How Long Does It Take to Run a Fast 5K? We Asked a Running Expert for 5K Training Plan

Everyone’s talking about doing a couch to 5K (that’s 3.1 miles, you know after that quick Google search). And you figure that if you can bang out heavy squats, you can certainly get a 5K run under your belt. It’s not quite marathon training, after all.

So you lace up your running shoes, toe the starting line, and…wait. You need a plan. I sat down with elite running coach and world-class ultra-distance runner Lee Whitaker, who developed a six-week 5K training plan just for our readers. I’ll give you all the details below.

5K Training Plan

Whitaker has guided several high school athletes to state championships in distance running — including cross country titles — which makes him an ideal source for a strategic 5K plan.

The coach devised this 5K training schedule assuming that you are already a relatively active person who might indulge in some occasional cardio, yet you have never seriously trained to run. Given those preconditions, Whitaker thinks he can have you ready to make an acceptable showing in your first race in just six weeks.

“We’re talking about a reasonably fit person who’s just not running, so we’ll start with a couple weeks of aerobic running to get your body adjusted to running,” explains Whitaker. “For the first couple weeks, we’ll be getting your muscles and tendons and ligaments in shape to handle the running before we add speed work to it.” 

Need some refreshers on the different types of runs and workouts Whitaker prescribes here? No problem. We’ve got you covered.

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Aerobic Conditioning Week 1 

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Aerobic Conditioning Week 2 

[Read More: The Best Ab Exercises, Plus 4 Ab Workout Routines From a Trainer]

5K Training Week 1 

[Read More: The Best Shoulder Exercises, + 4 Workouts From a CPT]

5K Training Week 2 

[Read More: The Best Chest Exercises for Building Muscle, Plus 4 Full Workouts]

5K Training Week 3 

5K Training Week 4 

5K Training Week 5 

5K Training Week 6 

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Now, that doesn’t mean that if you haven’t already got a solid fitness base, you can’t run a 5K. From the couch, remember? Simply stretch your plan a bit longer, from eight to 12 weeks or even more if necessary. 

Whitaker notes that new runners should add at least two weeks to the front end of the 5K training schedule if they are unable to jog three miles consecutively at a slow pace

If that’s you, he advises that you replace the long runs with walk-run intervals until you can run three consecutive miles. 

On the other hand, advanced runners can skip straight to week three of this six-week plan.

Once you get the hang of tolerating the 5K distance, Whitaker advises you to run intervals at your VO2 max pace, which should be slightly faster than your 5K pace. He also wants your post-interval recovery runs to be twice the length of your exertion. 

“If it takes 45 seconds to run 200 meters, your recovery time should be 90 seconds,” adds Whitaker.

[Read More: How to Lower Your Resting Heart Rate]

How to Train for a 5K

A well-rounded 5K training program requires you to include running workouts of various distances and intensity levels. This is because at 3.1 miles, a 5K is long enough to be considered a long-distance run, but still short enough that your top speed will weigh heavily on your finishing time. Here is a look at what a well-structured running program will consist of.

Long Run

For the majority of advanced runners of all genders, a 5K is at least a 20-minute run at a race pace. This means your aerobic system is going to do the majority of the work to support you as you push toward the finish line. To get yourself used to the rigor, your long runs prepare your body to endure extended stretches of continuous running. (1)

[Read More: How to Identify Aerobic Vs. Anaerobic Exercise (And Why it Matters)]

“The aerobic part of your training is very important,” says Whitaker. “That’s the foundation to everything related to running endurance, no matter what the distance is — whether it’s a mile, a 5K, a half marathon, or a full marathon. The aerobic system is what will primarily be used during a 5K run, and you need the long training runs to help you lay that foundation.”

Speed Run

No, you’re not going to be sprinting your 5K — although some elite athletes’ times certainly make it seem like they do. But you’ll still want to do some sprinting as you prep for your 3.1-mile race. 

Whether they take the form of tempo runs or are dropped into sprint workouts or Fartlek training sessions, speed runs help you sustain your top running speed for longer stretches of time. (2)

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“Speed work is very important and needs to occur at the right time within the plan,” explains Whitaker. “Speed work helps in a few different ways. It’s all about creating the lactate, tolerating the lactate, and clearing the lactate so that you produce less of it at any given pace. The speed work also helps with our neuromuscular components and the efficiency of running, which is going to help across any distance.”

In other words, the more efficient your body is at the whole running-long-and-kind-of-fast thing, the better your speed can be with less fatigue. Speed runs, sometimes notated as interval training, help get you there.

