If you’re training for a marathon, or even just contemplating running one, you might be wondering what the average marathon finish time is. Most beginner runners and even seasoned marathoners find it helpful to know the average time it takes to run a marathon.
How long does a marathon take?
One of the first things to do when training for a marathon is to gain a realistic expectation for how long a marathon takes. So, how long does it take to run a marathon?
For most recreational runners, a marathon takes between 3 – 6 hours to complete. Marathon finish times vary widely from one runner to the next, since the distance is so long. Something as small as just a minute difference in pace will add 26 minutes to your marathon run time.
In 2019, the recorded global average marathon finish time was 4 hours 32 minutes and 49 seconds. It seems that runners used to be faster, as the overall time it takes to run a marathon has increased throughout the years.
Average Marathon Finish Time
According to Run Repeat, the average marathon time has increased significantly since 1986. Between 1986 and 2001 alone, the average time went from 3:52:35 to 4:28:56 – a whopping 15.6% increase.
In 2019, the average marathon time for women in the US was 4:56:39, which equates to about 11:18 per mile. Overall, it seems that the average time for women to run a marathon is around 5 hours.
The average marathon time for men in the US was 4:30:36, which equates to about 10:19 per mile. Overall, the average time it takes for men to run a marathon is right around 4.5 hours.
Average First Time Marathon Time
Comparing your own marathon run time (or expected time) to the average marathon finish time is not always the best way to gauge your progress. The average marathon time includes runners who are seasoned, fast runners as well as those who take regular walk breaks throughout the course.
If you are running your first marathon, it’s helpful to have an idea of how long it takes others to run a marathon for the first time.
Based on Run Repeat’s data in 2019, the average first time marathon time falls somewhere between 5 – 6.5 hours. It takes most beginner runners at least 5 hours to run a marathon, with a pace somewhere between 12 to 15 minutes per mile.
In sum, the average time to run a marathon can vary widely depending on your experience, fitness and outside factors. In most cases, anything under 6 hours is considered a good marathon time, as many courses use 6 hours as their cap. A marathon run time that is under 4 hours is considered a significant accomplishment.
Factors Affecting Marathon Finish Time
If you’re planning to use the average marathon finish time to compare to your own, it’s important to take into account a number of factors that may affect your time as well as the average. Here are just a few to consider.
The number one factor that will affect your marathon finish time is training. If you have skimped out on training or are starting completely from scratch, you’ll find that your finish time is probably slower than expected.
On the other hand, a great training cycle with consistency and solid efforts could help you achieve a finish time that is significantly faster than expected.
One of the most frustrating factors that can greatly affect marathon finish time is the weather. Since weather is almost entirely out of the runner’s control, it is often the hardest to accept. However, the weather in which you complete your marathon will certainly play a role in your finish time.
Running in hot, humid, snowy or windy conditions will likely result in a finish time that is slower than expected. On the other hand, a calm, dry, cool day may result in a significantly a faster finish time than planned.
When training for a PR, many runners take great care in choosing their goal race. This is because the course conditions can also play in to how long it takes to run a marathon.
Courses with lots of turns or hills may add to your finish time, while courses with a net loss in elevation are usually a favorite for those hoping for a faster finish time.
Something that is mostly controlled by the runner is fueling – and it can have a huge impact on overall marathon finish time. Adequately fueling to keep your body full of sugars and nutrients for muscles to burn keeps runners feeling the best.
However, waiting too long to take in fuel, taking in too little, or having an upset stomach might result in slower finish times – or even unexpected stops.
One more factor that affects marathon finish time and is controlled by the runner is hydration. Similar to fueling properly, staying hydrated throughout a marathon is key to a good finish time.
While these factors might all sound fairly straight forward, it is usually easier said than done to get them all to line up in your favor. If you’re training for a goal race, you’ll want to do your best to set yourself up for success – which includes planning ahead.
What is a Good Marathon Time?
What is considered a good time for a marathon will vary depending on your status as a runner, as well as your location. The USA and UK are surprisingly low on the list when it comes to the average marathon finish time. Both countries consistently ranked near the bottom for overall fastest marathons.
Spain has consistently been near or at the top of the list for the fastest marathon, followed closely by Germany in 2019.
Marathon Finish Times for Elite Runners
Elite runners nearly always finish with a good marathon time. These runners are the fastest and fittest in the world. In general, most male elite runners finish in 2:05 – 2:15, while most female elite runners finish in 2:15 – 2:25.
These finish times are, without a doubt, always going to be considered a good marathon time.
Boston Qualifying Marathon Times
After the elites, most runners would consider a good time for a marathon to be one that meets Boston qualifying standards. Here are the Boston Qualifying Times for 2021:
- 18 – 34: Men 3:00:00 // Women 3:30:00
- 35 – 39: Men 3:05:00 // Women 3:35:00
- 40 – 44: Men 3:10:00 // Women 3:40:00
- 45 – 49: Men 3:20:00 // Women 3:50:00
- 50 – 54: Men 3:25:00 // Women 3:55:00
- 55 – 59: Men 3:35:00 // Women 4:05:00
- 60 – 64: Men 3:50:00 // Women 4:20:00
- 65 – 69: Men 4:05:00 // Women 4:35:00
- 70 – 74: Men 4:20:00 // Women 4:50:00
- 75 – 79: Men 4:35:00 // Women 5:05:00
- 80+: Men 4:50:00 // Women 5:25:00
For many, these Boston qualifying standards are unrealistic. If you are a recreational runner simply hoping to get faster for your own personal improvement, finishing faster than the overall average of 4.5 to 5 hours might be considered a good marathon time.
How to Estimate Your Marathon Finish Time
In order to predict where your marathon time will land in relation to the average, you’ll need to know that a marathon is always exactly 26.2 miles. If you know your typical long run pace, you can get a rough estimation of your marathon run time by multiplying your mile pace by 26.2.
Knowing the average time to run a marathon will be of little use when you are trying to predict your own finish time. Here are a few guidelines that might help you get a rough estimation of your marathon finish time.
- Multiply long run pace (i.e. 11:00 minutes per mile) by 26.2
- For first marathons, add 5% to your calculations
- Use a pace that is 2 – 3 minutes slower than speed workouts
- Add time for anticipated walk breaks and/or stops
The average marathon finish time may or may not be close to your anticipated run time. However, it can be helpful and even fun to see where your marathon time falls in relation to the national and global averages.
If you are training to run a marathon, whether it’s your first or fiftieth, stay consistent, listen to your body, and give it your all on the course. Even if you don’t get the finish time you’d hoped for, remember that finishing a marathon – no matter how slow – is a major accomplishment.