What’s The Fastest Marathon Time Ever? Progression Of The Marathon World Record

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When you’re training for a marathon, there are many aspects of the race that will likely cross your mind: Why is the marathon 26.2 miles? When was the first marathon? What’s the fastest marathon time ever?

The marathon has a rich and storied past, and there’s always something gratifying about learning the history and evolution of an event; it connects you more to the sport.

It’s particularly exciting to learn about the progression of the marathon world records. How fast are the fastest marathoners? What is the fastest Boston marathon time? What is the women’s marathon world record? 

In this article, we will take a trip through the historical archives to look at the progression of the marathon world record for men and women and look at how the fastest marathon times have changed over the years.

We will cover:

  • How Do You Set a Marathon World Record?
  • What Is the Marathon World Record for Men?
  • What Is the Marathon World Record for Women?
  • What Is the Fastest Boston Marathon Time?
  • What Is the Fastest Marathon Time Ever?

Let’s get started!

People trying to run their fastest marathon time.

How Do You Set a Marathon World Record?

Like other sanctioned race distances, marathon world records must be ratified by World Athletics, which is the international governing body for running and “athletics” at large.

There are certain eligibility criteria that any marathon performance must satisfy in order for it to be ratified as a world record in the marathon. 

Examples of some of the criteria that must be satisfied for a race performance to count as a marathon world record include the following:

  • The time must be faster than the current marathon world record.
  • The marathon course has to be the official distance of 42.195 km (this works out to an unofficial distance of 26.219 miles) long, as measured using a specific protocol with a calibrated bicycle.
  • The performance must occur at an open, official, sanctioned race.
  • The starting line and finish line cannot be further than 50% of the race distance (13.1 miles) apart if connected by a straight line.
  • The net downhill of the marathon course cannot be more than an average of 1 m/km of the race, so essentially the elevation of the finish line cannot be more than 42 meters lower than the starting line.

There are other eligibility criteria, such as wind speed for a tailwind, the use of pace cars and pacers, and the assistance that athletes receive during a race (for example, they have to pick up their own fluids rather than be handed them).

People running a marathon.

What Is the Marathon World Record for Men?

Before we take a look at how far we’ve come, let’s see where we are now. What is the current marathon world record? 

The current marathon world record for men was set recently at the 2022 Berlin Marathon by Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan runner who became a household name after his tremendous performance in Nike’s Breaking2 Project back in 2017.

On September 25, 2022, Kipchoge ran an impressive 2:01:09, dropping his previous marathon world record time of 2:01:39 by 30 seconds, which he had also set at the Berlin Marathon, but back in 2018.

The new marathon world record, 2:01:09, works out to an average pace of 4:37 min/mile over the course of the 26.2-mile distance.

However, Kipchoge noted that he struggled with his pacing, running the first half in 59:51 and the second half in 61:18. 

People running a marathon.

What Is the Marathon World Record for Women?

The women’s marathon world record isn’t as clear-cut as the men’s marathon world record because the IAAF recognizes two world records for women—one from mixed-gender races and one from women-only races.

The rationale behind this distinction is that in a mixed-gender race, women theoretically have the advantage of having male competitors surrounding them to work with, conceivably helping to pull them along to a faster time, whereas, in a women’s-only race, the leaders are on their own.

Therefore, in most cases, a winning time for the fastest woman in a mixed-gender race will be faster than a winning time in a women’s-only race, though, of course, there can be exceptions to this trend.

With that in mind, the marathon world record for women set in a mixed-gender race is held by Brigid Kosgei, who ran a blazing time of 2:14:04 at the Chicago Marathon on October 13, 2019.

The women’s marathon world record from a women’s-only race is 2:17:01, an impressive time run by Mary Catani at the London Marathon for women on April 23, 2017. 

People running a marathon.

Marathon World Record Progression

Although the first marathon was held in 1896, the distance was approximately 25 miles. The official marathon distance was not standardized by the IAAF until 1921, so marathons prior to that year were often a bit shorter than 42.125 kilometers.

