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!
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).
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.
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.
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:
|2:55:18||Johnny Hayes||USA||London||July 24, 1908|
|2:52:45||Robert Fowler||USA||Yonkers, USA||January 1, 1909|
|2:46:53||James Clark||USA||New York City, USA||February 12, 1909|
|2:46:05||Albert Raines||USA||New York City, USA||May 8, 1909|
|2:42:31||Henry Barrett||UK||Polytechnic Marathon||May 26, 1909|
|2:40:34||Thure Johansson||Sweden||Stockholm, Sweden||August 31, 1909|
|2:38:16||Harry Green||UK||Polytechnic Marathon||May 12, 1913|
|2:36:07||Alexis Ahlgren||Sweden||Polytechnic Marathon||May 31, 1913|
|2:32:36||Hannes Kolehmainen||Finland||Antwerp, Belgium||August 22, 1920|
|2:29:02||Albert Michelsen||USA||Port Chester, USA||October 12, 1925|
|2:27:49||Fusashige Suzuki||Japan||Tokyo, Japan||March 31, 1935|
|2:26:44||Yasuo Ikenaka||Japan||Tokyo, Japan||April 3, 1935|
|2:26:42||Son Kitei||Japan||Tokyo, Japan||November 3, 1935|
|2:25:39||Suh Yun-bok||South Korea||Boston Marathon||April 19, 1947|
|2:20:42||Jim Peters||UK||Polytechnic Marathon||June 14, 1952|
|2:18:40||Jim Peters||UK||Polytechnic Marathon||June 13, 1953|
|2:18:35||Jim Peters||UK||Turku Marathon||October 4, 1953|
|2:17:39||Jim Peters||UK||Polytechnic Marathon||June 26, 1954|
|2:15:17||Sergei Popov||USSR||Stockholm, Sweden||August 24, 1958|
|2:15:16||Abebe Bikila||Ethiopia||Rome, Italy||September 10, 1960|
|2:15:16||Toru Terasawa||Japan||Beppu-Ōita Marathon, Japan||February 17, 1963|
|2:14:28||Leonard Edelen||USA||Polytechnic Marathon||June 15, 1963|
|2:13:55||Basil Heatley||UK||Polytechnic Marathon||June 13, 1964|
|2:12:12||Abebe Bikila||Ethiopia||Tokyo, Japan||October 21, 1964|
|2:12:00||Morio Shigematsu||Japan||Polytechnic Marathon||June 12, 1965|
|2:09:36||Derek Clayton||Australia||Fukuoka Marathon, Japan||December 3, 1967|
|2:08:34||Derek Clayton||Australia||Antwerp, Belgium||May 30, 1969|
|2:08:18||Robert De Castella||Australia||Fukuoka Marathon, Japan||December 6, 1981|
|2:08:05||Steve Jones||UK||Chicago Marathon||October 21, 1984|
|2:07:12||Carlos Lopes||Portugal||Rotterdam Marathon||April 20, 1985|
|2:06:50||Belayneh Dinsamo||Ethiopia||Rotterdam Marathon||April 17, 1988|
|2:06:05||Ronaldo da Costa||Brazil||Berlin Marathon||September 20, 1998|
|2:05:42||Khalid Khannouchi||Morocco||Chicago Marathon||October 24, 1999|
|2:05:38||Khalid Khannouchi||USA||London Marathon||April 14, 2002|
|2:04:55||Paul Tergat||Kenya||Berlin Marathon||September 28, 2003|
|2:04:26||Haile Gebrselassie||Ethiopia||Berlin Marathon||September 30, 2007|
|2:03:59||Haile Gebrselassie||Ethiopia||Berlin Marathon||September 28, 2008|
|2:03:38||Patrick Makau||Kenya||Berlin Marathon||September 25, 2011|
|2:03:23||Wilson Kipsang||Kenya||Berlin Marathon||September 29, 2013|
|2:02:57||Dennis Kimetto||Kenya||Berlin Marathon||September 28, 2014|
|2:01:39||Eliud Kipchoge||Kenya||Berlin Marathon||September 16, 2018|
|2:01:09||Eliud Kipchoge||Kenya||Berlin Marathon||September 25, 2022|
According to Wikipedia, the progression of the IAAF marathon world record for women is as follows:
