fbpx

What Is A Good Marathon Finishing Time?: Breaking Down The Data

How do you stack up?

When most people set their sights on running a marathon, whether the Berlin marathon, Chicago marathon, or New York marathon, they have no idea what their finishing time might be or even what is considered a good marathon time.

Unless you’ve already researched marathons or been a mid-distance runner, it can be hard to gauge how long it can take to run 26.2 miles.

Even if you’re an experienced runner, running the full marathon distance is a whole other world than 10K and half marathons; you can’t just extrapolate your best 10K time to estimate a good marathon time.

You might’ve read about elite runners and Olympic runners taking just over two hours (or even the sub-two-hour marathon run by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge) or how some people actually walk the majority of their marathons and spend six or seven hours in the race.

So, what constitutes a good marathon finishing time or an average marathon time, and what should be your criteria for choosing your target goal time?

As with many things running, it’s difficult to give an exact answer to this question because whether or not a specific time is considered good for you may not be for another runner due to factors such as age group, sex, and running experience.

We break down these different factors and provide you with some general ranges so you can see how you stack up to average marathon finishing times.

what's a good time to run a marathon?

What Is The Current Average Marathon Time?

First, let’s look at some data behind historical marathon finishing times in order to get some context.

The graph below is provided by RunRepeat,1Andersen, J. J. (2019). Marathon Statistics 2019 Worldwide (Research). Athletic Shoe Reviews; RunRepeat.com. https://runrepeat.com/research-marathon-performance-across-nations and shows the finishing times range for over four million marathon finishers.  Note that the red from the male runners’ stats falls behind the blue from the female runners’ stats after the 5-hour mark).

what is a good marathon time - marastats
Source: www.marastats.com

Overall, the average marathon finishing time is 4 hours, 21 minutes, and 49 seconds. The race pace of this marathon would be 6:12/km or 9:59/mile.

However, some people complete it in under 3 hours, and others take up to 7 hours. In fact, 19% of marathon runners take over 5 hours to complete a marathon race. The average pace for a 5 hour marathon is 7:07/km or 11:25/mile.

What Are The Factors That Affect Your Marathon Finishing Time?

OK, so you’re considering running a marathon but are unsure of your target time or what is considered a good marathon time.

A few things to consider first are:

#1: Current Fitness Level

Are you currently running half marathons, or are you a beginner and still need to buy your first pair of running shoes?

How can I estimate my marathon finishing time?

If you are already a seasoned runner, there are already many tools available to calculate your finishing time based on your current training pace (for example, these tables provided by Strava).2Running Pace Calculator. (n.d.). Strava. https://www.strava.com/running-pace-calculator

#2: Age

Age is also a big factor that can affect your fitness level and, hence, your potential marathon finishing times.   

Younger people can typically build up their running volume and ability quickly, avoid injury more easily, and have more stamina for long-distance runs.

If you don’t have a good handle on your fitness level or speed capabilities, you might want to dial back on your ambition and work on a shorter-distance goal, such as a better half-marathon time.

#3: Training Time Until Your Marathon

If you are planning a marathon that is 12 months away, you have plenty of time to build up a solid running base of both distance and speed.

If race day is only three or four months away, however, then the amount of time available to invest in preparation, training, and improving your running ability is much less. The more time you have to prepare, the more ambitious you can be when setting a target finishing time.

If you have 6-12 months to prepare, you can base all your training around your target finishing time – as I often propose in my training plans.

#4: Personal Goals

Have you always had an itch to break the sub-4hr marathon mark?  Or perhaps you would like to run your first marathon in under 5 1/2 hours?

In my first-ever marathon, I was determined to finish in under four hours. I actually completed the first half in 1hr 37 mins and felt great. The second half, however, was pretty much hell and took 2hr 20 mins.   

I hadn’t trained to run at a consistent pace, which I’ve now learned is so important. I hit the wall suddenly and had to really dig deep to push myself through. In the end, I hobbled over the finish line in 3 hours, 58 minutes, and 53 seconds.

I could barely walk for the next few days and swore never to run another marathon. (That didn’t last long, it never does).

I basically pushed my body way past its limits.

It was part ignorance, part hubris; I totally overestimated my abilities and underestimated the race.

But, I completed my goal.  I didn’t care that much that my body was in pain for a week afterward. I became a marathon runner that day. A sub-4hr marathon runner, at that.

Since then, I’ve learned training and pacing strategies that allow me to run a sub-4-hour marathon with much more ease.

Many of you reading this are probably like me and have a fairly driven, goal-oriented outlook on life. If so, I sympathize with you and want to help you meet your marathon goals – whatever they are.

But please, if you’re going to try and achieve a specific marathon finishing time, do the work first!   You’ll be much more comfortable and reduce the risk of injury, fatigue, or hitting the wall during your marathon.   

See my post Why Marathon Pace Is So Important to understand why you should incorporate marathon pace training workouts into your marathon training plan for great race results.

good marathon time

Do I Even Need A Target Marathon Time?

Here’s the other end of the spectrum.

Is it even necessary to have a target marathon finishing time?

My answer is, no, absolutely not.

This is especially true if you are running a marathon for the first time. You have no idea what to expect in your first race and should just run to finish.

Trying to plan too much about your performance can cause you to run too fast and really ruin your enjoyment of the event. If your goal is simply to finish, you are giving yourself a free pass to enjoy the day to the maximum.

Marathons are amazing events to enjoy if you allow yourself the opportunity. You can support and trade stories with other runners, take photos, chat with the aid station crews, and high-five people in the crowd.

If you have no target time, you can run when you want and walk when you start to feel fatigued. Remember, it is becoming increasingly common for people to walk significant portions of their marathon and finish in five, six, or even seven hours.

What is considered a good marathon finishing time?

What Is A Good Finish Time For You?

What Is A Good Marathon Time For A Beginner?

Running Rookies – Little or No Running Experience

If you have little or no running background, a good marathon finishing time would be anything over 4 1/2 hours.

I recommend that most running rookies simply set the goal of finishing their first marathon comfortably and not getting too hung up on their marathon finishing time.

What Is A Good Marathon Time For An Experienced Runner?

Runs Regularly, Completed Shorter Distances

If you’ve been running for a while, manage to fit in 2-3 runs a week, and perhaps have completed shorter distances like 10Ks or even a half marathon, then a good marathon finishing time is between 3 hours 45 minutes to 5 hours 30 minutes.

Where you land in this running time range depends on your fitness levels, speed, and ambition!

What Is A Good Marathon Time For A Seasoned Marathon Runner?

Seasoned Marathon Runner – Runs Distances Regularly

If you’re a seasoned marathon runner and regularly complete marathons, you’re much more likely to chase a time-based goal, typically in the range of 2hrs 45mins to 4hrs 30mins.

You may be looking for a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon or simply have been chipping away at your fastest marathon time over the years and looking to improve.

Take Your Marathon Training To The Next Level

If you’re interested in knowing what’s a good time to run a marathon, it’s because you’re interested in running it.

That’s where we come in.

Our team wakes up every morning and helps people achieve their distance running goals; that’s it. We provide training programs and guides to help you reach your goal race times and work to improve your running level.

Sign up below for our FREE 5-Day Marathon Training Bootcamp, and we’ll get you started on your marathon training journey with expert running coach tips, training schedules, and other helpful resources!

If you want to look at the data broken down even more, check out this next guide:

References

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.