Running a marathon is an awesome achievement, demonstrative of impressive physical and mental endurance, determination, and dedication to a training plan. It is a fitness achievement that is earned through consistent training, usually for 12 to 20 weeks or more, depending on your starting level of conditioning and experience as a runner.
If you are one of the proud members of the marathon finishers “club” (it’s not an official club), you might wonder, “How many people have run a marathon, or what percentage of the population has run a marathon?
In this article, we will look at the statistics for how many people have run a marathon and what percentage of the population has run a marathon.
So, whether you are already a recipient of a marathon finisher’s medal or if you are in marathon training now to hopefully cross your first marathon finish line, keep reading to learn how many people have run a marathon.
We’re going to cover:
- How Long Is a Marathon?
- How Many People Have Run A Marathon?
- How Many Runners Have Run a Marathon?
- What Is the Average Marathon Finish Time?
- What Percentage of the Population Has Run a Marathon?
Let’s get started!
How Long Is a Marathon?
Before we look at the statistics for how many people have run a marathon, let’s briefly recount what a marathon entails.
A marathon is a foot race that is 26.2 miles or 42.195 km long.
The marathon distance has its origins in ancient Greek mythology, with the legend of the famed heroic run by the Greek herald, Pheidippides, who was said to run the distance between Marathon and Athens to deliver the news of the Athenian army over the Spartans.
You can learn more about the origins of the marathon and its 26.2-mile distance here.
How Many People Have Run A Marathon?
The closest we can get to a current read on the number of people who have run a marathon comes from a comprehensive mapping of global running participation carried out by RunRepeat in 2019.
The impressive analysis covers 107.9 million race results from more than 70,000 running events over the course of 22 years (1986 to 2018).
Although the data is getting a little out of date at this point, now nearly 6 years in the rearview mirror, it is still the most comprehensive race data analysis done today and an admirable one at that.
According to this analysis, about 1.1 runners finish a marathon every year. However, in 2018, the last year of the analysis, there were nearly 1.3 million marathon finishers worldwide (1,298,725 marathon finishers).
This number only fluctuated by 2-3% between 2015-2018, so it’s reasonable to assume it might be fairly consistent today. However, all race participation has dropped a little bit over the past two years.
So, what does this mean? Ultimately, all we can say from this data is that about 1.1-1.3 million people run a marathon in the world each year.
However, the total number of people in the world that have run a marathon is certainly going to be higher than this because some people only run one marathon in their lifetime, or at least don’t run one every year.
These people won’t be counted in the “1.3 million finishers” annual figure on the years they didn’t run a marathon, even though they have run a marathon in their lifetime.
To this end, some runners run multiple marathons per year, so they will be counted multiple times in the number of marathon finishers per year data.
Unfortunately, there’s no real way to capture these nuances in the data though, especially the total number of people in the world who have ever run a marathon, unless you were going to comb through each and every marathon held per year around the world over every single year in the archives and individually count each unique runner in the results.
Therefore, we can safely say that about 1.1-1.3 million people run a marathon per year.
It’s also interesting to note that per the races analyzed in RunRepeat’s study, the countries with the fastest average marathon finish time were Switzerland (3:50), the Netherlands (3:52), and Spain (3:52), while the slowest were the Philippines (5:25), India (5:05), and Mexico (4:53).
How Many Runners Have Run a Marathon?
So, we’ve discussed how many people have run a marathon each year, but how many runners have run a marathon?
Even though many distance runners aspire to be marathon finishers, the reality is that marathon race participation accounts for only 12% of the total race results. Interestingly, this piece of the pie has decreased significantly since the year 2000, when marathon participation accounted for about 25% of all race participants.
The biggest compensatory growth to account for the decline in the relative number of marathon finishers has been in the half marathon.
In the half marathon, participation has increased from 17% to 30% of total runner participation over this same timeframe.
What Is the Average Marathon Finish Time?
So, how fast do most runners run a marathon? What’s the average marathon finish time?
Interestingly, the average marathon finish time has changed a lot over the years.
Prior to the running boom in the 1970s, distance running was mainly limited to very competitive and elite runners and a handful of esoteric individuals who loved the solace of long-distance runs.
Road racing participation among everyday athletes was quite low, especially at the marathon distance.
For this reason, the majority of marathon finishers were fairly fast, competitive runners.
Due to the increased inclusivity of marathon participation over the years, the number of marathon finishers in the world has not only increased significantly in number but also the average marathon finish time is much slower now than it was at the beginning of RunRepeat’s race data analysis (in 1986).
The average marathon finish time increased by a whopping 36 minutes between 1986 and 2001, jumping from 3:52:35 to 4:28:56, which is an increase of 15.6%.
Although the average marathon finish time has continued to increase since 2001, it only slowed down by 4 minutes from 2001 to 2018 (an increase of 1.4%). As of 2018, the average marathon finish time is 4:32:49.
Therefore, the average marathon finish time is 40 minutes slower now than it was in 1986, a significant difference of about 1 minute and 32 seconds per mile.
A deeper analysis reveals differences in the trends in average marathon finish times for men and women when separated by gender over this time period.
The average marathon finish time for men increased by 27 minutes (10.8%) from 1986 to 2001, jumping from 3:48:15 to 4:15:13, and then 7 more minutes (3%) from 2001 to 2018.
The average marathon finish time for women slowed significantly from 1986 to 2001, increasing by a whopping 38 minutes (14.8%) from 4:18:00 to 4:56:18 over those 15 years. However, from 2001 to 2018, the average marathon time for women actually got faster, dropping by 4 minutes (1.3%).
What Percentage of the Population Has Run a Marathon?
If we take the 1.3 million marathon finishers worldwide figure as our data point for the number of people in the world who have run a marathon, we can determine the percentage of the population who have run a marathon.
According to the US Census, the world population is approximately 7.928 billion.
Therefore, only about 0.17% of the population has run a marathon.
That’s right; if you have finished a marathon, you’re in a tiny minority of people in the world. Good for you!
If you have yet to run a marathon, but it’s one of your bucket list running goals, consider training for a marathon and slowly building up.
No matter where you are in your running journey, you can train for a marathon; it just might take at least 18 months if you’re brand new to running. Don’t rush it; enjoy the journey. You’ll get there.
When you’re ready to start, check out our free marathon training plans here.