As per Top End Sports, the progression of the men’s marathon world record times, as recognized by the IAAF and/or the Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS), occurred as follows:

TimeAthleteCountryMarathon EventDate
2:55:18Johnny HayesUSALondonJuly 24, 1908
2:52:45Robert FowlerUSAYonkers, USAJanuary 1, 1909
2:46:53James ClarkUSANew York City, USAFebruary 12, 1909
2:46:05Albert RainesUSANew York City, USAMay 8, 1909
2:42:31Henry BarrettUKPolytechnic MarathonMay 26, 1909
2:40:34Thure JohanssonSwedenStockholm, SwedenAugust 31, 1909
2:38:16Harry GreenUKPolytechnic MarathonMay 12, 1913
2:36:07Alexis AhlgrenSwedenPolytechnic MarathonMay 31, 1913
2:32:36Hannes KolehmainenFinlandAntwerp, BelgiumAugust 22, 1920
2:29:02Albert MichelsenUSAPort Chester, USAOctober 12, 1925
2:27:49Fusashige SuzukiJapanTokyo, JapanMarch 31, 1935
2:26:44Yasuo IkenakaJapanTokyo, JapanApril 3, 1935
2:26:42Son KiteiJapanTokyo, JapanNovember 3, 1935
2:25:39Suh Yun-bokSouth KoreaBoston MarathonApril 19, 1947
2:20:42Jim PetersUKPolytechnic MarathonJune 14, 1952
2:18:40Jim PetersUKPolytechnic MarathonJune 13, 1953
2:18:35Jim PetersUKTurku MarathonOctober 4, 1953
2:17:39Jim PetersUKPolytechnic MarathonJune 26, 1954
2:15:17Sergei PopovUSSRStockholm, SwedenAugust 24, 1958
2:15:16Abebe BikilaEthiopiaRome, ItalySeptember 10, 1960
2:15:16Toru TerasawaJapanBeppu-Ōita Marathon, JapanFebruary 17, 1963
2:14:28Leonard EdelenUSAPolytechnic MarathonJune 15, 1963
2:13:55Basil HeatleyUKPolytechnic MarathonJune 13, 1964
2:12:12Abebe BikilaEthiopiaTokyo, JapanOctober 21, 1964
2:12:00Morio ShigematsuJapanPolytechnic MarathonJune 12, 1965
2:09:36Derek ClaytonAustraliaFukuoka Marathon, JapanDecember 3, 1967
2:08:34Derek ClaytonAustraliaAntwerp, BelgiumMay 30, 1969
2:08:18Robert De CastellaAustraliaFukuoka Marathon, JapanDecember 6, 1981
2:08:05Steve JonesUKChicago MarathonOctober 21, 1984
2:07:12Carlos LopesPortugalRotterdam MarathonApril 20, 1985
2:06:50Belayneh DinsamoEthiopiaRotterdam MarathonApril 17, 1988
2:06:05Ronaldo da CostaBrazilBerlin MarathonSeptember 20, 1998
2:05:42Khalid KhannouchiMoroccoChicago MarathonOctober 24, 1999
2:05:38Khalid KhannouchiUSALondon MarathonApril 14, 2002
2:04:55Paul TergatKenyaBerlin MarathonSeptember 28, 2003
2:04:26Haile GebrselassieEthiopiaBerlin MarathonSeptember 30, 2007
2:03:59Haile GebrselassieEthiopiaBerlin MarathonSeptember 28, 2008
2:03:38Patrick MakauKenyaBerlin MarathonSeptember 25, 2011
2:03:23Wilson KipsangKenyaBerlin MarathonSeptember 29, 2013
2:02:57Dennis KimettoKenyaBerlin MarathonSeptember 28, 2014
2:01:39Eliud KipchogeKenyaBerlin MarathonSeptember 16, 2018
2:01:09Eliud KipchogeKenyaBerlin MarathonSeptember 25, 2022
A person running.

According to Wikipedia, the progression of the IAAF marathon world record for women is as follows:

