What’s The Ideal Marathon Runner Body?

Spoiler alert: the ideal marathon runner body for you is your body!

The full spectrum of body types can run marathons, but, that being said, the ideal marathon runner body for the pros is slightly more specific.

In this article we are going to;

  • Take an in-depth look into 7 key characteristics of the pro marathon runner body,
  • The average height and weight of the pro marathon runner body,
  • And we will find out whether your body can run a marathon.

Ready?

Let’s get into it!

Whats The Ideal Marathon Runner Body

Elite Marathon Runners Height And weight

Let’s get into the numbers by delving into the bodies of today’s top elite marathon runners.

The Men:

AthleteMarathon TimeHeightWeight
Eliud KIPCHOGE2:01:391.67 m ‘ 5’ 7″52 kg / 115 lb
Kenenisa BEKELE2:01:411.65 m / 5′ 5″56 kg / 123 lb
Birhanu LEGESE2:02:48N/AN/A
Mosinet GEREMEW2:02:551.74 m / 5′ 9″57 kg / 126 lb
Dennis KIMETTO2:02:571.71 m / 5′ 7″55 kg / 121 lb

As you can see from these elite men, the ideal pro marathon runner’s body is not tall, the athletes don’t ever reach above 6 feet.

Their weight is also far below the average man’s. So much so, that these men would be considered underweight according to the BMI chart. Although, when it comes to athletes, the BMI chart is rarely a useful measurement.

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The Women:

AthleteMarathon TimeHeightWeight
Brigid KOSGEI2:14:041.7 m / 5′ 7″50 kg / 110 lb
Paula RADCLIFFE2:15:251.73 m / 5′ 8″54 kg / 119 lb
Mary Jepkosgei KEITANY2:17:011.58 m / 5′ 2″42 kg / 93 lb
Ruth CHEPNGETICH2:17:081.65 m / 5′ 5″48 kg / 106 lb
Peres JEPCHIRCHIR2:17:161.6 m / 5′ 3″43 kg / 95 lb

As you can see from the chart above, the elite women marathon runner’s body is much the same as the men’s.

They are both light, don’t reach above 6 feet, and would be considered underweight by traditional measures.

7 Characteristics of a pro marathon runner body

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For elite marathon runners, the sport is their passion and their livelihood. They spend hours every day training for the big event, and their marathon runner body is a by-product of their training.

This is why, unless you’ll be competing alongside them as an elite runner yourself, it is important not to compare yourself to them.

However, to follow is a list of 7 characteristics that make a pro marathon runner body a speedy and efficient marathon munching machine.

1. High Percentage Of Slow Twitch Muscles

Elite marathon runners have very high percentages of slow-twitch and intermediate muscle fibers.

Genetics determines the percentage of fiber types we have in our legs, but training can alter how these fibers function.

The ideal marathon runner body will be both genetically blessed with slow-twitch and intermediate muscle fibres, and the athlete will have trained them to perfectly perform at the marathon distance.

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2. Low Body Fat Percentage

The pro marathon runner body has a very low body fat percentage. This is the case for a few reasons.

Elite marathon runners are so lean and light because they spend hours a day training their endurance. In training, the professionals burn up all the calories they consume.

On the flip side, being skinny gives marathon runners an advantage as they have less weight to carry around the full marathon course.

3. Very Strong Bones

Professional marathon runners tend to have much stronger bones than the average joe.

Bones are notoriously ‘anti-fragile’. This means that, in healthy people, bones respond to stress by reforming so that they can better handle stress.

For this reason, the weight-bearing bones of the professional marathon runner body are strong. That is the bones of the legs, pelvis, and spine.

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4. Low Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute at rest.

In general, the average, untrained adult will have a resting heart rate somewhere between 60 and 100.

However, in an ideal marathon runner body, becuase of all those hours of cardiovascular training, their heart will be much more efficient at pumping blood around their body, and their resting heart rate will be significantly lower.

A pro marathon runner’s resting heart rate will be anywhere from 30- 40 beats per minute, a measurement that if observed in a sedentary person, would be reason enough to run straight to the hospital!

