Both runners and spectators alike would probably agree there's nothing like race day at a high-profile marathon. The streets are packed with bib-clad runners as far as the eye can see and the air buzzes with nervous excitement.
But in light of the coronavirus pandemic, marathons have shifted: Many runners are completing races virtually while some marathons were delayed or canceled completely, according to Running USA. After nearly a year of few races, some of the largest U.S. marathons, like the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon, are now planning to return to in-person events in 2021.
As you wait for the world of racing to return to something closer to normal, brush up on these interesting marathon stats and facts, like the demographics of runners in the U.S. and historic marathon winners. Some of the marathon health benefits may even convince first-timers to give this distance a try.
Most marathons typically categorize runners into female or male groups, which is why we use the terms "women" and "men" below.
Global Marathon Statistics
Wondering about the popularity of the marathon around the world? About 1.1 million runners complete a marathon each year, which is roughly 0.01 percent of the world's population, according to the International Institute for Race Medicine (IIRM). But where speed is concerned, Europe is home to some of the fastest marathoners in the world.
- Marathons accounted for only 12% of global race results in 2018, per the IIRM.
- That's down from 25% of race results in 2000.
- According to the IIRM, the countries with the fastest average marathon times are:
- Spain: 3 hours, 53 minutes
- Switzerland: 3 hours, 55 minutes
- Portugal: 3 hours, 59 minutes
- Ukraine: 3 hours, 59 minutes
- Norway: 4 hours, 1 minute
- The countries with the highest percentage of runners who complete marathons, per the IIRM, are:
- Germany: 40%
- Spain: 38%
- Netherlands: 25%
- Ireland: 23%
- France: 20%
- The Abbott World Marathon Majors are considered the most prestigious marathons in the world.
2019 Winners of the Abbott World Marathon Majors
2019 Winner (Men)
2019 Winning Time (Men)
2019 Winner (Women)
2019 Winning Time (Women)
London Marathon Facts
- Each year about 45,000 runners complete the London Marathon.
- About 750,000 spectators cheer them on annually.
- The prize for winning the elite racing division of the London Marathon is $30,000.
- The prize for winning the wheelchair division of the London Marathon is $20,000.
- London Marathon runners raised more than $91 million for charity in 2019.
London Marathon Course Records
Women's (Among Men and Women)
Mary Jepkosgei Keitany
Marathon Statistics in the U.S.
Although there are more than 1,000 marathons in the U.S. each year, only a small fraction of people in the country actually complete the race.
- In 2016, there were 1,100 marathons held in the U.S., according to Running USA.
- Less than 1% of the U.S. population has completed a marathon, according to RunRepeat.
- To place among the top 1% of marathon runners in the U.S., you would have to finish faster than 2 hours and 49 minutes, according to RunRepeat.
- To place among the top 10% of marathon runners in the U.S., you would need to finish faster than 3 hours and 24 minutes.
- Runners from these states have the fastest finish times:
- Massachusetts: 4 hours, 4 minutes, 20 seconds
- Washington: 4 hours, 18 minutes, 9 seconds
- Indiana: 4 hours, 18 minutes, 57 seconds
- Massachusetts: 4 hours, 4 minutes, 20 seconds
- Runners from the following states have the slowest finish times:
- Alaska: 5 hours, 30 minutes, 15 seconds
- Florida: 5 hours, 33 minutes, 19 seconds
- Hawaii: 6 hours, 16 minutes, 6 seconds
- These states have the highest percentage of marathoners:
- New York: 13.81%
- California: 12. 38%
- Illinois: 7.85%
- These states have the lowest percentage of marathoners:
- Idaho: 0.15%
- Wyoming: 0.10%
- Alaska: 0.10%
The Top Marathons in the U.S.
New York City Marathon
Los Angeles Marathon
Walt Disney World Marathon
Marine Corps Marathon
Twin Cities Marathon
San Francisco Marathon
California International Marathon
San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon
St. George Marathon
Chicago Marathon Statistics
Not only does the Chicago marathon guide runners through 29 diverse neighborhoods, it's a great first-time race, thanks to the generally flat and fast course.
- Prizes for the men's and women's open divisions, according to the Chicago Marathon, are:
- 1st: $100,000
- 2nd: $75,000
- 3rd: $50,000
- 4th: $30,000
- 5th: $25,000
- The average age of male runners in the Chicago Marathon is about 41.
- The average age of female runners is about 38.
- The 2019 race had about 45,786 runners.
