We, as runners, tend to be a bit on the competitive side. Whether we are competing with our age-group peers, fighting for a podium finish, or trying to beat our last PR, we have a fire in us to want to do our very best.
That said, whether you’re a seasoned runner working towards qualifying times or a beginner gearing up to train for your very first marathon, you most likely want to know: what’s a good marathon time?
According to a study conducted by Run Repeat, including 19,614,975 marathon results in 32,335 races worldwide, a “good” marathon time across all sexes and ages is 3:48:20. 1Marathon Run Times By Age And Ability – Running Level. (n.d.). Runninglevel.com. https://runninglevel.com/running-times/marathon-times
Breaking it down by sex, 3:34:56 is a good marathon time for men, and 4:08:09 is a good marathon time for women.
So, how do you stack up to these “good” 26.2-mile marathon times?
In this guide, we will delve into more detail about average marathon finish times based on age, sex, and experience level and give you some expert tips on how to work towards your next marathon PR!
Let’s jump in!
What Are The Current Average Marathon Times?
Let’s backpedal a bit and take a look at the average marathon distance times.
According to Run Repeat’s investigation, the overall average marathon time worldwide is 4:29:53.
Breaking it up by sex, the average time to run a marathon for men is 4:21:03, and the average time to run a marathon for women is 4:48:45.
The goal of this study was to look at recreational runners. Therefore, elite runners were omitted when compiling these averages.
This study also shows that there has been an increase in average total marathon times over the past years. It seems we are getting a bit slower overall, but this could result from the sheer increase in participants.
What Is A Good Marathon Time?
While looking at this information, it’s important to consider a few things.
A “good marathon time” for one runner can vary greatly from a “good marathon time” for another runner, taking into account a few key factors, including a runner’s:
- Current fitness level
- Running experience
- Training Schedule
- Nutritional Regiment
With that being said, according to the data, a “good” marathon time across all sexes and ages is 3:48:20. Breaking it down by sex, 3:34:56 is a good marathon time for men, and 4:08:09 is a good marathon time for women.
Let’s break it down even further!
What Are The Average Marathon Times By Age and Sex?
Running Level breaks down average marathon times by sex, age, and level, including beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, and elite.
So you have an idea of the definition of each running level according to Running Level, let’s take a look at an explanation of each one:
- Beginner runners are defined as faster than 5% of other runners and have run for at least one month.
- Novice runners are defined as faster than 20% of runners and have been running for at least six months.
- Intermediate runners are defined as faster than 50% of other runners and have run regularly for two years.
- Advanced runners are defined as faster than 80% of other runners and have more than five years of running experience.
- Elite runners are defined as faster than 95% of other runners, have over five years of running experience, and have dedicated themselves to competing in the sport professionally.
Now that we have that cleared up, let’s take a look at the average marathon running times to see where we stack up!
Average Marathon Times: Male Runners
Average Marathon Times: Female Runners
What Are The Current Fastest Marathon Times?
According to World Athletics, the current men’s world record holder for the marathon is Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum, who has an astonishing time of 2:00:35.2Marathon – men – senior – outdoor. (n.d.). Worldathletics.org. https://worldathletics.org/records/all-time-toplists/road-running/marathon/outdoor/men/senior This marathon world record was set at the Chicago marathon, on October 8, 2023.
This Kenyan elite ran at an average pace of 2:51 per kilometer!
On the women’s side, Ethiopia’s Tigst Assefa holds the current world record for the marathon with an incredible time of 2:11:53. This record was set at the Berlin marathon on September 24, 2023.
As runners, we want to strive to do our very best and continue to smash our PRs. Now that you’ve seen how you compare to the average and “good” race times around the globe let’s look at 8 ways to improve your marathon time to get you ready for your next big race.
8 Tips To Improve Your Marathon Time
#1: Know Your Training Paces & Estimated Race Pace
If you already have a previous marathon time, or this will be your first one, it is important to know which paces you should be training at and what pace you are shooting for come race day.
Even if you have a previous marathon time that you are looking to beat, your current fitness level could have varied from that time depending on the training you have been doing recently.
Therefore, it is important to take a 3k or a 5k test so you can calculate your training paces, estimated race pace, and total time according to your current fitness level.
Knowing what to shoot for takes the guesswork out of training and can give you clear guidance on how to work toward your goal.
As mentioned, the results of these tests will give you your estimated marathon race pace (along with 5k, 10k, and half marathon time estimates as well) and your specific training zones.
These training zone paces are what you will use for your everyday workouts specified by your running coach or training plan, depending on the daily goal, whether it be speed, endurance, or a recovery day.
