If you’re just getting into running and have registered for, and started training for, a 5k, you may be wondering what a good finishing time for a beginner would be. Obviously, a decent time for a runner’s first several 5ks will vary greatly based on the individual. But we can give you some good guidelines as well as some basic tips if you’re running your first few races!
First things first, though: don’t get hung up on times, or on comparing yourself to other runners. Your greatest priority should be running the best race you are capable of, and getting to the finish line. Even though all running results are a combination of distance and time, not every runner worries terribly about time. Get out there, register for events (here’s a great resource to find 5ks), and have fun. You’ll find that there are plenty of other runners right at your ability level.
But if you do want to think about time….
Focusing on Others—5k Times
Generally, many runners consider a good finishing time for a 5k to be anything under 25 minutes, which means keeping an 8-minute-mile pace. If this is your first 5k, an 8-minute-mile pace might be fairly aggressive, depending on how long you have trained, how old you are, and so forth.
My first 5k was as a healthy 22-year-old who had not run much in her life. I aimed to keep a 10-minute-mile pace and finish is just over 31 minutes. If you feel like your training has gone well, and you want to shoot for a time that other people will say is fast, start with the 30-minute barrier, and go from there.
Although looking at the previous years’ results can be helpful, you may want to look at age-graded results to allow you to compare your race times to other runners as well as to the standard for your age and gender. This will allow you to have a more realistic understanding of how you compare to others in a similar station in life. Runner’s World has an age-graded calculator that you can use to compare your finishing time to others.
Focusing on Yourself—PRs
If you are just starting your fitness journey, are completing a Couch-To-5k program, or are returning to running after a long time away, comparing yourself to other runners isn’t the best idea. Instead, think about what you are able to do in training, and set a goal that makes sense for you. Consider what pace you’ve been able to maintain in training. Can you relatively easily run a 9-minute-mile pace? Are you planning on run-walking the 5k? This should give you a good indication of what a good time is going to be for you personally during your first 5k.
Remember, though, that at the end of the day, this is your first 5k. Earn that first finishing time, and you will now have a personal standard against which to improve. You’ve made the decision to get in better shape and be healthier, and that in and of itself is the best achievement, no matter how long it takes you to cross the finish line.
While it’s helpful to know what times might be realistic for you as a beginner, you should compete against yourself. You might be running your first 5k as a high school soccer player raising money for a friend’s charity. Or maybe you are 60 years old and are getting into exercising to improve your health and lose weight. These two first-timers can rightly expect different outright results. Whatever your first 5k time is, you might consider running more 5ks in the future to try and beat your personal record (PR). By focusing on PRs, you can grow into being the best runner that you personally can be.
Focusing on the Race—Basic Tips
While contemplating a potential finishing time and having a goal to strive for are great, make sure that you don’t forget the other things to consider for race day.
In the weeks leading up to the race, take the time to become familiar with the race course. Obtain a map and begin to familiarize yourself with the route. If you’re able, running it before race day is ideal. At the very least, know where every hill and curve is, as this will give you an added advantage on race day.
There’s an old adage in running: “Nothing new on race day.” Be sure that you’ve run in your race clothes ahead of time, including your shoes, to make sure that everything feels good. You don’t want to try something new and discover that it’s an absolute disaster on race day.
Before the Race
The day before the 5k, eat what you normally eat. You don’t need to carb load unless you’re running a longer distance such as a half- or full marathon. Just try to avoid fatty or greasy foods, or any new foods or cuisines the day before. You want everything to go smoothly on race day!
It goes without saying that you’ll want a good night’s before the race as well. If you’re having problems falling asleep, focus on relaxing activities such as reading a book or watching a movie. Also, make sure that you’re not skimping on sleep earlier in the week, either!
Be sure that you get in a light pre-race meal before you head to the race (but nothing new!). While the ideal time for a pre-race meal is about four hours before, as it gives you enough time to digest and store the energy from the food without the energy being used up by race time, you probably won’t be able to with the early start of the race.
Thus, you should plan for a light breakfast about an hour or two out. Go with foods high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. If you’re not sure what foods to select or avoid pre-run, here’s a handy list.
Make sure that you pin your race bib to the front of your shirt, using safety pins on all four corners to make sure that it stays in place. You normally can find safety pins at the bib pick-up area, but it might be a good idea to bring extras just in case. Remember to wear your bib on the front of your shirt, as it is good racing etiquette and lets officials know you’re a part of the race.
Warming Up and Hydration
Remember to take the time to stretch and warm-up before the race. Renowned runner and coach Jeff Galloway recommends a light walk/jog about 30-40 minutes before the race begins. This will wake up your muscles and give you a great head-start.
In addition, don’t forget to stay hydrated, but you really don’t need to drink too much. You don’t want to chug tons of water before the race, especially because it can dilute your electrolytes, but you do want to be hydrated. Use the days leading up to your race to drink plenty of water, as well. On race day itself, Kelly Bastone recommends 16 ounces of water two to three hours before the start, and then another one to two cups right before the race starts.
As you’re lining up for the race, unless you plan to run it extremely quickly, don’t place yourself right at the starting line. Instead, move back a little bit, or even very far back, depending on what sort of time you’re expecting.
If this is your first race (or even if you are an experienced racer), you are going to feel a sense of excitement when the horn goes off. If you aren’t careful, that excitement will turn into running too fast at the start. Start slowly, or you’ll pay for it later. Jenny Hadfield recommends running by 4 different colors: mile 1 (yellow—happy, so run what feels like a good pace to you), mile 2 (orange—slightly more effort than mile 1), mile 3 (red—start to push yourself more), and the last 0.1 (fire—give it everything you have for that last tenth of a mile!).
You have to figure out what is going to keep you going as you run. For me, I’m most motivated and have my best runs when I start thinking of all the things I’m grateful for. Just the very fact that you’re healthy and able to run is an incredible gift.
Focusing on the good things in life and taking the time will make your race day experience that much more enjoyable. Pushing yourself too hard, being too aggressive, or having unrealistic expectations can lead to a bad race experience.
Five kilometers later…you’ve crossed the finish line—go you! Now don’t forget to stretch and cool down amidst all the excitement.
And take some time to celebrate. Plan to go out with friends or family after the race to celebrate your accomplishment. You deserve it! Plus, it will give you something to look forward to during the race.
In the end, a good 5k time for beginners will vary widely based on experience, age, and overall health. As a good rule of thumb, though, a sub-30 minute 5k for a complete beginner or older runner is probably good, while a sub-25 minute 5k is decent for someone who is younger and is more active and/or has run at some point in their life.
If you have friends who are runners, you might want to ask them what time would be a good time for you personally, as they will likely have a good idea. And remember, at the end of the day, it’s more important to finish than anything else! Good luck!