Curious what average 5K times are? What about what’s considered a “good” 5K time? While there’s no official definition of a “good” time, you can look at averages based on your age and gender and draw conclusions from there.
You can also consider some of factors that affect 5K time – like training plan or terrain – and discover how those might impact finishing times.
Lastly, we’ll share 3 tips for how to run a faster 5K!
Average 5K Times
The most recent data available at the time of publish was compiled by RunRepeat and included average times through 2018. The data was collected as part of a collaboration between the IAAF and RunRepeat.com with the analysis being done by an individual with a Ph.D. in Mathematical analysis.
In the US, the average 5K finish time is approximately 39:02 minutes. Keep in mind this data is obviously a few years old, so it may vary slightly today.
This can be broken down to an average for males of 35:22, and an average for females of 41:21.
They also looked at average pacing by age and gender.
Here are the average times for women based on age:
- <20 – 38:38
- 20-29 – 38:44
- 30-39 – 40:13
- 40-49 – 41:40
- 50-59 – 43:57
- >60 – 48:41
Here are the average times for men based on age:
- <20 – 31:28
- 20-29 – 33:19
- 30-39 – 34:36
- 40-49 – 35:24
- 50-59 – 36:34
- >60 – 40:42
There is an important consideration for this data, and that is it likely includes walkers in 5K results as well, since it’s analyzing participants across a huge number of races. If walkers were teased out of the results, I imagine the averages would shift down slightly.
World Record 5K Times
Curious how the average time stacks up to the world records?
The world record for a 5K road race (i.e. not on a track) is held by Ethiopia’s Berihu Aregawi at 12:49 for men, and by Ethopia’s Ejegayehu Taye at 14:19 for women, both recorded on the same day in 2021 at the Cursa dels Nassos in Barcelona, according to World Athletics.
The world record for a 5000 meter race on a track is held by Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda, who clocked in at 12:35.36 at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Monaco in 2020. The women’s 5000 meter record is held by Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia, who hit 14:06.62 in 2020.
What’s a Good 5K?
Good is subjective based on your fitness abilities and goals! It will also depend on the terrain and weather. There’s no standard answer to this question.
For example, an experienced competitive runner might strive to hit an 18 minute 5K and think that’s “good”.
On the flip side, someone that just started running two months ago might find it “good” to cross the finish line in 40 minutes.
Let your current abilities and goals determine what is good. For many runners, hitting a sub-30 minute 5K is a common goal, and might be an option to work towards – but don’t feel discouraged if that’s not a possibility for you. Set your own goals!
(If you’re curious about what paces will help you reach your 5K goal, check out our free 5K pace chart.)
Factors that Affect 5K Times
When thinking about average and good 5K times, there are a lot of factors that can affect race results:
Obviously, one of the most important factors! If you haven’t trained for a race, or have faltered significantly from your plan, it’s probably unrealistic to assume you’ll hit a major time goal.
Structured training plans gradually increase in running time/distance, leading to many adaptations in the muscular system and cardiovascular system. These are associated with fairly quick improvements over a couple of months among beginners.
For experienced runners, a structured training plan will also likely incorporate many different types of runs – like tempo runs, hill workouts, short intervals, and more. These will help improve speed.
Of course, keep in mind every athlete is different. You might improve a little bit each year, or you might improve a lot over your first year of running and then progress slows. Or you may peak in your first few years and then experience a little bit of a decline. These can all be normal situations.
As you could see in the results earlier in this post by age, younger runners tend to be faster on average compared to older runners.
This can occur for several reasons:
- VO2 max and endurance capacity naturally declines with age.
- Research suggests older runners may have form changes, like a shorter stride length and reduced muscle activation in the legs, that could affect speed.
- In general, activity declines with age, but this can obviously be mitigated with regular training.
For both world records and average 5K times, men tend to be faster than women.
This may be related to higher levels of testosterone (involve in muscle growth and repair during training) and greater proportions of lean body mass and less fat mass (which may influence power of the stride and speed). Men also tend to have larger heart and lung size, which could play a role.
(Fun fact though – in really long races, women may actually outperform men. For example, in a survey that analyzed more than 15,000 ultramarathon races, men and women had nearly equal times in 100 mile races. And in races over 195 miles, women were found to outperform men.)
Running form can impact speed which would certainly affect 5K finishing time. (However, there is a lot of misinformation about form out there.)
When it comes to form, try to run in a way that feels natural to you, and think “quick feet” or “feet on fire”. This little cue helps to increase your cadence slightly and prevents overstriding.
You can always hire a coach to do a gait analysis and provide some tips on form!
Heat impacts your ability to maintain speed over distance. In hot weather, your body diverts some blood flow away from the muscles and instead send it to the skin’s surface to cool you down. Less blood flow to the muscles means less ability to maintain pace.
