What is a Good 5K Time? (and How You Can Get Faster)

Humans are competitive beings. We want to know how we compare with others. Which is probably why we’ve had several people lately who have asked “What is a good 5K time?” In this article, we’ll provide a complete answer to that question AND we’ll show you how to train and eat to get faster.

What is a Good 5K Time?

Running a 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) race is an achievable goal for most people. Trying to gauge what is a good 5K time can be difficult. It depends on the age and ability of the runner. However, we can establish some general parameters based on patterns that have developed over time.

In any 5K race, there is bound to be a huge range of ability levels, from elite athletes to former couch potatoes who are in it for the first time. The fastest male runner will probably come in at around 13-14 minutes, with the fastest female about 2-3 minutes slower than that. At the other extreme, people who walk the race may take more than an hour to complete it.

If you are competing in your first 5K and have an average level of fitness, setting a goal to complete it inside of 40 minutes is a good goal. However, if you’ve got a couple of 5Ks already under your belt and have a good level of fitness, challenging yourself to complete it within 20-25 minutes is a realistic goal. That will require maintaining a pace of 6:26 per mile for a 20-minute time and 8:02 per mile for a 25-minute time.

Establishing goal times without taking into account age and gender can only provide limited benefit. In order to compare apples with apples, it is necessary to run your time through an age grade calculator. You simply enter your age, gender, race distance, and running time (or projected time) and the calculator will give you an age-graded percentage.

As an example, a 51-year-old man who finishes a 5K in 27 minutes, will get an age-graded score of 55.06% (to score 100%, he would have to run the 5K in 14 minutes and 52 seconds). His age-graded time, adjusted using a factor for age and gender, is 23:35. 

Even though, establishing a finishing goal time is an important part of your pre-race strategy, if this your first 5K, don’t be too concerned with beating a time. Your focus should be more on enjoying the experience, feeling your body moving freely, and completing the event.

How Can I Improve My 5K Time?

To improve your 5K time, you will need to increase your running speed. You should begin by following a foundation program. This will build up your fitness and running capability.

Over the weeks, gradually increase your running distance. At the same time, you should be working on your strength and stability using core and resistance exercises. If you jump directly into a specific training plan, without following a foundation course first, your body may not be properly prepared. The result will be that you are less likely to perform optimally and more likely to injure yourself.

A foundation program focuses on increasing your weekly mileage through a variety of running sessions, while building your running endurance and economy. Doing core and resistance exercises will improve your running technique. Cross training will give your body a break from high-impact running.

The following 4-week foundation program should be the first step in your 5K training program:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Week 1

2 miles

Core & Resistance

2 miles

Rest

Core & Resistance

2 miles

Rest

Week 2

Core & Resistance

Rest

2 miles

2 miles

Swim 30-40 min

3 miles

Rest

Week 3

3 miles

Core & Resistance

Rest

2 miles

Core & Resistance

4 miles

Rest

Week 4

Core & Resistance

4 miles

3 miles

Cycle 20-30 mins

Rest

4 miles

Rest

What Sort of Core Training Should I Do?

The core is important for proper and efficient running form. Introducing core strength training into your schedule helps overall strength, power, and stability, as well as providing much-needed variety. A strengthened core will also aid in the transfer of power through the kinetic chain. In addition, you will be reducing your susceptibility to injury.

The following is an ideal core program to prepare you for the fastest 5K of your life:

Half Kneeling Chop

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  • 1 set of 15 reps each side

Single Leg Glute Bridge

Single Leg Glute Bridge
  • 3 sets of 15 reps each side

Bird Dog

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  • 3 sets of 20 reps, alternating sides

Reverse Back Extension

Reverse Back Extension
  • 3 sets of 15 reps

What Sort of Resistance Training Should I Do?

As a distance runner, you don’t need extra muscle bulk. However, you do require muscle power. Resistance training is an excellent way to achieve this. You will be increasing your strength and toning the muscles involved in your running action. Resistance training also brings variety to your training schedule.

The following exercises will increase your strength and familiarize you with the core movements patterns:

Kettlebell Swing

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  • 3 sets of 10 reps

Barbell Deadlift

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  • 3 sets of 10 reps

Single Leg Squat

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  • 3 sets of 12 reps each leg

Single Arm Suspended Row

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  • 3 sets of 10 reps

Push-Up on Bosu Ball

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  • 3 sets of 10 reps

Dumbbell Calf Raise

Dumbbell Calf Raises
  • 3 sets of 15 reps

What Comes After the 4-Week Foundation Program?

Once you’ve spent a month on the foundation program you’re ready to move into your specialized 5K training plan. This will help you to increase your overall body strength and running endurance. This will lead to better performance and a faster running time.