- Runners raised about $27.1 million for charity in 2019.
Chicago Marathon Course Records
Marathon Statistics by Age
Younger doesn't necessarily mean faster in the marathon. Generally, middle-aged runners tend to finish marathons most quickly.
- The average marathon runner is about 40 years old, according to the IIRM.
- Runners above the age of 70 are the slowest marathon runners.
- Runners in the 30- to 50-year-old age group are the fastest.
- Fauja Singh, who ran the Toronto Marathon in 2011 at 100 years old, is the oldest person to ever complete the distance, according to the Associated Press.
- According to Meteor Run, a running statistics platform, these are the marathon finish times you'd need to run to place at the top of each age group:
1 to 14
15 to 19
20 to 29
30 to 39
40 to 49
50 to 59
60 to 69
70 to 100
What's the Best Age to Run a Marathon?
There's no ideal age to run a marathon and your finish time will depend on a variety of factors (not just how old you are). But women tend to perform their best at about 32 years old, whereas men generally run their best times around age 34, according to a June 2019 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study.
Marathon Statistics by Sex
Men tend to be faster marathon runners than women but, as a whole, women are becoming speedier each year, while the average men's finish time has slowed down, per the IIRM. Race participation is also growing faster among women than men, according to RunRepeat.
- About 30% of global marathon participants are women.
- Between 2008 and 2018, women's marathon participation increased by 56.83%, while men's participation increased by 46.91%, according to RunRepeat.
- 196,586 of the 443,878 total marathon finishers in the U.S. in 2018 were women.
- The average men's marathon finish time is about 4 hours, 15 minutes, according to the IIRM.
- Men's average marathon pace is about 10 minutes, 20 seconds per mile.
- 67.9% of male runners have completed at least one marathon.
- The average women's marathon finish time is about 4 hours, 45 minutes.
- Women's average marathon pace is about 11 minutes, 41 seconds per mile.
- 53.9% of female runners have completed at least one marathon.
- The largest group of female marathon participants, 31.5%, are in the 30 to 39 age bracket, according to Meteor Run.
- The largest group of male participants, 29.1%, are in the 40 to 49 age group.
Marathon Finish Time Statistics
Globally, the average marathon time is a little over 4 hours — and has been slowing down over the past decade, per the IIRM.
- Worldwide, the average marathon time is about 4 hours, 21 minutes, according to Asics.
- The average marathon pace is about 9 minutes, 57 seconds per mile (or 6 minutes, 11 seconds per kilometer). So, anything faster than that average is generally considered a good pace for a marathon.
- Per Meteor Run, these are the average times you'd need to beat in order to win a marathon:
- Women: 2 hours, 50 minutes, 5 seconds
- Men: 2 hours, 26 minutes
Has Anyone Broken a 2-Hour Marathon?
To get an idea of how your marathon stacks up against the global average, use the chart below to see the proportion of people finishing in different times.
Proportion of Average Marathon Finish Times
Less than 3 hours
Less than 3 hours, 5 minutes
Less than 4 hours
Less than 4 hours, 5 minutes
Less than 5 hours
Less than 6 hours
Take a look at the 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon times chart below to help you estimate your race pace.
Professional Marathon Statistics
Elite marathon runners complete the race in well under 3 hours.
- Eliud Kipchoge set the men's marathon world record in 2018 in Berlin with the word's fastest time of 2 hours, 1 minute, 39 seconds, according to World Athletics.
- Brigid Kosgei set the women's marathon world record in 2019 in Chicago with the world's fastest time of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 4 seconds.
Olympic Marathon Statistics
- In order to enter the 2020 U.S. Olympic marathon trials, runners must meet at least a B standard on a USA Track & Field (USATF) certified course or in an eligible event held by the USATF.
- Men's A standard: 2 hours, 15 minutes
- Men's B standard: 2 hours, 19 minutes
- Women's A standard: 2 hours, 37 minutes
- Women's B standard: 2 hours, 45 minutes
- 260 men and 512 women met qualifying standards for the trials in 2020.
- The current Olympic marathon records, according to World Athletics are:
Marathon Prize Money
Statistics About the Benefits of Running a Marathon
While long-distance running is intense, research shows it can help your heart and mood.
- After 6 months of training, first-time marathon runners had lower blood pressure and less stiffness in their arteries in a small January 2020 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
- Compared to sedentary people, marathon runners showed fewer symptoms of depression in a November 2020 study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
- Running may not be as bad for your knees as some might think: After completing a four-month training program and race, MRIs of the knees of a group of new marathon runners showed improvements in joint health, according to a small October 2019 study in BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine.
