Whether you’re a newly minted runner or someone who has been running for years, tackling the marathon may be a goal of yours. And with that goal comes some nerves around having a good marathon time or wondering what the average marathon finishing time.
So we’re going to help answer that and alleviate some fears!
Running a marathon is a challenge. That much is obvious, otherwise more people would be doing it! Even though running has grown in popularity over the past decade with Run Repeat seeing a 57% increase in popularity, only 1% of the world’s population has completed a marathon.
Crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles, it doesn’t matter what your finish time is. It’s a big deal! You will be a marathon runner. You will be a part of what is, statistically speaking, a unique and exclusive club.
Regardless of whether this is your first marathon or your 10th, you might be wondering what a good marathon time is, where you fit or will fit when it comes to the average marathon time, and what are some tips to get you through 26.2. Keep reading to have all these questions (and more) answered!
How Long is the Marathon?
The marathon 26.2 miles . But let’s break that down a bit further. The marathon is:
- 42.2 KM
- 138,336 feet
- 46,112 yards
- 105 ½ laps around a track
You might be wondering who would be crazy enough to run a marathon on a track? No one, surely. However, it has been done. In fact, there’s even an ultramarathon that takes place around 1 city block. Whew.
The marathon is also the equivalent of about:
- 3 one-way trips on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway
- 6 trips across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge
- 47 trips up and down the Empire State Building, all the way to the top of the spire, of course
And just how did the marathon come to be 26.2 miles? Well, to make a multipart story short, here’s a brief summary.
The marathon was based on the tale of a Greek messenger who ran between Marathon and Athens with news of an important Greek war victory in 490 B.C. He supposedly collapsed and died after making the 40-kilometer trip (about 25 miles). Comforting.
The first official marathon took place in Athens many, many, many years later at the 1896 Olympics.
However, it wasn’t until the 1908 Olympics that the official 26.2-mile distance was settled upon, supposedly for the British royal family who had particular opinions about the course. The distance was made official in 1921.
Who is Running the Marathon?
According to Dictionary.com, “A marathoner is someone who competes in or completes a marathon.” But who are these people running such a long distance?
Marathoners range from the elite athletes we all know by name to the average runner down the street, from celebrities we watch on TV or follow on social media to walkers who just really enjoy time on their feet.
When it comes to just running, based on the Running USA 2020 National Runner Survey, more than half of U.S. runners are between 35 and 64 years of age, 6 in 10 runners are female, they average 22 miles a week, and they are people who cite maintaining a healthy lifestyle as their top reason for running.
When focusing on the marathon though, in a study by Runnerclick.com, they found that nearly 35% of marathoners worldwide are women, but that number is an impressive 45.7% in the U.S.
In addition, the age range with the largest number of marathoners is from 30 to 50.
How Long Does It Take to Run a Marathon?
How long it will take to run a marathon depends on several things, including, but not limited to:
- Age (we in fact have age grading to take this in to account for masters runners)
- Fitness level
- Weather on race day
- Marathon course terrain and number of turns
Any of the above-mentioned factors on their own and in combination can and will impact marathon finish times.
Checkout the race pace calculator to figure out what average pace you should be aiming for
Marathon Finish Time Based on Pace
Let’s start by looking at marathon finish times based on different paces, ranging from the pace of an elite professional to a fast walker.
Checkout this detailed marathon finish times chart for even more paces and per kilometer paces >>
- 5 min/mile – 2:11:06
- 6 min/mile – 2:37:19
- 7 min/mile – 3:03:33
- 8 min/mile – 3:29:45
- 9 min/mile – 3:56:00
- 10 min/mile – 4:22:13
- 11 min/mile – 4:48:25
- 12 min/mile – 5:14:38
- 13 min/mile – 5:40:51
- 14 min/mile – 6:07:04
- 15 min/mile – 6:33:18
- 16 min/mile – 6:59:14
Please note, the list stops at 16 min/mile as many marathons have course time limits. Races often require you to maintain a pace of 16 min/mile or faster to make course cutoffs, to be counted in the official results, and have access to support and aid along the way.
Average Time to Finish a Marathon
The average marathon finishing time for male runners is 4 hour and 30 minutes for men and 4 hours and 45 minutes for female runners, according to statistics compiled by RunRepeat.
Going back to the study compiled by RunnerClick, you can get more in-depth and look at average marathon finish times by age group in a given year. Check out this table for 2017.
Average Finish Time
Average times are not the same as Boston Marathon Qualifying times. As you might have guessed those are quite a bit faster to narrow down the field.
And similarly those standards are different by age category and gender.
