Oprah’s Marathon Time: We Analyzed This Celebrity’s Race Performance

And we were pretty impressed...

Last year, at the 2023 Los Angeles Marathon, popular DJ Diplo broke four hours in the marathon when he finished in 3:55:11.

This new story quickly started trending and gaining attention among other marathon runners and the general population of non-runners for numerous reasons. 

For one, any time celebs run marathons, they garner significant media attention because American culture seems to be obsessed with celebrities.

Secondly, Diplo was quite vocal about the fact that he ran the L.A. Marathon while hydrating with water laced with LSD rather than regular sports drinks—certainly an odd and controversial choice. 

And thirdly, Diplo was not shy about saying that his only goal for his marathon finish was to beat Oprah‘s marathon time.

Indeed, in the long string of celebrities who have run marathons in the past 20 years, perhaps none has been more notable—or targeted as the one to beat—as Oprah Winfrey‘s marathon time of 4:29:20 at the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon.

So, how good was Oprah‘s marathon time? How does her marathon performance compare to the average marathon time for women overall?

In this guide to Oprah‘s marathon race performance, we will break down the iconic celebrity marathon time and see how Oprah’s marathon time stacks up to other celebs and the average marathon finish times.

A marathon time clock to analyze Oprah's marathon time.

What Was Oprah’s Marathon Time?

As mentioned, Oprah Winfrey ran a 4:29:20 marathon at the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon.

When we break down Oprah Winfrey‘s marathon time of 4:29:20, it works out to an average pace of 10:16 minutes per mile or 6:23 minutes per kilometer.

If she maintained the same average pace throughout the race, she would have run a 31:55 5K split, a 1:03:50 10K split, and a 2:14:40 half marathon split to take her across the finish line in 4:29:20.

Was Oprah’s Marathon Time Good?

So, how does a sub-4:30 marathon time stack up?

According to Running Level,1Marathon Run Times By Age And Ability – Running Level. (n.d.). Runninglevel.com. https://runninglevel.com/running-times/marathon-times the average marathon finish time across sexes, all age groups, and all levels is 3:48:20.

While this is quite a bit faster than Oprah‘s marathon finish time, the average marathon time for women is slower than that for men given numerous physiological differences between males and females.2Lewis, D. A., Kamon, E., & Hodgson, J. L. (1986). Physiological differences between genders. Implications for sports conditioning. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)3(5), 357–369. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-198603050-00005

Therefore, to really give a fair assessment of Oprah’s marathon performance, we should look at the average marathon time for women, which Running Level reports to be 4:08:09.

People running a marathon.

Still, we see that Oprah‘s marathon time is a bit slower than the average marathon finish time for women, but Oprah was 40 years old when she ran the 4:29:20 marathon at the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994.

Runners slow down with age due to various physiological changes and the loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia),3Walston, J. D. (2012). Sarcopenia in Older Adults. Current Opinion in Rheumatology24(6), 623–627. https://doi.org/10.1097/bor.0b013e328358d59b so we should compare her performance to marathon runners in her age group.

According to Running Level, these are the average marathon finish times for 40-year-old women based on experience level:

  • Novice: 5:40:32
  • Beginner: 4:51:51
  • Intermediate: 4:14:12
  • Advanced: 3:45:23
  • Elite: 3:23:34
  • WR: 2:17:20
People running a marathon.

Here, we really see how good Oprah‘s Marine Corps Marathon time was. 

She is nearly at the “intermediate“ average marathon time for her age.

According to the Running Level experience categories, an “intermediate runner“ is one who has been running consistently for about two years and is better than approximately 50% of runners.

This means an intermediate runner represents the 50th percentile or right around average.

Oprah Winfrey’s running history and marathon training plan are not readily available. Still, it doesn’t seem that she was training consistently for two years, which means that her performance level exceeds her experience level.

This makes Oprah‘s marathon race performance all the more impressive.

Finally, every marathon course is different, so it is helpful to compare Oprah’s marathon time to the average Marine Corps Marathon time.

Although it’s not easy to find the full 1994 Marine Corps Marathon results, the average finish time generally seems to be between 4 hours and 40 minutes and 4 hours and 50 minutes.

People running a marathon.

According to RunTri.com,4Marine Corps Marathon 2009: Number of Finishers by Age Group. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2024, from https://www.runtri.com/2010/10/marine-corps-marathon-2009-number-of.html the average finish time of the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon was 4:44 minutes, and the average finish time in the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon was 4:41.

Oprah’s time in the marathon was faster than both of these. 

Plus, Oprah’s marathon finish time was significantly faster than the average marathon time for women in her age group.