|3:40:22||Violet Piercy||United Kingdom||October 3, 1926||London|
|3:37:07||Merry Lepper||United States||December 16, 1963||Culver City, United States|
|3:27:45||Dale Greig||United Kingdom||May 23, 1964||Ryde|
|3:19:33||Mildred Sampson||New Zealand||July 21, 1964||Auckland, New Zealand|
|3:14:23||Maureen Wilton||Canada||May 6, 1967||Toronto, Canada|
|3:07:27||Anni Pede-Erdkamp||West Germany||September 16, 1967||Waldniel, West Germany|
|3:02:53||Caroline Walker||United States||February 28, 1970||Seaside, OR|
|3:01:42||Elizabeth Bonner||United States||May 9, 1971||Philadelphia, United States|
|2:55:22||Elizabeth Bonner||United States||September 19, 1971||New York City Marathon|
|2:49:40||Cheryl Bridges||United States||December 5, 1971||Culver City, United States|
|2:46:36||Michiko Gorman||United States||December 2, 1973||Culver City, United States|
|2:46:24||Chantal Langlacé||France||October 27, 1974||Neuf-Brisach, France|
|2:43:54||Jacqueline Hansen||United States||December 1, 1974||Culver City, United States|
|2:40:16||Christa Vahlensieck||West Germany||May 3, 1975||Dülmen|
|2:38:19||Jacqueline Hansen||United States||October 12, 1975||Nike OTC Marathon, Eugene, United States|
|2:35:15||Chantal Langlacé||France||May 1, 1977||Oiartzun, Spain|
|2:34:48||Christa Vahlensieck||West Germany||September 10, 1977||Berlin Marathon|
|2:32:30||Grete Waitz||Norway||October 22, 1978||New York City Marathon|
|2:27:33||Grete Waitz||Norway||October 21, 1979||New York City Marathon|
|2:31:23||Joan Benoit||United States||February 3, 1980||Auckland, New Zealand|
|2:30:57||Patti Catalano||United States||September 6, 1980||Montreal, Canada|
|2:25:41||Grete Waitz||Norway||October 26, 1980||New York City Marathon|
|2:30:27||Joyce Smith||United Kingdom||November 16, 1980||Tokyo, Japan|
|2:29:57||Joyce Smith||United Kingdom||March 29, 1981||London Marathon|
|2:25:28||Allison Roe||New Zealand||October 25, 1981||New York City Marathon|
|2:29:02||Charlotte Teske||West Germany||January 16, 1982||Miami, United States|
|2:26:12||Joan Benoit||United States||September 12, 1982||Nike OTC Marathon, Eugene, United States|
|2:25:29||Grete Waitz||Norway||April 17, 1983||London Marathon|
|2:24:26||Ingrid Kristiansen||Norway||May 13, 1984||London Marathon|
|2:21:06||Ingrid Kristiansen||Norway||April 21, 1985||London Marathon|
|2:20:47||Tegla Loroupe||Kenya||April 19, 1998||Rotterdam Marathon|
|2:20:43||Tegla Loroupe||Kenya||September 26, 1999||Berlin Marathon|
|2:19:46||Naoko Takahashi||Japan||September 30, 2001||Berlin Marathon|
|2:18:47||Catherine Ndereba||Kenya||October 7, 2001||Chicago Marathon|
|2:17:18||Paula Radcliffe||United Kingdom||October 13, 2002||Chicago Marathon|
|2:15:25 ((mixed sex))||Paula Radcliffe||United Kingdom||April 13, 2003||London Marathon|
|2:17:42 (women only)||Paula Radcliffe||Great Britain||April 17, 2005||London Marathon|
|2:17:01 (women only)||Mary Jepkosgei Keitany||Kenya||April 23, 2017||London Marathon|
|2:14:04 (mixed sex)||Brigid Kosgei||Kenya||October 13, 2019||Chicago 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 Major||Men’s Record||Women’s Record|
|New York City Marathon||2:05:06||2:22:31|
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.