Fastest Marathon Times on Record
As of July 18, 2022, the current world record is 2:01:39 and was run by Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya at Berlin in 2018. That’s an average of 4:38/mile. Technically he has also broken the 2 hour marathon barrier, but it was not in an official race and he had pacers. Hence the world record still remains over 2 hours.
For women, the fastest marathon time was set by Brigid Kosgei of Kenya at the Chicago Marathon in 2019 when she ran a 2:14:04. Her average pace was 5:06/mile.
It’s hard to imagine running even 1 mile at those paces for most of us, let alone an entire marathon. Just remember, you don’t need to compare yourself to these elite runners. Running is their job, literally.
However, it is an incredible thing to witness so if you have the chance to catch elite runners at an in-person race or on TV, it’s truly a sight to behold!
What’s a Good Marathon Time?
As mentioned earlier, your marathon finish time is going to depend on a lot of factors. The term “good” is also relative, which is one of the most important things to keep in mind.
This is one of the harder questions to answer because 26.2 miles is such a LONG distance and requires such a sustained period of training that so much can happen. We have some answers based upon the data, but remember this is really about averages and not about you specifically.
You’ve probably come across the runner on Instagram who regularly highlights their “easy-paced” runs, but their easy-pace would be an outright sprint for many runners on the best of days. What they consider a good marathon time may be a goal you and many others, rest assured, may only dream of running.
And you know what? That’s ok!
“Good” is truly relative!
That’s part of what’s so great about running and participating in races for the likes of us beginners, middle of the packers, and back of the packers. You’re not only out there for the joy of running, at least I hope you are, but also to challenge yourself and see what you can accomplish.
It’s a race against your previous best to determine your best on that given day in that given race.
After looking a TONS of different surveys that rounded up racing data across multiple years there area couple of key findings
- A good marathon time would be anything under 4 hours and 30 minutes, which is the average across all ages and genders
- Good first marathon time for men is 4:30
- Good first marathon time for women is 4:45
- Average marathon finishing time is increasing each year
The increase in average pace is largely due to the volume of runners who are joining the sport and doing it more for fun and health than to be competitive. And again, good is entirely relative!
👉Feeling inspired? Get a free 4 hour marathon training plan!
Remember that the NYC marathon is also going to have a different average marathon finishing time than the Revel downhill marathons. So you can’t always compare course to course or year to year as weather changes!
If you walk a marathon in 7 hours I can guarantee that many folks would refuse to be out there so long, it takes an incredible amount of grit. Good is a finish line where you worked hard in training, worked hard, had fun and stayed injury free on race day.
While you may aspire to run that Instagrammer’s easy pace, remember that someone else may be aspiring to run your pace too.
How to Pick Your Marathon Goal?
So when you set your goals for your first (or 10th) marathon, think about all those factors detailed earlier.
- What’s the course like? Lots of hills, a net downhill, lots of twists and turns – all will impact pace in some way.
- What’s the average weather like for the race? The hotter the weather, the slower your average pace will be.
- How did your training go this season?
Then from there, set a goal for your own “good” marathon finish time.
Your “good” may be a PR on the perfect day with the perfect weather on the perfect course after a perfect season of training. But it may also be the hard-fought finish on a tough course in challenging weather. Both are “good.” In fact, both are outstanding because in the end you have finished a marathon and few people can say the same.
9 Tips for Running a Good Marathon Time
Google tips for running a good marathon and you’ll be treated to an overwhelming amount of content that is bound to make you question your sanity in choosing to pursue this endeavor.
You absolutely should take a look at those for more detailed answers, but I’m going to try to give you a few quick tips here if you’re wondering how to work towards those average marathon times.
Keep reading for some of the top tips to help you have a good, if not great, marathon.
#1 Find a Training Plan
Assuming you have been running for awhile and have a base, most marathon training plans are 12-20 weeks. Yes, plan to dedicate at minimum 3 months but possibly more to preparing for race day.
While there are a wide variety of training schedules online, you may also want to consider hiring a coach to personalize a schedule just for you.
👉A review of the 6 Best Marathon Training Plans >>
Now the key here, is to FOLLOW the plan!! No skipping around and try not to vastly change what’s listed.
#2 Learn to Pace Yourself During the Marathon
Pacing yourself is a crucial aspect of achieving a good marathon time. It’s all about finding the right balance between starting too fast and starting too slow.
Beginning the race at an unsustainable pace can quickly lead to burnout and exhaustion, while starting too slow can make it challenging to catch up with the pack.
So, how do you find that perfect pace? It’s essential to listen to your body and find a comfortable rhythm that allows you to maintain a steady pace throughout the race. This means being mindful of your breathing, heart rate, and overall energy levels.