- A January 2017 study in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation found Olympic marathon runners lived about 4.7 years longer than the average adult.
- Some people worry that long-term endurance training, like marathon running, can damage the heart, but there isn't enough research to confirm how much running is actually too much, according to a June 2012 study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
- There's an average of one heart attacked-related death for every 100,000 marathon runners.
- Almost 50% of these incidents happen during the last mile of a marathon.
Historical Facts About the Marathon
- You can trace the first marathon all the way to ancient Greece; however, the race as we know it today wasn't established until 1908, according to World Athletics.
- The first marathon distance ever run was 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, Greece, completed by a Greek soldier named Philippedes (also sometimes called Pheidippides), according to World Athletics.
- The first Olympic Games, held in Athens in 1896, established the 40-kilometer (about 24.85 miles) marathon race.
- The marathon was then changed to 26 miles, only to be increased by 385 yards (0.2 miles) at the 1908 London Olympics so that runners would finish in front of Queen Alexandra watching the games.
Historic Marathon Firsts
- Violet Piercy was the first woman recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations to run a marathon, who ran a time of 3 hours, 40 minutes, 22 seconds in England in 1926, according to Runner's World.
- Abebe Bikila won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games running barefoot through Rome with a time of 2 hours, 15 minutes, 16 seconds, according to World Athletics.
- In 1966, Roberta Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon without an official race number, according to the Boston Marathon.
- Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967, according to Switzer's website.
- The first time the wheelchair division was included in marathon racing was in 1974 in Ohio, according to The Accessible Planet.
- Bob Hall won this race in 2 hours, 54 minutes.
- The first women's Olympic marathon was held in 1984 in Los Angeles, according to Runner's World.
- In 2017, Shalane Flanagan became the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon in 40 years, according to the New York Road Runners.
- In 2018, Desiree Linden became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since 1985, according to PBS News Hour.
- Running USA: "Running USA Infographic: Runners and Virtual Runs"
- International Institute for Race Medicines: "The State of Running 2019"
- London Marathon: "Media Guide"
- Running USA: "Running USA Marathon Report: Minor Drop in U.S. Marathon Finishers Reported in 2016"
- RunRepeat: "Who’s Faster? The Ultimate State Comparison for Marathons"
- Chicago Marathon: "Course & Amenities"
- Chicago Marathon: "Media PDF"
- Chicago Marathon: "Brigid Kosgei Smashes the World Record and Lawrence Cherono Wins in a Sprint Finish at the 42nd Annual Bank of America Chicago Marathon"
- Chicago Marathon: "Bank of America Chicago Marathon Runners Raised an Event Record $27.1 Million for Charity in 2019"
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "The Age-Related Performance Decline in Marathon Running: The Paradigm of the Berlin Marathon"
- Associated Press: "Fauja Singh, 101, Finishes Last Race"
- Meteor Run: "Overview of Marathon Statistics"
- RunRepeat: "Marathon Statistics 2019 Worldwide (Research)"
- ESPN: "Eliud Kipchoge Runs First Ever Sub-Two Hour Marathon in INEOS 1:59 Challenge"
- Asics: "What is a Good Time for a Marathon?"
- World Athletics: "Marathon Men"
- USATF: "Qualifying Standards"
- World Athletics: "Olympic Games Records"
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology: "Training for a First-Time Marathon Reverses Age-Related Aortic Stiffening"
- Journal of Psychiatric Research: "Marathon Running Omproves Mood and Negative Affect"
- BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine: "Can Marathon Running Improve Knee Damage of Middle-Aged Adults? A Prospective Cohort Study"
- BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation: "Differences in Life Expectancy Between Olympic High Jumpers, Discus Throwers, Marathon and 100 Meter Runners"
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: "Potential Adverse Cardiovascular Effects From Excessive Endurance Exercise"
- World Athletics: "Marathon"
- Runner's World: "A History of Women's Running"
- Boston Marathon: "History of the Boston Marathon"
- Katherine Sqitzer: "The Real Story of Kathrine Switzer’s 1967 Boston Marathon"
- New York Road Runners: "Shalane Flanagan"
- PBS News Hour: "Desiree Linden Becomes First American Woman to Win Boston Marathon in More Than 30 Years"
- Accessible Planet: "How Long Is The Wheelchair Marathon"