The 2010 Marine Corps Marathon average finish time by age group results indicate that the average female finish time in the 40 to 44 age group was 4:59. 

In 2009, the average finish time for a woman in the 40 to 44 age group was 4:53. 

Therefore, particularly for the marathon course and her age group, experience level, and sex, Oprah ran a marathon in a remarkably impressive time.

It is no wonder that many celebrities and everyday runners strive to beat Oprah’s marathon time!

People running a marathon.

Who Is the Fastest Celebrity Marathon Runner?

Every year, celebrities run marathons, ranging from A-list actors and musicians to politicians and professional athletes of other sports.

Celebrities often run the most popular marathons in America and worldwide, such as the Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon, London Marathon, Los Angeles Marathon (given its proximity to Hollywood), and Chicago Marathon.

In fact, even Oprah Winfrey was supposed to run the 1994 Chicago Marathon, not the Marine Corps Marathon (though the Marine Corps Marathon is still one of the biggest and most popular marathons in the US!).

However, she reportedly felt antsy and anxious after completing her training plan (which was coupled with a 40-pound weight loss journey!), so she didn’t want to wait the extra two weeks to run the Chicago Marathon. 

Therefore, she decided to switch her plans and run the Marine Corps Marathon two weeks earlier instead.

The NYC Marathon tends to be the most popular in drawing celebrity marathon runners due to the location, the large number of charity entries, and the prestige surrounding the race.

The table below shows some other notable celebrities who have run marathons5List of non-professional marathon runners. (2024, February 13). Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_non-professional_marathon_runners and how they performed, listed from fastest celebrity marathon runners to slowest:

NameYearMarathonResult
Alan Turing1947Amateur Athletic Championships2:46:03
Dana Carvey1972Ocean to Bay Marathon3:04:21
Gordon Ramsay2004London Marathon3:30:37
Natalie Morales2006New York City Marathon3:31:02
Joe Bastianich2009New York City Marathon3:42:36
George W. Bush1993Houston Marathon3:44:52
Ryan Reynolds2008New York City Marathon3:50:22
Will Ferrell2003Boston Marathon3:56:12
Pippa Middleton2015Safaricom Marathon3:56:33
Sarah Palin2005Humpy’s Classic Marathon3:59:36
Diplo2023LA Marathon3:55:11
Bobby Flay2010New York City Marathon4:01:37
Kevin Hart2017New York City Marathon4:05:06
Sean Combs “Diddy”2003New York City Marathon4:14:52
Alanis Morissette2009Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon4:17:03
Mario López2011New York City Marathon4:23:29
Ethan Hawke2015New York City Marathon4:25:30
Oprah Winfrey1994Marine Corps Marathon4:29:20
Jill Biden1998Marine Corps Marathon4:30:02
Lisa Ling2002Boston Marathon4:34:18
Shia LaBeouf2010Los Angeles Marathon4:35:31
Drew Carey2011Marine Corps Marathon4:37:11
Mike Huckabee2005Marine Corps Marathon4:37:29
Chris Evans2017London Marathon4:41:06
Andrea Barber2015Phoenix Marathon4:43:17
Al Gore1997Marine Corps Marathon4:58:25
Teri Hatcher2014New York City Marathon5:06:42
Ted Koppel1983Marine Corps Marathon5:09:08
Valerie Bertinelli2010Boston Marathon5:14:37
Katie Holmes2007New York City Marathon5:29:58
Pamela Anderson2013New York City Marathon5:41:03
Freddie Prinze, Jr.2006Los Angeles Marathon5:50:49
Alicia Keys2015New York City Marathon5:50:52
Al Roker2010New York City Marathon7:09:44

Which celebrity marathon performance is most impressive to you?

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the 1994 Marine Corps marathon was the first marathon and only marathon that Oprah ever ran.

It certainly would have been interesting to see if she could have run faster at a second race after going through another marathon training plan with her first marathon experience under her belt.

Almost all runners improve their marathon finish time in their second or third marathons; even with a great marathon training plan, there can be a learning curve in terms of pacing, fueling, and training for the marathon or half-marathon distance. 

Therefore, your first time running a marathon is often largely about finishing the race and conquering the full marathon distance. In contrast, subsequent marathons can be about improving your marathon finish time.

People running a marathon.

Of course, Oprah still has plenty of life left in her and perhaps she will run another marathon, but now that she is in her 60s, it is unlikely that she will run faster than her much chased after marathon finish time.

So, how do you stack up? Could you beat Oprah in a marathon with your PR?

For a complete rundown on average marathon time based on age and sex, check out this next guide:

References

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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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