Let’s get into how to take those tests.
If you are newer to running tests to calculate paces, I suggest taking the shorter of the two because it is easier to manage your effort level covering a shorter distance. In this case, that would be the 3k test.
My advice as a running coach myself is that when running this test, start out a bit slower than you think you can run the 3 kilometers and increase your speed as you finish each lap, running your last lap all out!
You need to be careful not to burn out by starting out too fast. However, you don’t want to finish with a lot of gas still in the tank. You want to get as close to your maximum effort for this distance as possible to get an accurate reading.
It takes a while to get the hang of these tests, but let’s try it!
Use a track to measure your 3k instead of running counting on a GPS watch, as the GPS can sometimes fail and will not be as accurate as a measured course.
You also want to take this test in a place where you will not run into obstacles such as stop signs, lights, or traffic. You want to be able to run continuously to give your absolute best effort.
On a standard 400-meter lap track, you must run seven and ½ laps to complete the 3 kilometers.
- Warm up for 15 minutes with a slow, easy jog.
- Do 5 minutes of dynamic stretching exercises such as leg swings, Frankensteins, butt kicks, tabletops, hurdles, and walking on your tiptoes and then on your heels.
- Run 3 kilometers as fast as you can without burning out.
- Take your total 3k time and plug it into this pace calculator.
If you prefer to take the 5k test, follow the same instructions; just replace the third step with 5k.
Let’s take a look at an example of the results of an intermediate level 3k test, the estimated marathon race pace, and training paces:
3k total test time: 17:00 (5:40 pace per kilometer or 9:07 pace per mile)
This would mean the estimated total marathon race time would be 4:34:56.
|3k total test time: 17:00
|Pace Per Kilometer
|Pace Per Mile
|Marathon Race Pace Estimate:
|11:04 – 12:08/mile
Now that we have our estimated marathon race time and training paces let’s improve our marathon time by using this data for our training.
#2: Include Interval Training In Your Running Program
Adding interval training to your marathon training plan will make you faster. Whether it be shorter intervals that work your Vo2 Max or longer intervals such as threshold runs, they each have a particular objective to make you a better runner.
Commonly, shorter speedwork for marathon training takes place at the beginning of the marathon cycle. Workouts such as 400, 600, 800, kilometer, and mile repeats are excellent ways to start.
As we continue to advance in our training plan, we can move on to longer speedwork, such as threshold runs, that will make you more tolerant of holding faster paces for longer periods of time.
Some examples of interval workouts for marathon training are:
- 5 x 800m at interval pace with 2-3 minutes of complete rest in between
- 4 x 1k at threshold pace with a 2-minute recovery jog in between
- 2 x 2 miles at 10 seconds faster than marathon pace (half marathon pace) with 3-minute rest in between
- 4 x 2 miles at marathon pace with a 3-minute rest in between
- 2 x 5 miles at marathon pace with a 5-minute jog between each one
Of course, you will want a well-thought-out marathon training plan with all workouts carefully calculated according to your fitness level and goal.
#3: Improve Running Form
Interval training is a great way to improve your speed, but it also will develop a quicker turnover and better running form. If you have good running form, you will, in turn, have better running economy, which will help you run faster with less effort expended.
Running form can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, especially if you are an experienced runner and have formed some bad habits.
When thinking of the laundry list of tips and tricks to improve your running form, don’t try to change everything at once, but take it one step at a time by looking at a different aspect each day.
Let’s take a look at the key aspects of proper running form:
- Keep your body stacked in a straight line from head to toe.
- Lean slightly forward, but do not hinge at the hips.
- Keep your shoulders back and relaxed at all times, trying to avoid tension or shrugging your shoulders up toward your ears.
- Keep your gaze straight ahead, always looking 3-6 meters ahead.
- Keep your arms at 90 degrees and swing them back and forth naturally with your footfall. Do not swing them across the front of your body, as this will waste precious energy.
- Hold your hands in a very light fist, relaxed as if holding a baby chick in each one. You don’t want to hold them so loose that you may drop them, but you don’t want to squish them either! It’s a happy medium.
- Keep your legs underneath you. You want the weight of your body falling directly underneath you. Try to either fall on your mid-foot or forefoot as your footstrike to avoid unnecessary pounding on your joints.
I find it best to practice running form during easy or slow, long-distance runs, so the focus is on form, not speed or pace.
#4: Practice Your Race Pace
After taking your 3k or 5k test and having your estimated race pace, slowly work your marathon race pace into your long runs. Gradually adding race pace is the key to avoiding overuse injuries and, more importantly, frustration.
