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How to start training for a 5k: 8 game-changing tips


Training for a 5k is a major milestone for many beginner runners.

I remember when I crossed the finish line at my first 5k. I felt a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction – all the training and tears had paid off!

Little did I know it would mark the start of my love affair with running and I would go on to run multiple 5k runs, 10k runs and half marathons.

And it seems I’m not alone.

Among road running events, the 5k distance is one of the most popular races for novice and beginner runners.

The most popular road race in the US is the 5k, with more than 8.9 million registrants in 2019, according to Running USA.

Whilst a 5k is not as gruelling as a 10k or half marathon, it still represents a sizeable challenge for those just starting out on their running journey.

So if you’re currently training for a 5k, or preparing to do so, this guide will provide you with all the essential 5k running tips to make your training a success.

In this guide, we’ll explore:

  • How long is a 5k run?
  • How long does it take to run a 5k?
  • What is a good 5k time?
  • Training for a 5k: Choosing the right training plan
  • 8 game changing 5k running tips


Let’s get started!

training for a 5k

How long is a 5k?

A 5k in miles is 3.1 miles.

This is exactly half the distance of a 10k which is 6.2 miles.

If you’re building up to running your first 5k, then 3.1 miles may sound unachievable, if not daunting, for you right now.

I’m here to tell you that it’s natural to feel like this.

Every runner has to start somewhere.

If you’ve only run a few hundred metres to date, you will need to put in the training to get your body used to running longer distances.

With the right mindset and training, you will get to where you want to be.

Related: How long does it take to run a mile? Fastest mile time + averages by age and gender

How long does it take to run a 5k?

You may be wondering: “What is the average 5k time?”

How fast you run a 5k will depend on a variety of factors, including your age, gender, fitness levels and running experience.

Even the weather and terrain can impact your running times!

Here are the average 5k times by running ability:

  • The average 5k time for a beginner runner is between 32 to 40 minutes. 
  • The average 5k time for an intermediate runner is between 23 to 30 minutes.
  • The average 5k time for an advanced runner is between 20 to 25 minutes.

The world record 5k time is 12 minutes 49 minutes – but clearly you won’t be trying to match up to this time on race day.

If I’ve learned anything from running over the years, it’s that it’s all about running your own race.

Don’t compare yourself to other runners and focus on what your training has taught you about your running style.

The above times are averages only – you may achieve a time that’s faster or slower than this according to your running ability.

Related: What is the average time to run a 5k?

training for a 5k

What is a good 5k time?

It’s difficult to say for sure what a ‘good’ 5k time is because it’s different for each individual.

How fast you run a 5k will depend on factors like your age, gender, running ability and fitness levels.

You can check out my guide on average 5k times by age and gender to work out your average time depending on your age and gender.

If you can run your first 5k in under 30 minutes, then this is a huge achievement!

Most beginner runners will run their first 5k in between 32 and 40 minutes.

Of course, many runners run a 5k then go on to run many more in the hope of improving their 5k race time.

Whatever your personal best or goal race time, make sure it is aligned with your fitness levels and running ability.

Related: The ultimate advanced 5k training plan: Week by week plan + printable

Training for a 5k: Choosing the right training plan

Typically, there are three types of 5k training plan:

Which plan you choose will depend on your goal race time, fitness level and running experience.

Here is a breakdown of each plan:

Couch to 5k training plan

The Couch to 5k training plan is one of the most popular training programs.

It combines running and walking, meaning it’s a beginner-friendly plan for those new to running.

Couch to 5k training plans typically last between 9 to 12 weeks and they are designed to slowly build your endurance and stamina over the course of the program.

The idea is that you gradually increase the amount of time in which you run and decrease the amount of walking intervals.

Many runners who complete Couch to 5k go on to run 5ks, 10ks and even half marathons.

Beginner 5k training plan

A beginner 5k training plan is ideal if you’ve recently started running and have a good base level of fitness.

Most beginner 5k training plans will get you running at least 1 mile in the first week and will typically include:

  • 2-3 easy runs per week
  • 1 long run per week
  • 3 rest days

With a beginner 5k training plan, you can expect to run a 5k in between 32 to 40 minutes.

Intermediate 5k training plan

An intermediate 5k training plan is for you if you’ve run a number of 5k events and you’re looking to improve your 5k race time.

An intermediate 5k training plan will include:

  • 3 easy runs
  • 1 long run
  • 1 speed training session
  • 1 optional strength training session
  • 2 rest days

With an intermediate 5k training plan, you can expect to run a 5k in between 23 to 30 minutes.

Advanced 5k training plan

An advanced 5k training plan is ideal if you’ve run many 5k events and races at other distances and you’ve been running for several years.

An advanced 5k training plan will include:

  • 1-2 easy runs
  • 1 pace run
  • 1 long run
  • 2 speed training sessions
  • 1 optional strength training session
  • 1-2 rest days

With an advanced 5k training plan, you can expect to run a 5k in between 20 to 25 minutes.

