Social media can make it seem like everyone is running super fast marathons. But how long does it actually take to run a marathon? What are the average times? This article breaks down marathon times – showing that the marathon can be a distance for all runners. Additionally, you will learn what factors impact marathon performance and how to speed up your marathon time.
How Many Miles is a Marathon?
A road marathon is 26.2 miles (42.2km). The distance is measured using the tangents. Not all runners successfully run the tangents; this, combined with GPS errors, means that your watch may read 26.3-26.7 miles for your marathon.
Trail marathons will have more variation in distance. The trail marathon could be shorter by a couple of miles or longer by a couple of miles. Rarely is a trail marathon exactly 26.2 miles.
Factors Affecting Marathon Timing
Your marathon time is not just based on fitness. Yes, being fitter will improve your marathon performance. However, there are several physiological and environmental factors to consider.
- Training intensity: Speed at your aerobic threshold and lactate threshold both influence marathon performance, according to a 2021 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Plans that emphasize marathon pace workouts close to the race tend to have a positive impact on marathon performance.
- Training volume: A 2020 study in the Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found a positive correlation between weekly training volume and marathon performance. Marathon runners who averaged less than 25 miles/40 km per week ran slower times. An average weekly mileage of 40 miles/65 km per week were associated with faster marathon finish times.
- Longest long run: Likewise, the 2020 study found an interaction between longest long run and marathon finish time. Runners who completed long runs of 18-22 miles (30-35 km) in training had a faster finish time, while runners who ran less than 15 miles/25 km as their longest run had slower times. Long runs over 22 miles/35 km did not contribute to faster marathon performances.
- Intra-race carbohydrate consumption: There is a reason you hear running coaches and sports RDs alike preach about the importance of fueling enough during a marathon. A 2014 study found that runners who took 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour finished their marathon an average of 10 minutes and 55 seconds faster than those who did not.
- Race day weather: A 2012 study in PLoS One found that 49 degrees Fahrenheit/9.9 degrees Celsius are the optimal temperatures for marathon performance. Increases in temperature lead to slower performances. Wind speed can also impact finish time. As found in a 2019 study in PLoS One, a tailwind can improve marathon performance, while headwinds will impair performance. Precipitation will also lead to slower times, according to a 2021 in Frontiers in Physiology.
The Marathon World Record
Since the advent of supershoe technology and improved fueling (such as Maurten), marathon world records have dropped.
Unofficially, Eluid Kipochoge ran a 1:59:40 marathon (4:34/mile or 2:50/km average pace). However, due to the closed and supported nature of this event, this time is not considered an official world record. The official world record marathon time for men is 2:00:35, set by Kelvin Kiptum at the 2023 Chicago Marathon. Kiptum wore the Nike Alphafly 3 supershoes.
The women’s marathon record was also set in 2023. Tigst Assefa ran a 2:11:53 at the 2023 Berlin Marathon. She wore the expensive, limitedly released Adizero Adios Pro Evo 1 for her race.
More than likely, the world marathon record will continue to drop in the upcoming years. Whether set by Kipochoge or another runner, we are not far from an official sub-2 marathon world record.
Good Timing for a Marathon
One important note first: marathons are challenging. Whether you run in 2 hours or 7 hours, finishing a marathon is an accomplishment.
How a runner defines good timing for a marathon will be relative to their ability. Faster times are not superior; every runner is covering the same distance. The PR that one runner celebrates may be a training pace for another runner – but that doesn’t take away their accomplishment.
The average marathon time
The world record marathon times are closer to the average runner’s half marathon time. The average marathon time is much different than the world record times.
According to 2019 statistics presented by RunRepeat, the average marathon time is 4:29:53. The average marathon time for men is 4:21:03. The average finish time in the marathon for women is 4:48:45.
Good marathon time by age
If you look at race times, you will notice an interesting trend in the marathon distance. While younger athletes often have faster times in distances such as the 5K, the marathon distance rewards age and experience.
Over the years, most runners experience a shift in muscle fiber typology. Many runners become more slow-twitch dominant with age and years of endurance training. With age, athletes tend to develop more fatigue resistance – which is why we see athletes in their 30s dominate in marathon distances. The marathon distance also takes skill. By doing more marathons, runners gain more experience in pacing the distance.
Eventually, aging can impact marathon time. A 2019 study analyzed 10 years of finisher data from the Berlin Marathon and found that women had their peak performances at age 32 and men at age 34. By their 50s or 60s, some athletes may start to plateau or notice a slowdown in their marathon pace. This is reflected in the Boston Marathon Qualifying times, which jump by 10 minutes (instead of the usual 5 minutes) when going from 40-45 to 45-50 age groups.
Good time for first marathon
As cliche as it may sound, a good time for a first marathon is a finishing time! Marathons are challenging – especially the first time you cover the 26.2 mile distance.
If you are running your first marathon, a realistic goal is to finish the distance. Some first-time marathoners may have goals to run the entire distance without walking.
