What Is A Good Marathon Time?

Natalie Cecconi
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How Long is a Marathon?

A marathon is a long-distance running event in which participants attempt to cover a particular distance as quickly as possible over a period of hours or days.

The name marathon comes from the legend of the mythical battle of the hero Pheidippides with the god Pluto in Athens. The story tells of Pheidippides running for several days from Marathon (now Marathonas) to Athens to announce and vouch for the victory of the Greek army against the Persians.

The course is absolutely determined by the city or country where the marathon takes place. The longest recorded marathon course is 42.195 kilometers (26 miles and 385 yards) and is the USA’s 2012 distance. However, this is far less than a mile per run, which is more than what the marathon was designed for.

Each country has its own rules and regulations to set the standards for participation in the event. Some require a strict physical test as part of a registration process while some believe any able-bodied person can complete the distance.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is the international governing body of the sport. It is the only association that is recognized by all IAAF’regions. It is the fastest growing association and sets the rules of marathon running and organizes the four‘major international races.

Common Marathon Times

The most common marathon time people are interested in knowing is what does a good marathon time look like. There are varying opinions on what this time is.

If you speak with generic fitness enthusiasts, you'll probably hear that a 4-hour marathon is pretty solid and anything better, then, is not bad.

If you speak to more experienced, knowledgeable runners, then you'll hear a different answer, which is a pace of 6:30-per-mile or 7:00 minute-per-mile throughout the whole race. Anything less than that, then you've missed your goal.

The truth is, there is no good or bad marathon time. Different people have different goals for their marathon and different limits in the amount of time they have. Length, temperature, elevation and other factors affect everyone differently.

For example, if you are running in New York City Marathon and there is a snowstorm and it’s 20 degrees and winds are triple figures, you'd be lucky to run four hours.

If you are running in a hot and humid marathon in Hawaii, you'd be lucky to come in under four hours.

If you are running in a French marathon and it is at a 7% elevation, then your time is going to be slower. If it’s at sea level, then you will probably do better, as long as you are capable of running that extra distance.

Average Marathon Time For All Runners

There is no average marathon time and what is average for you might be quite unusual for the next runner.

A good marathon time isn’t just about the speed of your run, it is all about the quality and making sure you can finish the race without any major injury or illness.

If you run a marathon with injuries, you will most like be struggling after the 25-mile mark, and the last few precious miles might feel like a real torture.

However, there are some basic average marathon times that can help you gauge your own personal progress and time. According to this post, your average marathon time is the time it takes you to complete the marathon. It is calculated by adding your best 1/2 marathon time and your best full marathon time.

If you have only run one marathon, your average time will be a little bit closer to your full marathon time than if you have run two or more.

The average marathon times of different sexes are:

Men: 3 hours, 42 minutes

Women: 4 hours, 1 minute

The average marathon time for men is 6 minutes faster than that for women. Of course, if you are a woman you should be running a little bit faster than the average.

Average Time for Elite Marathoners

The current world record for men is held by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya who ran 2:02:57 at the 2014 Berlin Marathon. This is approximately four minutes faster than the previous world record, set by Patrick Makau of Kenya 2 years earlier in the same race. The record for women is held by Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain with a time of 2:15:25 at the 2003 London Marathon.

In an average marathon, a runner would finish around 10 to 12 minutes slower than their personal record for the distance. So, in theory, anyone averaging a four hour marathon time over the course of a few runs should be within striking distance of the 2:10 mark to be considered an elite level runner.

Of course, there are a lot of factors that could affect your actual time in a given marathon. The weather can be better or worse than acceptable for a good time, for example.

However, most experts suggest that you should be able to do 100 to 200 miles of training per week, depending on the goal of the training you are doing.

Strides are an important part of marathon training, and if you are not yet confident in your ability to do them safely, you may want to build your mileage a bit slower.

Typical Marathon Time for First-Time Marathoners

The marathon is one of the most popular races on the running fair. The events draw thousands of participants from around the world. Thousands of people are training in order to get their first marathon under their belt.

The number one question on most of these marathon trainee’s minds is…What’s a normal marathon time?

There are usually two types of runners who are interested in what a typical marathon time is.

First-time marathoners: When you’re attempting the marathon for the first time, you’ll want to know what a typical marathon time is so that you can have something to shoot for when you hit the pavement.

Experienced marathon runners: If you’re a seasoned marathon runner, you’re probably here because you think your current marathon time is too slow and you’re interested in what a 5 or 10-minute improvement can get you.

Let’s take a look at normal (average) marathon times for first-time and experienced runners.

Celebrity Marathon Times

A lot of runners that I talk to, including myself, use the marathon times of elite runners as a gauge to evaluate their performance. This is not necessarily a bad idea since these are the fastest marathon times in recorded history by the best athletes in the world. Plus, it’s a lot easier to relate to a 2:03 marathon time than a 3:39 marathon time.

So if you’re looking for an idea of what a good time is, you’re probably going to search for the fastest times recorded. You can find these records on the Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS) webpage.

