Questions for Running Your First 5K

If you've been training to run your first 5K and are starting to get a little pre-race anxiety, don't stress—it's completely normal! Even experienced racers get nervous before big races. To help keep you calm and ease any fears, here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about running a 5K.


How Long Is a 5K?

Runners preparing for start of a running race
 Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images

First thing’s first. A 5K, or 5-kilometer race, is 3.1 miles. In most 5K races, you’ll see signs for each mile marker on the course.


Can I Run a 5K Without Training?

If you’re wondering if you can run a 5K without training, the answer depends on your current fitness level. If you’re already an active person and have been doing cardio exercise (like biking, swimming, or walking), you may be able to run a 5K even if you don’t run on a regular basis.

But if you just haven’t found the time to train for your 5K, you may want to use a run/walk approach, or intervals of running and intervals of walking during the race. Taking short walking breaks allows you to run for a greater percentage of the race, as opposed to running as far as you can without stopping and then walking for the rest of the race due to fatigue. The run/walk technique also minimizes the pounding on your body to reduce your risk of injury.

If you have a few weeks to go before the big race, you may still have time for this 4-week beginner schedule or this 2-week program, to give yourself the best chance of completing the race comfortably and successfully. Whatever you do, don’t try to cram for it! If you run really hard and long in the days leading up to the 5K, it could only hurt, not help you.


Do I Need to Complete a 5K Distance Before the Actual Race?

Many beginner runners assume that they need to run at least the race distance or beyond to be ready for their first 5K. But the truth is, you don't have to run 3.1 miles to be physically prepared for the race. If you can run or run/walk for 30 minutes, you should be able to complete a 5K.


Should I Practice Running Outside, or Can I Stick to the Treadmill?

It's fine to do some of your training on the treadmill, but make sure you also do some runs outside. You use different muscles when you run outdoors, so if you run exclusively on a treadmill, you may have a hard time adjusting to a different surface during the race. While there are some benefits of treadmill running, the miles outside will help get you more physically and mentally prepared for the race.

In fact, if you're doing a local 5K and have access to the course map, try running part of the course during your training. You'll feel more prepared—both physically and mentally—if you're familiar with the course in advance.


How Do I Stay Motivated to Run?

It’s not always easy, but there are many ways to get more motivated to run. From running with other friends to finding fun rewards for your efforts, find the motivation techniques that work best for you and tap into them on the days you just don’t feel like training.


Is It OK to Walk During a 5K?

Absolutely! You won’t get disqualified for walking during a race. In fact, using a run/walk approach can be a very smart race strategy to give your muscles a break and help you deal with mental challenges and any physical discomfort you may feel. Some race participants find that taking short walk breaks actually helps them achieve an overall faster race pace than if they tried to run the entire distance. There's no shame in taking a walking break!

Of course, if you plan to walk the majority of your race, you should make sure that the race you sign up for is walker-friendly. There are some 5Ks that have cut-off times, a time limit by which all participants must have crossed the finish line.


Can I Wear Headphones in a 5K Race?

Unless you’re competing for an award in the 5K, you’re usually allowed to wear headphones. But note, some race directors discourage the use of headphones during races for safety reasons. If you're listening to music during a race, you may not be able to hear instructions from race officials and other runners on the course.

If you choose to wear headphones during a race, you may also miss out on a lot of the race excitement. You won't be able to listen to bands, hear people cheering, or talk to other runners. There's also a chance that your music listening device could stop working during your race, so it's important that you don't get totally dependent on it. If you need your music to stay motivated or beat boredom during the race, try using it on a low volume or with one earbud out, so you can still hear.


How Many Calories Will I Burn Running a 5K?

Many people want to know how many calories you typically burn while running a 5K—often to justify a big post-race meal—but the answer depends on factors including your body weight, speed, and gender. For example, a 120-pound runner will burn around 281 calories, while a 200-pound runner will burn around 469 calories running a 5K.


How Can I Predict My 5K Time?

Predicting your 5K finish time can also be a tough estimate, especially if you’ve never run a race before. There are a lot of variables in racing, including physical and mental preparation for the race, weather, elevation on the course, crowds, and more.

For your first race, don’t get too hung up on worrying about what makes a “good time” for a 5K. Instead, focus on how you feel during the race and how much fun you can have as you make your way to the finish line. No matter what time the clock says when you cross the finish line, remember you’ll still go home with a 5K PR (personal record) if you’ve never run the distance before.

A Word From Verywell

We hope the answers to the questions above help calm your nerves before the big race. If you have questions or concerns specific to the race itself, be sure to reach out to the race director through email or social media to put your mind at ease. Don’t let any unnecessary stress get in the way of you reaching your 5K goals.

1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kumar D, McDermott K, Feng H, et al. Effects of Form-Focused Training on Running Biomechanics: A Pilot Randomized Trial in Untrained IndividualsPM R. 2015;7(8):814–822. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2015.01.010

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.