Casual running clubs and groups form in cities across the United States as "road runners," gather for timed runs of varying distances. 5K is the metric equivalent to just over three miles. Unless you are qualifying for the Olympics, competitive is somewhat of a relative term in running. No matter how hard you run, your strength and speed are based on your training and experience and gender can play a role as well. It's more useful for your training to think of your 5K time in tiers such as beginner, intermediate, advanced and elite.
If you are new to running, you don't want to rush into an aggressive racing routine with the goal of finishing in the top three of a race. It's best to ease your body into running, allowing your tendons, joints and muscles to strengthen before you push hard, otherwise you risk serious injury. At this level, you want to run 15 to 25 miles per week and both men and women can realistically aim to finish a 5K in 24 minutes or more.
"Intermediate" describes runners that log anywhere between 25 and 50 miles per week. At this level of fitness, slight differences can become apparent between male and female runners in similar shape. Another way to look at this is that your practice runs are typically longer than 5K, even at the low end. This illustrates how your speed and strength during a 5K increases the more your body becomes accustomed to running. Men at the intermediate level average between six and eight minutes per mile during a 5K, while women average between seven and eight and a half minutes per mile.
At the advanced level, runners are logging up to 60 miles per week and not less than 40. Part of your training involves distance running and another portion includes strength training such as fartleks, speed bursts during your run. With adequate training at an advanced level, it is feasible to conquer a 5K between 17 and 20 minutes for men or 19 to 22 minutes for women. While you may not win the 5K at this pace, you are averaging in the top 25 percentile of runners competing in this distance.
At the elite level, you are vying for the top spot (or at least the top ten) and on a good day, it's possible to claim it. Elite runners stay on the road until he or she has logged at least 60 miles and often keep going. Men running in elite shape may clock speeds under five and a half minutes per mile or less (finishing a 5K in under 17 minutes) and women conquer the same distance in under 19 minutes. By comparison the world record for men is 12 minutes and 37 seconds while for women it is 14 minutes and 11 seconds.