Did you know that almost one-third of all runners only started running during the pandemic? And according to Strava’s 2022 Year In Sports roundup, the number of runners who participated in a marathon almost doubled from the year before!
So there’s no denying that ticking a marathon off the bucket list is becoming a more and more popular goal, whether you’re new to running or you’ve been doing it for years. If it’s on your list of things to do, then you’re probably wondering… What’s a good marathon time?
There’s no clear answer here because every runner is different. But we can look at averages, consider factors that impact your marathon time, and help you come to a goal time that makes sense for you. Let’s dive in!
How Long Is a Marathon?
A marathon is 26.2 miles in length. There are no exceptions—this is the standard marathon distance. Anything longer is considered to be an ultra-marathon, and shorter races usually fall into the half-marathon, 10K, or 5K categories.
How did it land on that strange number? It dates back to ancient Greece, when the Greeks won a hard-fought battle against a Persian army who invaded a city called Marathon.
A messenger named Phidippides was dispatched to Athens—26 or so miles away—to announce their victory. The extra 0.2 miles only came later, in the 1908 London Olympics, to allow the runners to cross the finish line right in front of the royal family’s viewing box.
How Long Does It Take to Run a Marathon?
This depends on many factors. A runner’s experience and fitness level play a big role!
Elite male athletes can finish a marathon in just over 2 hours. But runners with minimal experience can take up to 8+ hours to cover the distance.
Ultimately, multiple factors go into marathon finishing times. Even for a single runner, finishing times can fluctuate depending on things like training, nutrition, weather, and race course.
Average Marathon Times by Experience Level
Experience is the biggest factor when it comes to marathon times. Here’s an overview of what you can expect from elite to beginner marathoners.
Elite runners are few and far between. Elite men typically run a sub 2:30 marathon. And elite women are able to run a sub 2:50 marathon.
The top elite athletes regularly finish marathons in 2:10 to 2:30. To give you an idea of how fast the top of the top guys and girls run, the current men’s marathon record is 2:01:09, set by Eliud Kipchoge at the Berlin Marathon in September 2022.
The top women’s marathon finishing time is 2:14:04, set by Brigid Kosgei in Chicago on the 13th October 2019. Following very close behind is Ruth Chepngetich, with a time of 2:14:08!
It’s worth remembering that these athletes live, eat, breathe, and sleep running. They follow strict training programs and have a lot of time to dedicate to their sport.
But there’s still a range of “elite” athletes. The top 1 percent of marathon runners can be considered “sub-elite,”—but it’s worth noting that each race has its own reference as to what “elite” is.
That being said, here are the average times for the top 1 percent of marathon runners, based on data collected by RunRepeat.
|20 to 30||2:49:13||3:19:09|
|31 to 40||2:51:18||3:20:36|
|41 to 50||3:01:59||3:33:02|
|51 to 60||3:18:35||3:59:35|
|61 to 70||3:38:34||4:36:35|
|71 to 80||4:08:44||5:30:26|
|81 to 90||5:21:52||7:42:33|
Those who have run regularly for more than 5 years can be called advanced runners. Chances are these athletes already have numerous marathons under their belts and maybe even a few ultras!
|20 to 30||3:08:42||3:40:30|
|31 to 40||3:11:02||3:42:06|
|41 to 50||3:22:56||3:55:52|
|51 to 60||3:41:28||4:25:15|
|61 to 70||4:03:45||5:06:13|
|71 to 80||4:37:22||6:05:52|
|81 to 90||5:58:55||8:32:08|
Those running consistently for a few years have had time to build a great fitness base. You may or may not have a marathon or two ticked off your list, or you might be looking at doing your first one.
|20 to 30||3:34:56||4:08:41|
|31 to 40||3:37:34||4:10:30|
|41 to 50||3:51:08||4:26:01|
|51 to 60||4:12:14||4:59:10|
|61 to 70||4:37:37||5:45:23|
|71 to 80||5:15:55||6:52:37|
|81 to 90||6:48:48||9:37:35|
If you’re still relatively new to running, it doesn’t mean a marathon is out of your reach! But you’d need to train strictly and be prepared for a long, tough race. Here’s what you can expect.
|20 to 30||4:57:01||5:33:08|
|31 to 40||5:00:40||5:35:34|
|41 to 50||5:19:25||5:56:21|
|51 to 60||5:48:34||6:40:47|
|61 to 70||6:23:39||7:42:41|
|71 to 80||7:16:35||9:12:46|
|81 to 90||9:24:56||12:53:46|
What Is Considered a Good Marathon Time?
The average times are good for less experienced runners. Those who have a better fitness base may find these to be slow, while completely new marathons may have to work their way up to these times.
On average, a male runner’s finishing time is 4:10:10. That’s across all age groups and fitness levels, so you can get a pretty good estimate of what would be appropriate for you by swinging to one side or the other.
Interestingly, since 1986, the average men’s finishing time has slowed down by about 20 minutes! Stats show that men tend to run slower in the second half of their marathon, which could account for this.
It’s also worth noting that the average age of male runners is 40. If you’re younger, chances are you’ll be able to run faster. Your experience level might count for more than your sheer running power if you’re older.
The women’s average marathon finishing time is 4:39:09. Women runners have an average age of 36 years old.
Women’s finishing times have gotten faster by roughly 11 minutes. Despite this, their half-split is roughly the same as men’s, which means they run almost equally slow in the race’s second half.
Factors That Affect Marathon Times
As we’ve mentioned, multiple factors can affect your marathon time. Consider these things before estimating your marathon time to understand how it might be affected.
