also play a big role in determining whether it’ll be a new personal best or not.

The American Council on Exercise advise that a beginner can expect to aim for a 30-minute 5k time if they have prepared well and followed a two to three-month training plan leading up to race day, though according to race data collated between 1986 and 2018 the average 5k finish time in the UK was 33:54 (29:08 for men, 38:12 for women).

A good ballpark target for beginners then may be sub-30 minutes, but anything under 40 minutes, especially for someone new to running, is still a great achievement.

It’s important to remember that your first time will also be your best time, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to complete the distance in a particular time.

Just aim to do your best, then use that initial time as a benchmark for tracking your improvements over the coming weeks and months.

If you persevere and manage to get under 25 minutes for a 5k, you definitely won’t be considered a beginner anymore!

Woman Running

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When it comes to shorter distance races like a 5k, most people struggle with the lactate accumulation in their muscles throughout the race.

By adding intervals into your preparation, you can train your body to tolerate and process these waste products more effectively, whilst also improving your body’s efficiency at utilising oxygen. All of this can help you last longer at faster speeds.

Improving your efficiency also translates to longer distances. The more efficiently you run at a given pace, the less energy your body requires to keep you going.

This means you can maintain good posture and good running form for longer and longer periods, helping your cardiorespiratory system to operate optimally throughout the duration of your runs.

The one drawback of interval running, especially for beginners, is that it is a high-impact activity, and it can be tough on the joints of the lower extremities. Combine this with the high-intensity nature of interval training and your body may not know what’s hit it!

There is no need to worry though. If you are new to running intervals, your training could include periods of jogging alternated with a brisk walk to help you catch your breath again.

For more experienced runners, intervals could involve alternating short sprints with longer periods of recovery.

Just remember to keep your rest periods longer than your work periods to begin with (two minutes fast, five minutes recovery, for example) and separate your runs by at least 48 hours to give your body an opportunity to adapt to the increase demands you are making of it.

Man Running

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Interval Runs Can Help Improve Your 5k Time

Peter Lovato, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, Northern Illinois Foot and Ankle Specialists

A good 5k time depends on the experience level of the runner, but generally I am happy with anything under 30 minutes for a beginner runner, which equates to a sub-10-minute per mile pace. This is a good goal for your first couch to 5k time.

For a slightly more advanced runner, under 25 minutes or an eight-minute pace is a good goal.

To set a goal time for a runner that’s not brand new to the sport, I recommend testing your 5k time and then extrapolating for likely improvement.

If you’ve been running for less than a year, you can expect around a six per cent or higher improvement in your time.

If you’ve been running for more than a year (and are more experienced with a few races under your belt), you can expect around a three to four per cent improvement in your time with training.

Interval runs are a great way to break up the monotony of training, improve fast twitch muscle fibers, and increase your V02 Max, which is the measure for how efficiently your body uses oxygen during exercise.

Intervals should be 1: 2 or 3 work:rest ratio. An easy way to do this is to sprint as fast as you can for 60 seconds, and then cool down with a brisk walk for two to three minutes. Repeat this six times for a full workout.

Plyometric exercises such as explosive jump squats, or box jumps can also help to improve 5k times in the weight room when you are sick of running and want to break up your training further.

Studies have shown that beginner runners have a tendency of running the first mile faster than goal pace because of increased adrenaline from the excitement on race day. This actually has been shown to decrease performance and overall times.

I like to use a pacing app on a smartwatch or smartphone that will tell you your pace in pre determined intervals. I like having the app read my pace every 60 seconds back to me so I can adjust accordingly. My personal favorite is Runmeter on an iPhone.

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