How Many People Have Run A Marathon?: A Global Analysis

Stay tuned as we explore the international statistics behind marathon participation, including how many people are estimated to have run one and more. 

Running a marathon is an awesome achievement, demonstrating 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 achieved this same feat as you.

A marathon start line.

How Many People Run A Marathon Every Year?

To estimate how many people have run a marathon ever, we need to first look at the yearly marathon statistics.

The closest we can get to a current read on the number of people who run a marathon every year comes from a comprehensive mapping of global running participation carried out by RunRepeat in 2019.1The State of Running 2019. (2019). Athletic Shoe Reviews; RunRepeat.com. https://runrepeat.com/state-of-running

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Although the data is getting a little out of date at this point, it is still the most comprehensive race data analysis done today and an admirable one at that.

People running a race.

According to this analysis, about 1.1 million 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 around 1.1-1.3 million people run a marathon in the world each year.

How Many People Have Run A Marathon Ever?

It is impossible to predict exactly how many people ever have run a marathon.

Since the race has been known since ancient greek times, and the Boston marathon has been going since 1897, there are not sufficient records.

However, we can estimate how many people have run a marathon recent years.

Based on data from the US gathered by Runner’s Life showing that marathon participation almost doubled from 2000 to 2014, and has decreased slightly since then, including some very low participation during covid, we can roughly estimate how many marathon races have been run since the year 2000 to 2022.2Rock, B. (2023, November 21). Tracking the Growth in Marathons from 2000 to 2021. Runner’s Life. https://medium.com/runners-life/tracking-the-growth-in-marathons-from-2000-to-2021-6a678584d9be

We think it is reasonable to assume that global marathon participation has followed as similar trend, as the global data from Run Repeat also shows an almost doubling of participation from 2000 to 2015, then a slight decrease.3The State of Running 2019. (2019). Athletic Shoe Reviews; RunRepeat.com. https://runrepeat.com/state-of-running

By assuming that global marathon participation has followed a similar to trend to participation within the US, this means that from 2000 to 2022, we estimate there have been between 20 and 25 million instances in which someone has finished a marathon.

However, it is important to note that this is not equivalent to the number of people who have run a marathon, as many of these instances may be people who have run more than one marathon.

We only know the rough number of marathon finishes that there have been, not how many people have actually run a marathon in this period.

Put simply – if 5 people run a marathon twice – this doesn’t mean 10 people have run a marathon. In our content – 20 to 25 million marathon finishes doesn’t mean 20 to 25 million separate people who have run marathons.

Multiple races report around 50 to 55% of participants as being first time marathon racers.4I’m in interested in reliable statistics about marathons. In particular, I’d like to know: a) How many marathons are held each year (in the US and the world)? b) How many people run in these races (in the US and the world)? c) Of those US and glob… (n.d.). Wonder. https://askwonder.com/research/i-m-interested-reliable-statistics-marathons-particular-i-d-know-a-marathons-pdtl6k3sc 5Los Angeles Marathon. (n.d.). The McCourt Foundation. https://www.mccourtfoundation.org/event/los-angeles-marathon/ 6Home. (n.d.). TCS London Marathon. https://www.tcslondonmarathon.com/

If we apply this to our estimate, we can predict that roughly 10 to 13 million people have run a marathon between the years 2000 to 2022.

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.

What Percentage of the Population Run A Marathon Annually?

If we take the 1.3 million marathon finishes worldwide annually and presume that each of these is a separate person running a marathon, we can determine what percentage of the world population run a marathon every year.

According to the US Census, the world population is approximately 8 billion.7United States Census Bureau. (2023). Population Clock: World. Census.gov. https://www.census.gov/popclock/world

Therefore, 1.3 million marathon finishes means only about 0.17% of the global human population run a marathon every year.

The actual number is probably less than this, as some participants may be running more than one marathon per year.

People running a race.

What Percentage Of The World’s Population Has Run A Marathon?

Again, due to a lack of data, we cannot predict what percentage of the human population have run a marathon ever.

However, we can say the following:

We estimate that there have been approximately 20 to 25 million marathon finishes since the year 2000.

Even if we presumed that every one of these finishes were a separate person, this would equate to only 2% of the current global population.

However, the real number is going to be significantly less than this, as many of these finishes are going to be the same people running multiple marathons.

As previously stated, only around 50% of participants are marathon first timers, therefore, in reality, the percentage of the global human population who have run a marathon in the last 20 years is probably closer to 1% or less.

Either way; if you have finished a marathon, you can be sure that you’re in a tiny minority of people in the world.

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.

People running a race.

What Is 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 marathon 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 full marathon finish time is much slower now than it was at the beginning of RunRepeat’s race data analysis (in 1986).

A blurred photo shows how many people run a race.

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 male runners 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%).

When looking at marathon time by age group, London Marathon data suggests that interestingly, the 40-49 age group is performing on average better than the 20-29 age group, with an average finish time of 3hr 43min 14sec vs 3hr 44min 47sec.8Carter, K. (2015, April 21). Marathons by numbers: running the data. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2015/apr/21/marathons-by-numbers-running-the-data

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).

A blurred photo shows people running a race.

How Many People Who Start A Marathon Actually Cross The Finish Line?

Marathon running statistics show that the number of people who make it to the finish line on race day has increased over time.

In 1981, 88.1% of London marathon participants crossed the finish line, compared to 98.7% in 2014.9Carter, K. (2015, April 21). Marathons by numbers: running the data. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2015/apr/21/marathons-by-numbers-running-the-data

Whether it’s down to more accessible training knowledge, injury prevention, or gear – that’s a big increase.

Since When Have People Been Running Marathons?

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 first marathon and its 26.2-mile distance here.

Final Thoughts

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 marathon running. Don’t rush it; enjoy the journey. You’ll get there.

When you’re ready to start, check out our free marathon training programs here.


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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