Related: Listen to Training Tips for Your First Marathon on the Tread Lightly Podcast
Marathon Times By Pace
Curious about what pace you have to run to run a sub-4 marathon or qualify for Boston? These marathon times by pace will help you get a sense of what average pace you need for a marathon finish time.
Read this article for a full marathon pace chart, from 2:05 to a 6:30 hour finish times.
All the marathon times are calculated assuming you run 26.2 miles. If you miss some tangents or are in a big city race, your watch may read a longer distance (and therefore a faster pace) with these associated finish times.
Women’s & Non-Binary Boston Marathon Qualifying Times By Pace (2023):
- 18-34: 3:30:00 (8:00 min/mile; 4:59 min/km)
- 35-39: 3:35:00 (8:12 min/mile; 5:06 min/km)
- 40-44: 3:40:00 (8:24 min/mile; 5:13 min/km)
- 45-49: 3:50:00 (8:47 min/mile; 5:27 min/km)
- 50-54: 3:55:00 (8:58 min/mile; 5:34 min/km)
- 55-59: 4:05:00 (9:20 min/mile; 5:48 min/km)
- 60-64: 4:20:00 (9:54 min/mile; 6:09 min/km)
- 65-69: 4:35:00 (10:29 min/mile; 6:31 min/km)
- 70-74: 4:50:00 (11:02 min/mile; 6:51 min/km)
- 75-79: 5:05:00 (11:36 min/mile; 7:13 min/km)
- 80+: 5:20:00 (12:10 min/mile; 7:34 min/km)
Men’s Boston Marathon Qualifying Times By Pace (2023):
- 18-34: 3:00:00 (6:52 min/mile; 4:16 min/km)
- 35-39: 3:05:00 (7:04 min/mile; 4:23 min/km)
- 40-44: 3:10:00 (7:15 min/mile; 4:30 min/km)
- 45-49: 3:20:00 (7:38 min/mile; 4:45 min/km)
- 50-54: 3:25:00 (7:49 min/mile; 4:51 min/km)
- 55-59: 3:35:00 (8:12 min/mile; 5:06 min/km)
- 60-64: 3:50:00 (8:47 min/mile; 5:27 min/km)
- 65-69: 4:05:00 (9:20 min/mile; 5:48 min/km)
- 70-74: 4:20:00 (9:54 min/mile; 6:09 min/km)
- 75-79: 4:35:00 (10:29 min/mile; 6:31 min/km)
- 80+: 4:50:00 (11:02 min/mile; 6:51 min/km)
Common Goal Marathon Times by Pace:
- 3:00:00: 6:52 min/mile; 4:16 min/km
- 3:30:00: 8:00 min/mile; 4:59 min/km
- 4:00:00: 9:09 min/mile; 5:41 min/km
- 4:30:00: 10:17 min/mile; 6:23 min/km
- 5:00:00: 11:25 min/mile; 7:06 min/km
How to Speed Up Your Marathon Time
Since so many variables impact your marathon finish time, you can speed up your marathon time by implementing many changes. These marathon running tips are intended for runners who have completed at least one marathon.
Increase Your Weekly Training Volume
As noted above, total training volume (of which long runs are a factor) will impact marathon time. Training volume does have a point of diminishing returns. However, for most recreational runners, small yet deliberate increases can lead to faster marathon times. If you averaged 40 miles per week in one training cycle, try increasing to 45 miles per week the next training cycle. Here’s how to determine how many miles per week you should run – and how to safely increase your weekly mileage.
The same applies to long runs. If you did one 20 miler, try two to three 20 milers the next training cycle. Some more advanced runners may see benefit of completing 21-22 mile long runs in training.
Include Marathon Pace Runs in Training
Marathon pace workouts improve both fitness and pacing skills for the marathon. As noted above, training near or at aerobic threshold is linked to faster marathon times. Doing workouts at marathon pace teaches you how to pace at that effort. As a result, you are less likely to start out too fast – and you know how to hold onto the pace when you start to fatigue.
Typically, marathon pace workouts are best done in the final 6-10 weeks before your race. You can do marathon pace workouts as a weekday quality session. Marathon pace workouts can also be added into a long run. You just want to avoid the trap of doing all your long runs at marathon pace.
Take in More Carbohydrates Per Hour
The recommended carbohydrate intake for the marathon is 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Some runners benefit from evey more – up to 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour. If you want to speed up your marathon time, experiment with higher carbohydrate intakes in long runs and on race day.
Consider Using Supershoes
Not all runners respond to carbon plated running shoes. However, for those who do, supershoes can offer a significant performance improvement of 1-4%. These shoes do not take the place of smart training, a sound pacing strategy, or race day fueling – but they can help! These are some of the best marathon running shoes.
Follow a sound training plan
A training plan can help you increase your mileage and incorporate marathon pace workouts without doing so much that you get injured or overtrain. Pick a training plan that starts where you are. If you are currently runnign 30 miles per week, choose a plan that starts you at 30-35 miles per week.