Chris Drouin
Aug 25, 2017 · 6 min read

I’m prepping for a 10K race right now, and I have heard and seen all kinds of misinformation on the internet about what time I should be shooting for / what’s expected. Fortunately, as a data analyst at Runkeeper, I know for a fact that this question can be answered definitively.

In the charts below, I’ve marked three different times for our male and female race participants:

  • 5% fastest: The fastest 5% of our users achieved this finish time or faster.
  • Median: 50% of our users finished faster and 50% of our users finished slower than this time.
  • 5% slowest: The slowest 5% of our users finished with this time or higher.

What you should be shooting for will depend a lot on your own circumstances (age, health, etc.). Don’t be discouraged if your time falls on the right-hand side of these charts: you’re still going faster (and getting healthier) than everyone who isn’t out there running!

There are other types of races out there, but for now I’ve covered the most typical distances that we see among the races that Runkeeper users participate in: 5K, 5-Mile, 10K, 15K, 10-Mile, Half Marathon, and Marathon. Read on to learn how Runkeeper runners typically finish on these races!


5K Race Finish Times

5K races are some of the most popular out there —people at all levels of experience can participate, they get scheduled frequently, and they don’t require a ton of training in advance. Our own Global 5K events have had hundreds of thousands of participants over the years — I highly recommend giving them a shot if you haven’t already!

The common wisdom that I’ve heard is that 30min is a good time to shoot for for a beginner. That may be a bit aggressive, seeing as the median time for women is 33min and the median time for men is 28min — if you hit 30min you’re already faster than about half of 5K runners!

5-Mile Race Finish Times

Five milers are less common on the whole — as with their big brother 10-milers, these are more popular in the US than in the rest of the world.

Finish times for these races have a pretty smooth looking distribution, compared to most of the others we’ve looked at here. I suspect this may be because there isn’t as much “common knowledge” about what times one should aim for. As we’ll see, some of the longer-distance race types have a pretty heavy skew toward particular times…

10K Race Finish Times

10Ks (~6.2mi, for all of us who grew up on the Imperial system) are very popular races worldwide. A lot of our male runners appear to be shooting for a 50 or 55min time, whereas our female runners spike at 60min and 65min.

In the original discussion that prompted me to investigate this question, I encountered the claim that 45min was a typical 10K finish time. It’s certainly achievable, but as you can see above, it’s likely limited to the top 10% or so of male runners and a small fraction of a percent of all female runners.

15K Race Finish Times

Sitting in between the 10K and the half-marathon, 15Ks (9.3mi) are a bit less common as a race distance. This is the first race type where we start to see some runners take more than 2 hours to finish. The bulk of runners finish between 1hr15min and 1hr45min, and the very fastest runners take just over an hour.

10-Mile Race Finish Times

10-milers and 15Ks are actually extremely similar races in terms of distance (9.3mi vs. 10mi), so it’s no surprise to see that the two have fairly similar distributions — for most runners, it appears to take somewhere between 5–7 min longer to run the remaining ~680 meters and hit the 10-mile mark. They’re about equal to 15Ks in terms of popularity (which is to say, not terribly common).

Half Marathon Finish Times

Completing a half marathon (13.1mi) is a significant achievement, and many users train themselves to try for specific times. This results in the somewhat lopsided finish time distribution you see above, where the numbers skew hard to the left of the 2-hour mark for men. Having said that, about half of all male half marathon runners are tracking above the 2-hour mark. We see a similar effect for women, but their distribution is smoother overall.

Marathon Finish Times

Even more so than with half marathons, we see some interesting cut-off patterns in the data for full marathons. There are large drops in the distribution at the 4hr, 4hr30min, and 5hr marks. I suspect this may be due to a few factors:

  • Many marathon training plans, including some older Runkeeper training plans, target specific finish times: 4hr, 4hr30min, etc.
  • We’ve heard from Runkeeper users that they sometimes won’t record their finish time if they are not satisfied with it, because they don’t want it to “count” in their official in-app stats. (This breaks my heart as a data analyst! Consider this a plea to record all your runs.)
  • Many of the big-name marathons around the world require would-be participants to hit qualifying times. Runners in many age brackets would have to be at or near the fastest 5% to qualify for the Boston Marathon, for instance.
  • Marathons can start to push the limits of phone batteries. If you’re headed out for a big race, be sure to charge your phone all the way to 100% first! If your battery does conk out, remember that you can edit and log your activities at runkeeper.com . Runkeeper also works with Garmin and other wearables, so be sure to take advantage of this if you own one.

I admit to being highly suspicious of some of the times at the extreme left of the graph here — a few of them would be world record breaking if real.

Bonus analysis: Race popularity

To give a little context, I thought it’d be helpful to give a little context for the popularity of different race types among Runkeeper users:

10Ks and half marathons are the most popular race types by a substantial margin. This is interesting to me, because 5km is the single most common distance that Runkeeper users run. In part, this may be a side effect of the methodology that I’m using to infer race participation: many 5K races are comparatively small / informal events, which may not attract enough Runkeeper users to hit my participation threshold of 25 users.

Methodology

How do we know whether a given run is actually a race or not? In some cases, our users tag runs… but for the most part, we had to figure this out with data. In this case, I looked for sets of 25 or more runs that met the following criteria:

  • Occurred on the same day
  • Occurred at approximately the same time (blocked out in 3-hour chunks, to account for differing start times in some races)
  • Traveled a race-like distance (~5K, ~10K, etc.) in a reasonably race-like length of time
  • Started around the same location (within a 500th of a degree of lat/lon)

The charts above were produced using matplotlib, seaborn, and 8 years of race-running data from Runkeeper-using runners around the world. If you don’t already have Runkeeper on your iPhone or Android phone, you can grab it here. Happy running!

ASICS Digital

Fitness, technology, and how we see the world.

Chris Drouin

Written by

ASICS Digital

Fitness, technology, and how we see the world.

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