For most runners, simply crossing the marathon finish line is an accomplishment worth celebrating. But Eliud Kipchoge isn't average. On October 12, 2019, the Kenyan runner finished the 26.2-mile race in under two hours — 1:59:40 to be exact — becoming the first person to do so.
Even if you're not flying across the finish line, if you're running a marathon, you're in good company. In 2018, 1.1 million people participated in a marathon, according to a 2019 report from RunRepeat.com and the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Some runners can complete the 26.2-mile race in a little under three hours. Others take more than seven hours. Since marathon courses differ significantly in terrain, elevation and weather conditions, the time required to complete each course varies. The average marathoner, however, will take almost twice as long as an elite runner to finish a race.
While average marathon finish times vary by age, gender, race course and running experience, it takes runners about 4:32:49 to complete, according to RunRepeat.com's The State of Running 2019 report.
Average Marathon Finish Time
For its 2019 report on running, RunRepeat.com used 107.9 million race results from more than 70 thousand events from 1986 to 2018. Based on their analysis, the average time it took to run a marathon, regardless of age or gender, was 4:32:49. That's a bit slower than the average finish time in 2001, which was 4:28:56.
Certain races are notoriously harder than others or may attract less speedy runners. According to data from the nonprofit organization RunTri, the races that showed the slowest average times among the 25 evaluated were the Los Angeles Marathon (5:15:13) and the Disney World Marathon (5:08:14).
Finish Time by Gender and Age
Average marathon finish time also vary by age and gender. While races have traditionally attracted more men than women, there were more female than male runners in 2018. The median finish time for a man was 4:22:13, which was a three-percent increase from 4:15:13 in 2001. Among female runners, the median finishing time was 4:56:18, which was a 1.3-percent decrease from 4:56:18 in 2001.
Not surprisingly, the average time it takes to run a marathon increases as you get older. What is surprising, though, is that the average age of marathon runners is getting older, increasing from 38 to 40 since 1986. The average finish time for runners between 50- and 60-year-olds is 4 hours 34 minutes and for those over 70, it's 5:40:00.
Fastest Marathon Finish Time
As of October 2019, the fastest time ever for a marathon on a record-eligible course is 2:01:39, recorded by Kipchoge in the 2018 Berlin Marathon. Unfortunately, his 2019 results don't officially count, as competition rules for pacing and fluids weren't followed. But runners everywhere still celebrated his accomplishment.
The 2:14:04 of Kenya's Brigid Kosgei in the 2019 Chicago Marathon is the fastest time recorded for a woman. Most of the fastest marathon runners hail from Ethiopia, Kenya and Eritrea, places where running is a way of life.
Read more: 22 of the World's Best Marathons
On average, marathon runners are getting slower. In 1986, the median marathon time was right around 3:52:35 — 3:48:15 for men and 4:18:00 for women. However, significantly fewer people stepped onto marathon course as compared to today.
Additionally, running has become more and more popular among mainstream runners and run-walkers. At the same time, the number of fun run 5Ks and charity races has also increased. All of that means that race participation has increased, and so have finishing times.
Additional reporting from Andrea Boldt
- RunTri: How Much Time Does It Take to Finish A Marathon? Average Marathon Finish Times
- MarathonGuide.com: City of Los Angeles Marathon (L.A. Marathon) - Race Results
- MarathonGuide.com: Disney World Marathon - Race Results
- RunRepeat.com: The State of Running 2019
- Runner's World: These Are the World’s Fastest Marathoners
- Runner's World: Eliud Kipchoge Breaks Two-Hour Marathon Barrier