Recovery Run

If you see a recovery run on your 5K training plan, it’s exactly what it sounds like: An easy run thrown into the schedule to help your body recover before another round of challenging workouts. Running at an easy pace may not sound like it’s helping you improve, but a well-paced recovery run helps decrease your risk of injury and prepares you for optimal performance when it matters most.

[Read More: Active Recovery: What Is It, Benefits, & Workout Ideas]

“As runners become more resilient to doing more miles, a recovery run starts to have more benefits because your body can become more resistant to injury,” Whitaker explains. “The blood flowing through the muscles as you move your legs helps the removal of the waste products that we create when we’re doing faster work. Those kinds of things become more beneficial to the experienced runner versus the novice.”

Strength Training

Don’t sleep on cross-training, even when your main focus is your running pace across different race distances. Exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, planks, and crunches help to prepare your legs and core to endure the impact against the ground while holding your body in place and helping you to push yourself off the ground with greater force. (3

Strength training is critical for runners of any distance,” Whitaker says. “It gives your muscles the ability to generate more power. It’s always going to be beneficial to runners to generate more power for a fast start or a finishing kick. Also, road running or cross-country running is not done on a perfectly flat track. We’re going up hills, and the ability to generate more power up hills makes you a better, more efficient, and faster runner.” 

Rest Days

Sometimes the best thing you can do to improve your running performance is absolutely nothing. That’s where rest days come in. A few of these sprinkled throughout your schedule will give you a chance to make a full recovery from the rigors of training so that you can come back fresh and get after your training even harder.

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“The newer the runner is to an event, or to running in general, getting a full recovery by doing nothing may be more beneficial than a recovery run just because the body may not be quite ready for as many miles,” suggests Whitaker. “The rest days may provide more benefits to a beginner or somebody early in their running career than the recovery run will.”

So if you’re a beginner, feel free to swap out some recovery runs for complete rest days. Do some of the best mobility exercises gently and call it a day.

Average 5K Times

According to the comprehensive data of 5K run times compiled by, the average 5K running time of those assigned male at birth is 22:31 across age groups. The average 5K running time for those assigned female at birth is 26:07 across all age groups. These statistics did not include data notating times for trans women, trans men, or nonbinary athletes.

For perspective, the average male and female running times qualify as intermediate results for the most competitive age groups, and as advanced or elite times for several of the older age groups. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most common questions we get asked about running a 5K.

How many days does it take to train for a 5K?

Elite runners hoping to turn in an all-time best performance in a race will typically devote 12 to 16 weeks to training for that event. However, if the goal is for a non-runner to turn in a respectable running performance, a minimum of six weeks of training time is typically advised.

How do you structure a 5K training plan?

Most 5K training plans include a mixture of long aerobic runs, fast-paced runs at various intensity levels, strength training, and recovery runs.

How many times a week should I run to prepare for a 5K?

In the early stages of preparation for a 5K run, you will probably not run more than three or four times a week. However, as your endurance and conditioning improve, you may add days of running training to your schedule, including runs taken exclusively for recovery. During the latter stages of training, you should expect to run anywhere from five to seven days a week.

Can you run a 5K in eight weeks?

Depending on your fitness level prior to commencing 5K training, you may be able to complete a 5K within eight weeks. However, even if you believe yourself to be in decent cardiovascular shape, you are encouraged to devote at least four weeks of training to running before completing a 5K race.

How should I train for my first 5K?

You should train for your 5K by mixing aerobic runs, fast-paced runs, and strength training. Depending upon your fitness level prior to beginning training, you may be advised to limit your training to aerobic runs or walk-run sessions until you develop sufficient stamina to progress to faster runs.

Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.


Fokkema T, van Damme AADN, Fornerod MWJ, de Vos RJ, Bierma-Zeinstra SMA, van Middelkoop M. Training for a (half-)marathon: Training volume and longest endurance run related to performance and running injuries. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2020 Sep;30(9):1692-1704. 

Helgerud J, Høydal K, Wang E, Karlsen T, Berg P, Bjerkaas M, Simonsen T, Helgesen C, Hjorth N, Bach R, Hoff J. Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Apr;39(4):665-71.

Prieto-González P, Sedlacek J. Effects of Running-Specific Strength Training, Endurance Training, and Concurrent Training on Recreational Endurance Athletes’ Performance and Selected Anthropometric Parameters. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Aug 29;19(17):10773.

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