Training Leading Up to the Marathon
The quality of your training will change the outcome of your finishing time. This is probably the biggest factor to your marathon time. Training consistently and sticking with it for 12-20 weeks is really hard to do!
But if you train optimally, you can expect to finish faster than the average times. However, if you do half a job of training, you can’t expect to run at your best during your race.
Your fitness level plays a huge role in your endurance and stamina. The fitter you are, the easier a marathon is likely to be for you, but keep in mind it also depends on your type of fitness. Someone who’s “football fit” might not be marathon fit!
The more challenging the terrain, the longer your time will likely be. Hills will slow you down, as well as cause you to tire sooner.
A course with many turns will also slow you down. Not only because they slow you down naturally but because it’s harder to run the tangent – meaning you may run a tiny bit extra at each turn. Over 26.2 miles, these add up!
Most marathons don’t go off-road unless they’re trail races, but other tricky surfaces like slippery roads or gravel paths can slow you down.
Heat can cause you to fatigue early. Humidity is even more difficult to run optimally in.
Rain can make visibility difficult, and wind can take the energy out of you. Weather conditions make more difference than you think to your final time!
As we age, we naturally become slower. It’s normal, and if you start at a later age, it may also be difficult for you to build up your fitness level to reach the general average.
Optimizing your nutrition will help you to perform better. While this is true of your daily nutrition during training and leading up to the race, it’s particularly true during the race. Fail to fuel properly, and your finishing time will be affected.
Mental Preparation and Mindset
You can be a strong runner physically. But if you don’t have a tough mental game, marathons will always be harder. Work on your mindset and build mental toughness; it’ll serve you well during a marathon!
How to Estimate Your Marathon Time
Knowing your expected marathon finishing time will help you to pace yourself accurately throughout the marathon. Obviously, this won’t be an exact answer—your time could still change based on any number of factors mentioned above.
But it’s a handy thing to know for performance purposes. Here are some of the ways in which you can estimate your finishing time.
- Race Time Predictor Chart: You can find predictor charts online that help you to calculate what a likely finishing time would be. They’re usually based on previous race times, so you’ll need to know a 5K, 10K, or half-marathon time.
- Galloway’s Magic Mile: Jeff Galloway’s Magic Mile is ideal for those who don’t have any official race times yet. It’s simple: run one mile as fast as you can manage. Take your mile time, convert it seconds, and multiply it by 1.3. That’s the pace you should be running for a marathon. With your pace, you can work out your final time. For a more accurate number, you can do it 4 times, and take an average of the top 3.
- Half Marathon Time: A classic way to estimate your time is to take your most recent half marathon time, double it, and add ten minutes. Sounds silly but it can surprisingly accurate.
When Should You Predict Your Marathon Time
If you haven’t even started training yet, don’t worry about predicting your marathon times. This information is only relevant about 2 to 4 weeks before the actual race.
By this time, you’ve already built a good fitness base and this will be the most accurate prediction. Too far in advance, and it will be way off.
10 Tips That Will Help You Improve Your Marathon Time
Ready to start your marathon training? Here are our top tips to help you perform at your best.
1. Set Realistic Weekly Mileage Goals
Choose a marathon training plan that’s doable for your lifestyle and availability. You may need to train for longer, but you won’t be at risk of overdoing it.
2. Stick To Your Training Program
Follow your plan as closely as possible. This will ensure you get enough rest and are always ready to perform at your best. Make sure you get a training program from a reputable source!
3. Incorporate Strength Training Into Your Routine
Strengthening your running muscles through cross-training is one of the best ways to build power and endurance. Squats, lunges, deadlifts, and other leg-centric exercises can help. Aim for 2 strength sessions of 30 to 40 minutes per week.
4. Train at Your Race Pace
Not for every run, but add some tempo runs to your training. This will get you used to what it feels like to pace yourself evenly. You can lengthen your tempo runs over the course of your training.
5. Keep Your Runs Varied
Incorporate speed work, tempo runs, easy runs, and hills. A good training plan will already do that, so you shouldn’t have to change anything. It’ll help you to get a well-rounded training, but it’ll also prevent boredom from setting in.
6. Improve Your Running Form
Better form equals less energy lost when running, improving performance. Check your form and take the time to iron out any kinks while you’re training. You’ll notice the difference on race day.
Your training plan will have a taper built in. Don’t neglect it! It can feel counterintuitive to slow down right before your big day, but trust us… You’ll be grateful you did.
8. Get Nutrition and Hydration Right
You can’t perform at your best without fueling yourself properly. That means eating right throughout your training—high protein, moderate carbs, low fat—but also experimenting with fueling yourself throughout your race.
By the time race day comes, you want to have an in-race fueling strategy ready to go. As a guide, aim for one gram of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight per hour during the race.
As for hydration, calculate your sweat rate and make sure you have a plan to consume enough water throughout the race. Don’t rely on water tables!
9. Take Rest and Recovery Seriously
Don’t neglect rest and recovery. If you’re feeling restless on rest day, try to do something relaxed like yoga or taking a slow walk. Don’t be tempted to train—it’s easy to overdo it without realizing until it’s too late.
You can also use foam rollers, compression gear, and other recovery tools to help you speed up muscle healing. Also, ensure you get enough quality sleep—this can make or break the effectiveness of your training!
10. Work on Your Mindset
A strong mindset can help you get through even more than a great fueling and hydration plan. Take steps to build mental toughness during your training too. For you, that may be meditation, practicing mindfulness, journaling, or some other practice. With a strong mind, a strong body, and a plan, you can do anything!