It’s helpful to start the marathon at a slightly slower pace than your target race pace, gradually building up your speed as you settle into the race.
Another useful strategy is to break the race down into smaller segments. Instead of focusing on the entire 26.2 miles, divide it into more manageable chunks, such as 5K or 10K intervals.
This approach allows you to set mini-goals and maintain your focus and motivation throughout the race.
#3 Embrace Rest Days and Recovery
It’s easy to get caught up in the mindset that the more you run, the better off you’ll be, but that can lead to burnout and injury.
Most training plans have built-in rest days. This is the time where your muscles, tendons and ligaments adapt to all of the work. Take advantage of them and allow your body to recover from the higher mileage you’ll be doing.
👉Learn how to use active recovery vs rest days >>
#4 Don’t Panic if you Miss a Run or Two
Inevitably things come up and you’ll miss a training run here or there, or even a week or two. Don’t fret!
For example, maybe you get a cold, have to travel unexpectedly for work, or you have a niggling pain somewhere so you need to rest a few days to nip it in the bud. You didn’t develop your fitness overnight and you won’t lose it overnight either.
👉Read more on how quickly do you lose fitness (use this to settle your mind).
#5 Test Out Gear, Hydration, and Nutrition During Training
With several weeks of training ahead of you, plan to use this time to test things out. It’s almost never a good idea to try something new on race day.
Practice hydration and nutrition on your long runs. Use that time to figure out what you like, what your body can process, and how much you need to avoid the dreaded late-race bonk.
Don’t forget to test out your gear too. You may find that your favorite sports bra or running shorts that are great for 5 miles aren’t always so great after 20 miles causing painful chafing.
#6 Strength Training
Once you’ve found that great training plan to help you hit a good marathon time, don’t mess it all up by getting injured. The most common reason for injury while marathon training is a lack of strength in the hips, glutes or core.
I know this from talking to hundreds of Physical Therapists!
Luckily, you can avoid this by spending just 20 minutes a couple days a week doing strength training or even as little as 10 minutes before each run. It all adds up and will also improve you running!
👉30 Day Core Program (10 minutes pre-run!)
While running is the primary focus of marathon training, incorporating cross-training activities can greatly benefit your overall fitness and performance.
Cross-training involves engaging in different types of exercise to strengthen different muscle groups, prevent overuse injuries, and provide variety in your training routine.
Swimming is an excellent cross-training activity for runners as it is low-impact and works the entire body. It helps improve cardiovascular fitness, increases lung capacity, and enhances muscular endurance. Cycling is another great option as it strengthens the lower body muscles while reducing the stress on your joints.
#8 Embrace the Emotions
Speaking from experience, marathon running is emotional. Regardless of your finish time, you will have accomplished something amazing, something of which to be proud, and something few others will ever do.
You may feel a variety of emotions crossing that finish line. Embrace them all. Cry, laugh, dance, whatever! You just did something worth celebrating!
How to Deal with Common Challenges for a Good Marathon Time
Marathons come with their share of challenges, both physical and mental. It’s essential to prepare yourself mentally to face these obstacles and develop strategies to overcome them.
One common challenge is fatigue. As the miles add up, your body will naturally start to feel tired.
There are a few ways to semi-avoid this. The truth is that every runner, regardless of ability, is going to feel tired when pushing their limits!!
- Be consistent in your marathon training
- Get more time on your feet during training, by taking walks before, after a run.
- Stay on top of your fueling! Hitting the wall is often caused by low glycogen.
- Practice with different energy gels during long runs and speed workouts to see what works best for you.
Muscle cramps are another challenge that many marathon runners face. These painful contractions can occur due to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or muscle fatigue. To prevent muscle cramps, it’s crucial to stay properly hydrated before, during, and after the race.
Plus incorporating strength training exercises into your training regimen can help build the necessary muscle endurance to reduce the risk of cramping.
Lastly, mental fatigue can be a significant hurdle to overcome during a marathon. Running for hours on end can be mentally draining, especially when faced with self-doubt and negative thoughts.
One effective strategy to combat mental fatigue is to break the race down into smaller milestones. Celebrate each milestone you reach, whether it’s passing a certain mile marker or completing a specific segment of the race.
This not only gives you a sense of accomplishment but also helps to keep your mind engaged and focused.
Hopefully after reading all of this, you realize that there are a lot of factors that determine a good marathon time.
The marathon is a big challenge, but one that gives you a chance to push outside your comfort zone, reach new heights, and join an exclusive club. Dedicate yourself to the process and remember the marathon is just the last 26.2 miles of hundreds of miles. You got this!
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