TimeAthleteCountryDateMarathon Event/Location
3:40:22Violet PiercyUnited KingdomOctober 3, 1926London 
3:37:07Merry LepperUnited StatesDecember 16, 1963Culver City, United States
3:27:45Dale GreigUnited KingdomMay 23, 1964Ryde
3:19:33Mildred SampsonNew ZealandJuly 21, 1964Auckland, New Zealand
3:14:23Maureen WiltonCanadaMay 6, 1967Toronto, Canada
3:07:27Anni Pede-ErdkampWest GermanySeptember 16, 1967Waldniel, West Germany
3:02:53Caroline WalkerUnited StatesFebruary 28, 1970Seaside, OR
3:01:42Elizabeth BonnerUnited StatesMay 9, 1971Philadelphia, United States
2:55:22Elizabeth BonnerUnited StatesSeptember 19, 1971New York City Marathon
2:49:40Cheryl BridgesUnited StatesDecember 5, 1971Culver City, United States
2:46:36Michiko GormanUnited StatesDecember 2, 1973Culver City, United States
2:46:24Chantal LanglacéFranceOctober 27, 1974Neuf-Brisach, France
2:43:54Jacqueline HansenUnited StatesDecember 1, 1974Culver City, United States
2:40:16Christa VahlensieckWest GermanyMay 3, 1975Dülmen
2:38:19Jacqueline HansenUnited StatesOctober 12, 1975Nike OTC Marathon, Eugene, United States
2:35:15Chantal LanglacéFranceMay 1, 1977Oiartzun, Spain
2:34:48Christa VahlensieckWest GermanySeptember 10, 1977Berlin Marathon
2:32:30Grete WaitzNorwayOctober 22, 1978New York City Marathon
2:27:33Grete WaitzNorwayOctober 21, 1979New York City Marathon
2:31:23Joan BenoitUnited StatesFebruary 3, 1980Auckland, New Zealand
2:30:57Patti CatalanoUnited StatesSeptember 6, 1980Montreal, Canada
2:25:41Grete WaitzNorwayOctober 26, 1980New York City Marathon
2:30:27Joyce SmithUnited KingdomNovember 16, 1980Tokyo, Japan
2:29:57Joyce SmithUnited KingdomMarch 29, 1981London Marathon
2:25:28Allison RoeNew ZealandOctober 25, 1981New York City Marathon
2:29:02Charlotte TeskeWest GermanyJanuary 16, 1982Miami, United States
2:26:12Joan BenoitUnited StatesSeptember 12, 1982Nike OTC Marathon, Eugene, United States
2:25:29Grete WaitzNorwayApril 17, 1983London Marathon
2:24:26Ingrid KristiansenNorwayMay 13, 1984London Marathon
2:21:06Ingrid KristiansenNorwayApril 21, 1985London Marathon
2:20:47Tegla LoroupeKenyaApril 19, 1998Rotterdam Marathon
2:20:43Tegla LoroupeKenyaSeptember 26, 1999Berlin Marathon
2:19:46Naoko TakahashiJapanSeptember 30, 2001Berlin Marathon
2:18:47Catherine NderebaKenyaOctober 7, 2001Chicago Marathon
2:17:18Paula RadcliffeUnited KingdomOctober 13, 2002Chicago Marathon
2:15:25 ((mixed sex))Paula RadcliffeUnited KingdomApril 13, 2003London Marathon
2:17:42 (women only)Paula RadcliffeGreat BritainApril 17, 2005London Marathon
2:17:01 (women only)Mary Jepkosgei KeitanyKenyaApril 23, 2017London Marathon
2:14:04 (mixed sex)Brigid KosgeiKenyaOctober 13, 2019Chicago Marathon

What Is the Fastest Boston Marathon Time?

As per the criteria established by the IAAF, in order for a marathon performance to be ratified as a world record in the marathon, even the fastest Boston Marathon times ever run will never be considered a world record.

For example, at the 2011 Boston Marathon, Kenyan runner Geoffrey Mutai ran what was then the fastest marathon time ever, with a performance of 2:03:02.

However, rather than this performance being recognized as the new marathon world record, the IAAF called it “the fastest Marathon ever run,” citing that the mark did not count as a marathon world record due to the elevation drop and the fact that the route is a point-to-point course.

With that said, the fastest Boston Marathon time for men still stands at Mutai’s 2:03:02, while the fastest Boston Marathon time for women is 2:19:59.

The fastest marathon times for all six Abbott World Marathon Majors are as follows: 

Marathon MajorMen’s RecordWomen’s Record
Tokyo Marathon2:03:582:17:45
Boston Marathon2:03:022:19:59
London Marathon2:02:372:17:01
Berlin Marathon2:01:092:18:11
Chicago Marathon2:03:452:14:04
New York City Marathon2:05:062:22:31
People running a marathon.

What Is the Fastest Marathon Time Ever?

Due to the strict marathon world record eligibility criteria, Kipchoge’s amazing 26.2-mile finish time of 2:00:25 run on May 6, 2017, as part of Nike’s Breaking2 Project did not count as a marathon world record.

For example, it was not an open race, and they were pacers that entered halfway through the event, both of which nullified the effort as a world record attempt.

Kipchoge competed in a similar event, the Ineos 1:59 Challenge, in Vienna on October 12, 2019. There, he ran the first sub-two-hour marathon in a time of 1:59:40.2.

Although this is technically the fastest marathon time ever run, it is not an official marathon world record, again because of various eligibility violations, such as not being an open event and having a pace car. 

With that said, this is the fastest marathon time run, as recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records, and is the best marathon time in the world to date.

What do you think will be the official marathon world records for men and women 10 years from now? When do you think the 2-hour barrier will be broken in an official marathon? Will women continue to close the gap?

Looking to participate in the Boston Marathon any time soon? Here are the official qualifying times.

People running a marathon.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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