5. High VO2 Max

VO2 Max is a measurement of how much oxygen your body can utilise during exercise. Generally, the higher the VO2 Max, the fitter the person.

VO2 max values in an average adult are around 30-45 millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. But in elite marathon runners, average VO2 max increases to 65-80.

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6. Good Running Economy

A runner’s economy is a measure of how efficiently they run. Running economy is improved with training, something the pros do a lot of.

The elite marathon runner body will have a great running economy meaning that the athletes need far less oxygen to run at a given speed than the average person so that they can conserve that vital energy for later in the race.

At a given speed, your average person may need 220 mililitres of oxygen per kilogram of body weight to run one kilometre. Professional marathon runners are more economical, and can require as little as 180 mililitres of oxygen per kilogram of body weight to cover that same distance.

7. High Lactate Threshold

Lactate threshold is the exercise intensity at which the blood concentration of lactate and/or lactic acid starts to rapidly increase. 

A higher lactate threshold allows for a higher running speed to be sustained without the accumulation of blood lactate, enabling the running speed to be maintained for an extended period.

The professional marathon runner body has reported lactate threshold speeds of 11 – 13 mph, or 18-21 km/h.

Can your body run a marathon?

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Chances are, your body’s dimensions are far from those of an elite marathon runner. But can your body still run a marathon?

The answer is most probably yes!

There is a massive difference between elite marathon runners and those who take part in a marathon for fun.

Each year, all over the world, approximately 1.1 million people run an organised marathon. That’s a lot of bodies! And chances are, only the slimmest percentage of them have all of the characteristics of an elite marathon runner body.

Your body doesn’t have to look like an elite marathon runner body to successfully run a marathon.

Overweight people run marathons.

Bodybuilders run marathons.

People run marathons in wheelchairs, with crutches, and with prosthetic legs.

100-year-olds run marathons.

18-year-olds run marathons.

Being able to run the marathon distance is about far more than just a body type.

In fact, focusing too much on weight loss can often make you a worse athlete. The following short documentary tells that story. Mary Cain was constantly told by her coaches to lose weight. The consequence: her body started breaking down.

other factors that influence marathon running ability

Having a strong mind and a solid plan are far more important than having ‘the perfect’ marathon runner body when you start your marathon journey.

Think of your body at its fittest as a by-product of your mind and your training. You can’t have your peak performance body without these two things, and putting too much empasis on looking a certain way will mean that your mind won’t be in a healthy space.

So, focus on your mental state and your plan, and who knows, maybe one day you’ll have the body of an elite marathon runner, if that’s what you’re training for.

The Mind

Running a marathon is not just a physical challenge, but it is also a massive challenge for the mind.

During your marathon training, your mind will be the one holding you back when your pre-work morning run alarm goes off.

During your marathon, you’ll always be able to take one more step, it’s your mind that will give up before your body.

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Proper marathon training will train your mental resilience as you conquer distances you didn’t think you could and step out the door when you really don’t want to.

The Plan

Having a plan is possibly the most important factor when it comes to running a marathon.

Running a marathon is not just about the day you run that marathon, it is a period of 3-6 months of consistent training for the big day.

Following the right marathon training plan not only prepares your body to be in optimal condition for your race, but it also trains your mind by building up your confidence with weekly long runs, and the knowledge that you are following a tried and true plan does wonders to quash self-doubt.

Fancy putting your ideal marathon body to the test?

Check out our collection of FREE marathon training plans!

Couch To Marathon Training Plan

16 Week Marathon Training Plan – Ideal for First Marathons

Sub 4-Hour Marathon Training Plan

12 Week Marathon Training Plan

Maria Andrews

Maria Andrews

Maria Andrews is a runner, adventure lover, and UESCA certified Ultramarathon Coach. When she's not running around the woods or plotting adventures, she's spending time with her nearest and dearest, cooking up a storm, or working on Marathon Handbook's sister website, yogajala.com 🙂

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