Did you know 5Ks are the most popular race distance in the US? Close to 10 million runners sign up for 5K races every year!
If you’ve been thinking of becoming one of those 10 million, you’ll be pleased to know that a 5K is the ideal running distance for just about every level of runner.
But you may be wondering: how far is a 5K in miles? The good news is that if the distances seem intimidating to you, they are actually shorter in miles!
Here’s what you should know about a 5K race – plus, some tips on how to train and prepare for race day.
How Far Is a 5K?
A 5K—5 kilometers—is 3.1 miles.
If you’re not sure how far 3.1 miles is, you’d need to run 12 ½ laps around a running track to cover it! For a person of average height, a 5K distance will add about 6,200 steps to your day.
What Is a Good 5K Time?
5K times are very objective. It’s all about the average pace you can keep up over the 5K distance.
In general, the average person should be able to finish a 5K race in 20 to 40 minutes. This generalization doesn’t take into account gender, age, or experience level.
To drill down a little further, beginners who might still need to walk a little throughout the race can expect to finish between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on how much walking is done.
Intermediate runners who get in 10 to 20 miles per week as training can finish a 5K in 20 to 25 minutes. For advanced runners in excellent condition, under 20 minutes is a great time for women and under 17 minutes is good for men.
If you aren’t quite sure where you fit in, here’s a quick overview of the average 5K times for women and men across a range of age groups.
- Under 14: Women 24:43, men 21:24
- 15 to 19: Women 23:06, men 18:57
- 20 to 29: Women 20:58, men 17:49
- 30 to 39: Women 20:49, men 18:02
- 40 to 49: Women 22:19, men 19:02
- 50 to 59: Women 24:11, men 20:02
- 60 to 69: Women 27:47, men 23:05
- 70 and up: Women 38:25, men 28:27
How Long Does It Take to Train For a 5K?
If you’re a beginner, you can train for a 5K race in 2 months if you commit to it and work hard at your training. Runners who are a little more experienced will be race-ready sooner than that, but it’s still a good time frame to work on.
However, most runners who are more experienced will use a 5K race as part of their training for other, longer races. So it depends on where you are in your running journey and what your goals are for the race.
5K Training Tips
Decided to sign up for a 5K? Awesome! Here’s our best advice for how to train properly so you can perform at your best on race day.
Do a Couch to 5K Training Plan
Couch to 5K is the absolute best way to start if you’re a complete beginner. You can find a huge variety of training programs out there, but as this one’s name suggests, it’s designed to take you from completely sedentary to running a full 5K without stopping.
You’ll still find a range of different Couch to 5K training programs out there, but they’re all geared towards the same thing. It starts you off slowly, so your body has time to adjust to the new level of activity.
Over the weeks, it’ll build you up with a run/walk approach until you can run the entire distance without stopping to walk. If you think that seems impossible just 2 months from now, give it a try!
Incorporate Different Runs
Although your training program should do this for you, it’s very handy to incorporate different runs into your weekly workouts. Even for a short race like this!
Around 85 percent of your weekly mileage should be longer distances at a slower pace. Your heart rate should be sitting between 75 and 80 percent of your max during these runs.
The other 15 percent should be shorter distances but at a faster pace. If you’re completely new to the idea of pace, following a training plan is best, because it should build these into your week automatically.
If you’re creating your own plan, do at least one run each week that’s shorter and faster than the others. The other should vary between mid-distance, tempo pace and longer distance, easy pace.
Improve Your Cadence
One of the easiest ways to improve your form is to improve your cadence. This is the number of steps you take per minute—and the ideal cadence to hit is 170 to 180. Yes—that means 3 steps per second!
Many new runners make the mistake of overstriding, which means your strides take longer and your front foot lands out in front of you.
The key to good form —and minimizing injury—is to land your front foot underneath your pelvis. This is tricky if you’re actively concentrating on it. But you know what helps fix it with almost no effort? Improving your cadence.
When you work on taking shorter, quicker steps, your stride almost always fixes itself. Aim to get as close to 180 steps per minute as you can, and you’re almost guaranteed to have better form and a faster pace!
Do Strength Training
Strength training—we mean training your muscles in the gym or using bodyweight exercises—can make a huge difference to your running performance.
Most training plans have cross-training built in, but some 5K ones may leave it out as time is short.
However, we highly recommend getting in at least one or two gym sessions per week, where you can build your “running muscles”—strengthen and stretch the leg muscles and build a stronger core.
Stronger running muscles mean more power behind every stride. This translates into a faster pace, more endurance, and better performance.
Remember, though, that the days after a leg workout, you’re likely to be stiff and a little sore. Plan accordingly so you don’t find your post-workout DOMS ruining your training runs!
Pay Attention to Recovery
It’s tempting to ignore recovery, especially if you’re only training for a short race. But doing recovery right can be the difference between running a good race and hitting a new PR!
When your training plan calls for a day of rest, don’t be tempted to go out and do something active. Instead, prioritize recovery by doing things like a short yoga session, using a message gun or foam roller, or stretching.
Another part of recovery is diet. What you consume should be healthy and wholesome enough to help you build muscle and to provide energy throughout your runs. Even the meal you eat after your run should support these same goals!
Avoid processed foods, sugar, and junk food. Stick to whole foods and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated!
5K Race Day Tips
Time for the big day? Follow this advice to have the best experience on race day!
Pack Your Gear the Night Before
Nothing starts you off on the wrong foot like frantically rushing to pack your stuff on the morning of the race. It might be a short race, but it is important to have all the necessary gear, fuel, and extra clothing.
Pack your bag the night before, and don’t forget to include things like extra socks or a light jacket if the weather looks to be bad. Lay your outfit out so you can get dressed easily in the morning.
Get a Good Night’s Rest
Sometimes, running after a bad night’s sleep can help you to feel better. But NOT racing after a bad night’s rest. A race naturally comes with more nervousness than a training run, so you’re more likely to feel agitated if you don’t get the rest you need.
Get to bed at a decent hour. Make sure you give yourself at least 8 hours. Your room should be at a good temperature, without unnecessary lights, sounds, or distractions.
Nothing New On Race Day!
This is an old saying that many runners have learned from experience! Race day is not the time to try anything new—no new clothing, no new shoes, no new food. You should be using everything you’ve already used in training, so you know it works and won’t cause problems.
Trying new shoes can easily lead to blisters which will have you hobbling to the finish line. New energy gels or chews can cause an upset stomach, which can stop you from finishing the race at all! Stick to what you know works.
Eat An Hour or Two Before the Race
Don’t eat right before you get out on the starting line. You should be eating a light, carb-rich meal an hour or two before you begin. This will give it enough time to digest so it’s not sitting in your stomach causing discomfort, and it can be used as fuel for your muscles.
Stick to something that’s energy-filled but easy on the stomach. A bagel with scrambled eggs, oatmeal, or toast with honey are all good options. Avoid greasy bacon and eggs!
Warm Up Before the Race
5Ks might not be a very far distance. But it’s essential to warm up to ensure that your body is ready for the activity. Failing to do so may lead to injury if your muscles don’t warm up in time, or it could just stop you from running your best time.
In the hustle and bustle of a race setting, it can be easy to forget. You may want to step away from the crowd and do some running drills by yourself for a few minutes just before the starting gun goes off. Some high knees, butt kicks, and stretches can do wonders for your performance!