You may be asking yourself, is a 20-minute 5k good? Or what’s the average speed for someone running a 5k? There is a wide range of times for people to finish 5K races which vary based on the individual’s experience, fitness level, and goals.
If you’re a runner and you’re looking for a new challenge, a 5k race is a great way to challenge yourself and improve your fitness level. It can be motivating to prepare for race day which can help you get out there and train in the pouring rain, in the dead of winter, or on days you aren’t necessarily thrilled about it.
We’ll look at what a good 5k time is, what the average 5k time is, and what to expect if you’re a beginner running your first 5k race or someone who is newer but wants to take the plunge.
- Is a 20 Minute 5 K Good? A Look at The Best 5k Times
- Let’s Look at Some Data
- Sub 20 Minute 5k Pace: Find Your Target Race Pace
- Sub 20 5k Training Plan
- Frequently Asked Questions for 5K Races
Is a 20 Minute 5 K Good? A Look at The Best 5k Times
A 5K time sub 20 minutes is great. This would put a runner into the top 5% in most local races. In more competitive races, they would still most likely be in the top 20% or so if running a sub 20-minute 5k. It will most likely take dedicated training to get to that level.
5k is a great distance to test speed and endurance which is why many people want to break the sub-20 mark. That said, it’s a bit different for women and men. We’ll look at the average, competitive, and top results and times for men and women.
First, let’s start with a pace chart. If you’re new to running, or you are starting to run on a treadmill, this can help you gauge the pace you would need to keep up (or average) for an entire 5 kilometers to break 20 minutes.
Let’s Look at Some Data
To get some solid data, I looked at the LA 5k results for 2022. This race had over 3,200 participants to analyze how many men and women broke the 20-minute mark. The fastest runner finished at 16:20 with a pace of 5:15 – that is pretty fast.
The last place came in 1:43:07 with a pace of 33:09 per mile. That is a pace of less than 2mph – they had to have stopped for quite a while or something. However, 1,583 participants came in under 40 minutes which is decent. We can assume they were at least trying.
28 runners came in under 20 minutes. That is less than 1% of all runners, and about 1.8% of those who made an effort. There were another 8 runners that were within 30 seconds of the sub-20 5k. In that race, a 20-minute 5k would not have just been good, it would have been elite.
Sub 20 Minute 5k Time for Men
When you break this down into men only, 25 men came in sub-20. This puts those runners at the top .8% of all runners. A further breakdown below:
Male runners – 25 / 1,615 = 1.5% of all men
Male runners that made an effort – 3.2% of all men
While less impressive than the top .8%, it’s still very impressive and probably more realistic. A general rule of thumb is that a sub-20 minute finish in a 5k should easily put you in the top 5% of runners in almost any race as a man.
Sub 20 Minute 5k Time for Women
As a woman, on the other hand, finishing in less than 20 minutes is extremely elite. Only 3 women finished in under 20 minutes in the LA 5k Run. While still in the top .8% of all runners, and top 1.8% of those who made an effort, in the women-only group they are extremely elite.
Sub 20 put a female runner in the top .19% of all women.
Sub 20 put a female runner in the top .38% of all women that made an effort.
These are some tiny numbers for the women. Only about 1 in 300 women ran a sub 20 5k. That is a very impressive group to be a part of.
Sub 20 Minute 5k Pace: Find Your Target Race Pace
If your goal is to run a 5k in less than 20 minutes, a structured training plan is most likely going to be needed. To get an idea of how fast you need to run, looking at a pace table can be helpful. Once the desired speed is identified, it’s a good idea to run it for a while and see how it feels.
Only doing runs at an easy pace isn’t going to get you to your goal. Get running at your race pace and ask yourself if you feel like you can keep that up for 3.1 miles or 20 straight minutes. If so, you’re well on your way. If not, you know what you need to work on.
Here is a pace chart for 5k times from 5mph to 28mph – which nobody can run (at least currently). Look at the chart and find your target pace, or goal pace, that you can base your future race pace. Understanding your target race pace is very important to helping craft your training plan which we will cover below. If you plan, train, and eat correctly, it will make it much easier on race day.
Sub 20 5k Training Plan
Here are a few examples of some speed training you can do to help yourself be more competitive in a 5k race. However, first, we need to start with some basics to get yourself on your way to success.
1/ Warm Up
A good warmup is critical. Doing a dynamic warmup is a great way to get your body warm, get loose and stretched out, and minimize your potential for injury along the way. Dynamic stretching like leg swings can help loosen up the muscles.
Here is an example of a good dynamic warmup for sprinting or speed work.
- Knee hug lunge
- Lunge with knee drive
- Lunge with extension
- Explosive lunge
These lunging exercises will get your muscles ready to sprint.
2/ Do Some Interval Training
A few common intervals to do to help reduce your 5k speed are as follows:
- 5 x 1km at race pace with a 3-minute recovery jog in between. This helps you get your speed down, without having to string all 5km together at once. As you develop, it will get easier and easier to get the 1km down. At that point, you can start going 2 x 2km, 3-minute jog, then finish the last one strong.
- 10 x 400m with a 60-second recovery jog. This may be a place to start if you can’t quite get 1km at race pace yet. It gives you shorter bursts of speed with more recovery, although less time, to help prepare yourself for the next burst.
- 6 x 800m with a 2-minute recovery jog. This is a middle-of-the-road option if you’re ready for more than the 400m sprints but not quite ready for the 1km sprint.
It may be a good idea to switch through these throughout the week or as your training progresses instead of just simply starting at 400m, 800m, and then 1km. Also, when able, increase your pace to a pace faster than you hope to finish to help push yourself even further.