The program focuses on building up your distance and is divided into three phases: base, specific, and tapering.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Week 1

Rest

2 miles

2 miles

Rest

Swim 30-40 min

3 miles

Rest

Week 2

Rest

3 miles

2 miles

Cycle 20-30 mins

Rest

2 miles

2 miles

Week 3

Rest

3 miles

3 miles

Swim 30-40 min

Rest

3 miles

2 miles

Week 4

Rest

4 miles

3 miles

Cycle 20-30 mins

Rest

4 miles

2 miles

Week 5

Rest

4 miles

3 miles

Swim 30-40 min

Rest

4 miles

3 miles

Week 6

Rest

5 miles

4 miles

Cycle 20-30 mins

Rest

5 miles

3 miles

Week 7

Rest

4 miles

3 miles

Swim 30-40 min

Rest

4 miles

2 miles

What Are Some Common Form Problems and How Can I Fix Them?

Achieving a faster 5K time requires an efficient running form. Check yourself against the common form failures that follow. Making the correction will make you a faster runner.

Pounding

Slamming your landing foot into the ground and dragging your toes will use up way too much energy and risk shin splints. To correct this tendency, focus on developing a light, even foot strike with minimum force. Running hills will help you to do just that.

Overstriding

A too long stride will see your foot striking way in front of your center of gravity. This creates imbalance, creating a braking force. It will also force you to strike heel first. To correct it, focus on keeping your knee at the front of your stride so that the foot strikes below the body.

Not Using The Arms

Some runners have the idea that if they keep their arms tightly up at chest level, they will get more efficiency out of the legs. This causes tension in the shoulders and arms when running and post-run aches and pains. It is far better to hold the arms at a 90-degree angle to the body, relax the shoulder, and use the arms to control your pace.

Twisting

In contrast to those who restrict arm movement, there are runners who use an overly exaggerated movement of the arms. This can have the effect of causing the core to twist with each arm swing. It also wastes a lot of energy and risks pulled muscles. To avoid this, make sure that you swing your arms in the direction of travel and keep your hands relaxed.

Bouncing

Running with a pronounced bounce wastes both energy and momentum. It is caused by bringing the knee too high with each stride. To correct this tendency, use the hip muscle to moderate the action of the legs and focus on skimming the ground and not leaping into the air.

How Should I Eat the Week Before My Event?

Most runners think of tapering in terms of their training. They reduce their training duration as a race approaches to allow themselves to rest, get strong and psyched for the upcoming event. But tapering can, and should, also be applied to your nutritional program.

For a 5K your nutritional taper should begin four days before the event. You should cut back slightly on calorie intake as you decrease your training time. Be sure to keep your carbohydrate intake at 60% of your total calories.

The last two days before the race are often when runners become unstuck nutritionally. Often this is because they are traveling to the event venue, and have less control over what and when they eat. To minimize this eventuality, it is crucial to plan ahead.

Are you traveling to a 5K event? Find out about restaurants and food stores nearby your accommodation. Take along non-perishable carb foods like sports bars, dried fruits, and granola.

The day before the race, make sure that you take in plenty of water, going for even more than your usual amount. Snack frequently throughout the day but make sure that you stick with familiar foods.

What Should I Eat Before and After the Run for Maximum Performance?

Before The Run

Taking in pre-run carbs will elevate your blood glucose levels to provide energy for the working muscles and maximize glycogen stores. It’s especially important to take in some carbs before your session if you are running first thing in the morning. After the sleep-imposed overnight fast, liver glycogen stores are depleted. You need to build those levels back up in order to provide a wellspring from which to draw the energy for your run. Ideally, you should get some quality complex carbs into your system 60-90 minutes before you set out on your run. Opt for such things as bananas on whole wheat toast, or cereals with strawberries.

As a 5K runner, you don’t need to be consuming carbs while you are running. You should, however, make sure that you are taking in an adequate supply of water during the run.

After The Run

After a run, it is important to replace the energy and fluids that you have consumed during your session. A priority is to restore the muscle glycogen levels. Eating or drinking carb-rich foods after training can achieve this result.

You should take in your post-run nutrition within 20 minutes of your run. Because your goal is to increase your blood glucose levels, you should focus on consuming foods that are high on the glycemic index. These include:

  • Watermelon
  • Raisins
  • Banana (ripe)

Commercial sports drinks can also be an effective way to get in your post workout carbs. You may wish to experiment with commercial recovery drinks that contain a mixture of minerals and sugar. Drinking water after your session is important to ensure that you do not become dehydrated. In an hour of running, you can lose 2-6 cups of fluid. To replace it, you should continually sip on water for the hour or two after your run.

You should eat a well-balanced meal about two hours after your run.

Conclusion

So, what is a good 5K time for you? Set your goal high and work systematically toward achieving it. Improving your 5K performance requires a long-term holistic approach. Work systematically at improving your endurance, strength, and running form. Then fine tune your nutritional approach to maximize your running energy. Taper up to a peak on race day and you can expect to smash your 5K goal!

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