Related: How to run a 5k in under 25 minutes

training for a 5k

Training for a 5k: 8 game changing training tips

#1 Fuel your runs

You’ll be training for 6 to 10 weeks ahead of your first 5k race depending on your training plan.

It’s important you fuel your body in the right way during this period.

Think of your body as a car – it requires fuel in order to run efficiently.

Plan to eat a light snack before your runs.

Try and have something 30 to 60 minutes before you run. You’ll want to avoid anything that sits too heavily in your stomach.

Here are some good options for light snacks:

  • Porridge with bananas or blueberries (check out my other porridge recipes for runners)

  • Wholegrain toast with avocado and scrambled or poached eggs

  • Wholegrain toast with salmon and scrambled eggs

  • Healthy granola

  • A bagel with banana and peanut butter on top

  • Freshly made smoothie

If your run is early in the morning and you can’t stomach any food, then consider a ‘fasted’ run or just have a morning coffee.

Related: What to eat before a run: 3 essential tips for runners

#2 Make time for recovery

Rest and recovery are essential for any runner looking to stay injury free.

Make time for recovery in between runs and ensure you have adequate rest days in the lead up to the 5k race itself.

Don’t be tempted to overdo it before race day!

Many runners consider rest days lost time. Don’t worry – you won’t lose all your running fitness in one day!

If you are itching to do some exercise, take some time to do something other than running.

Cross training (or ‘active recovery’) activities like yoga and walking are all good examples.

You’ll also want to reduce your mileage in the final week of your training plan. This is to prevent that heavy legs feeling on race day.

Related: The best recovery shoes for runners: Oofos slides vs Hoka slides

#3 Check out the course before you run

If you’re going to sign up for a 5k race, a good tip is to check out the course and terrain before you run.

If the course is hilly or along trails, for example, you will have to give more consideration to your pace and speed.

This is because you won’t be able to adopt your normal pace and speed on a hilly terrain.

A good rule of thumb is to add one to three minutes to your overall time.

For example, if you normally run a 5k in under 25 minutes on a flat terrain, you’ll probably end up doing it in 28-29 minutes on a hilly course.

Related: Love to run: What to expect at your first Parkrun

#4 Remember to warm up

There has been a lot of debate over the years as to whether or not a warm up is beneficial for you before and after a run.

A warm up is a great way to get your body and mind ready for the run ahead.

It also gives your muscles, bones and joints a chance to loosen up, and gently brings up your heart rate and makes it easier to get into the swing of things.

A good warm up should leave you exhilarated, energised and excited!

Do some dynamic stretches, or walk or jog for a short period of time to get your heart rate going.

Related: How to warm up before a run: 4 actionable tips

training for a 5k

#5 Pace yourself

This is probably one of the most important 5k running tips when it comes to running your first 5k.

Many runners make the mistake of speeding off from the start line, and quickly run out of energy.

This not only impacts the rest of your race, but also affects your confidence as your race didn’t quite go to plan.

Start slow then pick up your pace later in the race when you feel comfortable to do so.

Another reason to start slow is that it makes it easier and more fun to pass people later in the race.

This is a huge confidence boost and is a good way to motivate you to stay the distance.

Related: How to pace your run

#6 Ignore your time

While it’s great to have a goal time in mind, just focus on crossing the finish line, whether it takes you 25 minutes or 45 minutes.

You’ll likely develop an idea of your finish time during your training plan in the weeks running up to the race.

A lot of things can happen on race day to affect this – from the race conditions to the weather.

Run at a pace comfortable for you – there will be plenty of opportunities to improve on your time in follow up races.

Parkrun is a great (and free) way to run a weekly, timed 5k and have a log of all your races.

It’s a great motivating factor to try and beat your previous race time.

Related: Run a faster 5k: What is the average time to run a 5k?

#7 Believe in yourself

Fear and fear of the unknown is often what holds us back and makes our inner critic ever more powerful.

All those negative thoughts whirring around your head: “I’m not good enough”, “I can’t do this” and “I’m a failure”.

These are all the work of your inner critic – that little monster on your shoulder.

Start replacing your inner critic with your positive inner voice.

Put aside the negative self talk and practice positive affirmation: “I am good enough”, “I can do this” and “I will succeed”.

The more you create a positive, confident internal dialogue, the more your mind will start to believe it and finish your 5k with success.

Related: 5 practicable tips to keep your running motivation during the pandemic

#8 Perfect your form

Proper running form will go a long way to shave valuable seconds off your race times.

Running form is all about running in the most efficient way possible so the least amount of stress is put on your muscles and joints when you run.

Posture, arm swing, running cadence and foot strike are all essential components of running form.

Check out my running form guide for more tips and advice.

Caroline Geoghegan