If you can run 5 x 1km at an 18-minute 5k pace, you are very likely to finish 5 straight in 20 minutes or less. Another similar option is to add in some tempo runs. Tempo runs are done at a tempo pace which is slightly faster than your normal steady pace.
3/ Tempo Runs
These types of runs are more anaerobic than aerobic and help a runner learn to push themselves. Speed workouts, like tempo runs, can help a runner get faster and build up more resistance to the lactic acid that builds up when seriously pushing yourself.
Runners need to be fairly fast to come in with a good 5k time. Speed sessions are going to be more important than long endurance sessions in the training plan. Since the average mile pace needs to be around 6 minutes to run a sub 20-minute 5k, speed is critical. One thing runners need to get faster is muscle. This will tax your cardiovascular system differently: it’s the difference between sprinting and long-distance running.
There are very interesting differences in muscle development between speed training and endurance training, and you can read more about those in my article on muscle development in the legs of runners.
4/ Add in Some Cross Training
Running works several key muscles in the legs, with the hamstrings being very important for speed work. When running longer distances, the legs become skinnier by primarily working Type I muscle fibers, but speed work and resistance training help build Type II muscle fibers which are responsible for explosive work.
That said, if you want to up your running game in distances less than a half marathon, you can’t train at a slower pace and expect to get there. Cross-training is critical, along with tempo runs and interval training, to reach your goals.
Here is a good sample workout for developing the legs to help your speed endurance:
- Lunges – 3 x 10-12 reps. Do these with weights, either dumbbells or a weight vest, if possible. A brutal alternative is Bulgarian Split Squats.
- Barbell Back Squat – 3 x 10-12. Keep the weight lighter and really focus on speed and driving the bar up as fast as possible. This will help with your explosive ability to help power off your legs when running fast.
- Romanian Deadlifts – 3 x 10-12. RDL’s are pretty brutal on the hamstrings, but they are a great way to overload them and be able to get some great growth and strength gains. Beware – these can cause some serious DOMS.
5/ Run Hills
In addition to interval training, a good hill session can be valuable from time to time. It’s similar to resistance training in that it really pushes the muscles and helps develop the quads and other leg muscles to a greater degree than simply running on flat land.
Hill repeats can also be helpful to add to any training plans, but be
6/ Weekly Mileage
In addition to the speed work, the best advice many top runners give is to simply increase your weekly mileage. Racking up the miles at or around your target race pace is only going to help you on race day. Even if it isn’t the same pace, get as close as you can and push yourself. Any experienced runner can attest to the value of quality miles underfoot every week.
Many times, consistency is all that separates the successful from those who fell short of the finish line. All of your miles don’t have to come in at the approximate world-record time either. Long slow running is valuable as well, but a proper training plan with efficient speed work does need to be front and center.
7/ Get Ready for Race Day
As race day approaches, it’s important to taper off correctly and show up with your best foot forward. One mistake people make is to try to reinvent the wheel on race day. Training has been consistent, done in certain and structured way for several weeks in preparation for this. Then, on race day, things get mixed up.
Using a different warm up program, nutrition, sleep schedule, etc is all a bad idea. Keep it consistent! What has worked up to this point is likely what will be the most effective throughout the race. It’s important to make sure you stay consistent and not do anything to confuse yourself or cause additional nerves for the big run.
It can be challenging to trust in the process and keep things the same, but it’s important. Sometimes having someone with to help monitor you and what you are doing, as well as help keep time and prepare you, is a big help.
Frequently Asked Questions for 5K Races
How Long Is a 5k?
A 5k, short for 5 kilometers, is 3.10686 miles – or about 3.1 miles. A 5k is considered a shorter distance run behind the 10k, half marathon, and marathon. That said, it’s certainly longer than the 100 m, 400 m, or 1600 m (mile).
Is a 20-Minute 5k Fast?
Yes, a 20-minute 5k is very fast. In fact, it puts you in the top 5% of participants in almost any race as a man. as a woman, it is elite. Less than 1% of women finish a 5k in less than 20 minutes according to the analysis we have done.
What Is a Respectable 5k Time?
30 minutes is a respectable 5k time for the average person. For a dedicated runner, a great goal is a 20-minute 5k. A sub-20-minute 5k is a great goal, albeit a bit difficult. That requires running at around a 6-mile minute pace for over 3 miles – a feat not many accomplish.
What Is a Good 5k Time for My Age?
5k times can vary by age, but not as much as one would think. Anyone from about 17 years old to well over 40 is capable of running elite level 5k times based on training, dedication, and nutrition. While it is slightly harder for older participants, experience also helps make up for that gap.
Is 21 Minutes a Good 5k Time?
21 minutes is a very good 5k time as well. One popular milestone is a sub-20 minute 5k, but 21 minutes is still a very respectable time that is very difficult to achieve without some dedicated, and quality, training.
Is a Sub 19 5 K Good?
Sub 19 minute 5k is an elite time. Anything under 20 minutes is great, but under 19 minutes is entering into space not many people can get to. Less than about 3% of all regular runners will make it to a sub-19-minute 5k. When talking about professional runners, it is quite a bit different.
Is 18 Minutes a Good 5 K Time?
18 minutes for a 5k is very good. Again, this is elite-level running and most runners will never get to this level. It takes a combination of good genetics, hard and dedicated training, proper nutrition and a lot of miles and practice to get to this level.
Is a 20-minute 5k good? Yes, it is. So good, in fact, it likely requires a lot of training to accomplish it and will put you in the top 5% of runners in almost any 5k race. For some people, it may be too much effort, but for the dedicated runners wanting to really push themselves, it can be very rewarding.
A properly structured training plan with some interval training, sufficient weekly mileage, and cross-training with weights or even a hill session can help make the difference in your finish times.