Research has confirmed this across various events, including the marathon, 50-km racewalking, 20-km racewalking, 10K, and 5K distance. In one study, researchers found decreased performance among all race distances when the wet bulb globe temperature was >15°C and <7.5°C. Wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) considers not only air temperature, but also humidity, wind speed, sun angle, and cloud cover.
The authors found performance across all events declined by 0.3% (± 0.2%) per 1°C decrease in WBGT), and decreased by 0.4% (± 0.4%) per 1°C increase in WBGT. Yes, cold weather can negatively impact performance too – but running in hot weather has slightly more of an impact.
At high altitudes, there is less oxygen available in the air. As you breathe when running, this means less oxygen availability for your muscles, which can cause slower speeds and earlier fatigue.
Coach Jack Daniels estimates that above 3000 feet of altitude above sea level, you can expect an athlete to run around 4-5 sec/mile slower for every 1000 feet higher.
For example, at 5000 feet above sea level, your pace might slow around 8-10 seconds per mile, thus leading to a 5K time that’s around 30-35 seconds slower than your normal time.
Runners World has slightly different estimates, noting 5K runners will suffer by about 0.73 percent for each 1000 feet increase in elevation.
For example, let’s say you planned to run a 5K at 5000 feet above sea level, we would assume around a 3.65% drop in performance (0.73×5). If you run a 25 minute 5K at sea level, that would equate to around a 54 second increase in your race time.
No matter what the exact amount is (and it likely varies based on the individual), it’s clear that altitude can impact 5K performance.
Road versus trails, flat versus hills…the terrain of your race definitely makes a difference. It’s obvious that hills are harder to maintain the same effort on compared to flat road, so a hilly race will likely be slower than a flat one. Similarly, when running trails, you need to navigate through tree roots, rocks, and different leveling of the terrain, which slows you down.
Weight may affect running time, but this subject is extremely complex and I want to reinforce that as a coach, I take a weight-neutral approach to running. But since it comes up, I want to break down the science for you.
If all else were equal (age, training, gender, genetics, etc) – excess weight typically slows running pace. These results have been shown in studies that have looked at either a pound added or a pound lost (via a pulley system) and found speed improves by about 1.4-2.4 seconds per mile, give or take.
This makes sense when examined in a silo. If you are carrying more weight, it requires more energy to transport that weight and increases the force when hitting the ground. This can affect speed.
But – we don’t change our weight in a silo. When you lose weight, you may lose muscle mass that can power your stride. When you restrict calories, you can have low energy that negatively impacts training and performance.
It’s a complicated and nuanced topic, and isn’t as simple as losing weight = faster running.
I typically recommend runners don’t worry about weight, and instead worry about a good training regimen and a balanced diet instead.
Tips on Running a Faster 5K
If you’re looking to improve your 5K time, here are three tips that should help shave some time off your PR:
1. Use a good training plan
Whether you work with a coach or find a plan online or develop your own – you want to make sure that you’re following a structured plan. This is almost always better than “winging it” if you’re looking to run a faster 5K.
Beginner runners should find a plan that starts with run/walk intervals and gradually builds running endurance.
From there, you could move up to a plan that incorporates longer steady-state running with some hills and tempo pacing.
Experienced runners should look for a plan that incorporates all these types of runs, plus track intervals.
2. Do the right kind of speed work
Important note – do not incorporate speed work until you’ve built a solid running base. Runners should have several months of consistent running history (i.e. a few steady state miles several times a week) before incorporating speed work. This is key for preventing injuries.
Once you’ve got some solid running experience, tempo runs would be the first type of speed work I’d recommend. These include prolonged lengths of time (usually 10-20 minutes) run at a challenging pace, with some easy running on either side of that.
After getting comfortable with that, track intervals should become a key part of training. These intervals teach you how to run fast, getting you used to the experience of pushing yourself and the quick turnover of your feet.
Different plans incorporate different intervals, but for 5Ks you might see anything from 200 meter repeats to 1 mile repeats.
You might also see some time-based speed intervals built into a plan too; I’m a big fan of the 10-20-30 workout for 5K runners.
Running is the core component of any 5K training plan, but strength training can be the extra edge you need. Stronger glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles will allow you to maintain your form longer and power your stride, which can help with your performance.
Strength training reduces the risk of running-related injuries as well.
If you’re just starting to think about strength training, you can try incorporating bodyweight exercises or resistance band exercises. From there, you might build into a gym-based routine if desired (or you can stick with bodyweight and band exercises).
The Bottom Line
On average, it takes 5K participants around 39 minutes to complete the race (though this data likely includes averages based on both runners and walkers). There’s no benchmark for a “good” time, as this is subjective based on your abilities and goals.
Tons of factors affect 5K time, from training plans to weather to terrain to altitude – some you can control, and some you can’t. If you want to improve your 5K time, focus on structured training and speed work! You’ve got this.
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