Start with a mile or two with long recoveries in between, and work your way up from there. This pace will not be easy to hit, especially at the beginning of your training cycle.
You also may be wondering how in the heck you’re supposed to maintain it for the entirety of a marathon. Increasing the time and distance run at this pace will make it more tolerable.
#5: Nail Down Your Nutrition and Hydration
During your long runs, especially those closer to the end of your training, you need to practice your race nutrition and hydration strategy.
To run a strong, fast marathon, you must be adequately fueled and hydrated to have a constant energy flow.
Put together a nutrition strategy according to your weight and fluid loss while running, and practice it tirelessly during your long runs.
For a quick reference, the number of carbohydrates per hour that you should consume while racing can be calculated with the following formula:
- Weight in kilos = grams of carbohydrates per hour that should be consumed
Therefore, if you weigh 65 kilos, you should shoot for 65 grams of carbs for each hour of your race.
This can include any energy source containing carbs, such as energy gels, gummies, carb-filled sports drinks, or even solid food. It all depends on what works for you, gives you energy, and doesn’t upset your stomach.
As for hydration, you can take a sweat test to calculate how much you sweat per hour. There, you can estimate how much you should rehydrate throughout your race.
Be sure that when you take your sweat test, you try to do so in conditions that will be similar to those of your race, such as heat and humidity, so the results are accurate.
Remember, just drinking water is not often enough, as we also need to replenish our electrolytes. Sports drinks are usually packed with the electrolytes necessary to help us rehydrate adequately.
Keeping on top of your race nutrition and hydration will help you avoid hitting the famous “wall” and stay strong until that last mile!
#6: Include Strength Training In Your Program
As a coach, I am a stickler for strength training and find it imperative for any runner, beginner or seasoned, young or mature.
Be sure your strength training sessions are running-specific and are not so strenuous that they tire you out for your runs. Running is your priority, and you always want to be in tip-top shape for your running sessions.
Two strength-training sessions of 30-40 minutes a week are plenty. You can even do this from the comfort of your own home with a few resistance bands and a set of adjustable dumbbells.
Here is a list of some of the exercises runners can include in their strength training plan:
- Lunges (bodyweight, front, reverse, side, weighted by adding dumbells)
- Squats (bodyweight, goblet, isometric, weighted by adding dumbells)
- Glute Bridges (bodyweight, single-leg, resistance bands)
- Calf Raises (bodyweight, on stairs, both legs, single-leg, weighted by adding dumbells)
- Deadlifts (bodyweight, both legs with kettlebell, single-leg, weighted by adding dumbells)
- Planks (full, elbow, side, up-downs, shoulder taps, spiderman)
- Push-ups, pull-ups, rows, pull aparts, shoulder presses, and chest presses
You can check out our complete runner’s guide to weightlifting for more ideas and workouts!
The most important thing is that you add strength training to your routine and that you focus on compound, functional exercises that will specifically help you run.
When you get to the second half of the marathon, you’ll be delighted you added those strength training sessions in as your legs, back, and, well, your entire body will be able to hold up against all odds.
#7: Respect Your Rest Days
Many runners think that more is better, but with all the research out there, we should know by now that this is not always the case. Your improvement and fitness gains are directly linked to your recovery. We must respect our recovery days to become better runners.
Allow your body to improve, and rest and recuperate on those days off. Get sports massages, take care of those callouses, and sleep and eat well. All of this will aid in your preparation for a marathon as you will become a stronger, more efficient runner.
#8: Follow a Training Plan
Last but by no means least, follow a well-thought-out training plan put together by a professional. Yes, we have all heard of amazing runners who crush races and claim not to have a structured training plan or coach, but the majority of us need this structure and guidance.
Following a training plan ensures you are not overdoing it and risking injury.
It will also appropriately spread out the different types of workouts you need to include, such as speedwork, long runs, marathon-specific training sessions, recovery runs, cross-training, and strength training.
If you have a seasoned coach guiding you along, even better!
So, how do you stack up to the average intermediate marathon runner? Whether you are on the road to qualifying for the Boston Marathon or are ready to take the leap to run your very first, check out our marathon training plans so we can get you to that finish line.
Let’s do this!
- 1Marathon Run Times By Age And Ability – Running Level. (n.d.). Runninglevel.com. https://runninglevel.com/running-times/marathon-times
- 2Marathon – men – senior – outdoor. (n.d.). Worldathletics.org. https://worldathletics.org/records/all-time-toplists/road-running/marathon/outdoor/men/senior