However, there is a big problem with this approach. Elite runners are not good marathoners just because they’re fast.

They’re fast because they’ve spent years training specifically for the marathon distance and understand how to train while managing the physical and mental demands of the distance. They’ve also put in the time and effort to experiment with different workouts, race and recovery techniques, and training systems.

You can totally mimic the training of an elite runner and the results will be better, but it will take time to develop.

The same strategy won’t work for beginners. Here’s why.

Your Own Marathon Time

The best way to get a runner’s time prediction is to simply run one of the many free online marathon calculators. Most of them will ask for you to input some basic information such as body weight, resting heart rate, and the time and distance you run most often.

You are also often able to choose whether you have run a full marathon before or not. This is because many of them have you enter your best marathon time rather than predict a time for your first.

Some of these online calculators are more user friendly than others and some are less accurate than others. “Run the Edge” has a very good marathon calculator for both your best time and your first time.

Running Background/Fitness Level

A marathon time is a pretty good indicator of the runner’s ability. So a good marathon time indicates that the athlete is a strong runner.

If you are looking to set a marathon time goal, it’s important to know how fast you can run a marathon.

For example, if you have never run a marathon, it’s not a good idea to set a time goal of less than 4 hours (since the world record for your sex is less than 2 hours).

Likewise, if you once ran the Boston Marathon (on training), you might want to aim for winning the race in your age group.

I can’t answer your goal as it depends on many factors. However, here are a few things that you can look at.

How to Estimate Your Marathon Time

The best way to figure out if you’re ready to run a marathon is to run a few shorter races beforehand and see how you perform.

Your marathon PR is not going to come out of nowhere. It will be built on the backs of smaller PRs from 5k to half marathon and maybe even 15k (10 miles).

To estimate a marathon time, look at a similar race and find your pace and threshold.

For example, a 4:30 marathoner could hit a 1:30 10k, 1:10 half marathon, and 1:15 15k. This means that they could run 1:30 off of a 4:30 marathon. A 3:35 marathoner could run 1:35 off a 3:00 marathon.

If you don’t have other races to use as a baseline for a projected PR, the next best thing is to find your equivalent race time based on your steady state race times.

For example, if you run a 1:18 half marathon off of a 5k time of 18:00, that would give your marathon time the equivalent of 3:50:00. But you should note that it’s more difficult to predict times accurately this way.

It can vary greatly from runner to runner … 3 hours to 5 hours, with plenty of runners posting times between those two.

Variables That Will Impact Race Time

As an ultrarunner, you often believe that anything is possible – and have the potential to run a fast marathon or PR.

Even if you don’t have a marathon under your belt.

If your goal is to run your first or even a fast marathon it is important to understand that race times depend heavily on a number of factors such as your gender, age, level of training, familiarity with the course, the time of the year and the weather.

Examples of these factors include flat or hilly terrain like Boston or New York marathons, the weather may play a big role during the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in NY where the course is flat and has no wind or heat and the weather can be pretty chilly.

So, don’t get discouraged or frustrated – you are more likely to run a great race and break a PR if you combine training, dedication, and confidence.

Weather and Temperature

Marathons can be run in hot, humid, and even rainy weathers.

Although the 3 are harsh on the runners and can cause dehydration and exhaustion, nobody says the weather you run in has to be perfect.

You control the forecast!

No matter what the weather is like, you can get through the marathon if you are prepared.

If the weather is nice, you can take advantage of quieter roads and cooler temperatures. This will give you an advantage in the later stages of the race.

If you have trained well, you can also compensate for the heat and humidity or also for cold temperatures.

The idea is to keep your body temperature optimally through the race.

As for the temperature of the water, it can vary from a completely freezing (in higher altitudes!) to a very warm (racing in the tropics!).

You should choose the water temperature according to the weather conditions and the type of race you are running.

Course Profile

Perhaps the most important aspect of a marathon is the profile of the course. A flat and fast course will favor the elite athlete and result in a much faster marathon time. However, it is not an ideal course for a beginning runner or the average marathon runner.

A beginner may get discouraged with the results if they are expecting a fast and flat course, because most beginners find the hills and the breakdown of their pace challenging.

On the other hand, an experienced marathon runner can take advantage of the incline to train for hill work as well. They can also adjust their pace better to pace themselves.

The ideal course is one that gives the runner a fair chance of putting up a good showing without feeling like they have had to jump through unnecessary hoops to achieve a good result.

Course profile is also important because certain echelon of runners may be required to run different courses.


As any runner knows, marathon running is hard, and training for a marathon is even harder. So, when you are the perfect physical condition to start a marathon training, you don’t have much time to prepare and need to start right away.

Do your research. Find a plan that will help you achieve your performance and weight goals. There are two things that will make or break a marathon training plan: planning and motivation.

It’s up to you to keep yourself on track both with your eating habits and with your training. So start by setting goals that you are able to reach, goals that you will be proud of, and goals that will help you make your marathon a meaningful experience.

Keep a food log as you plan your marathon training diet and enter everything you eat into an online food log. This will help you keep track of what you eat, how much energy you burn, and how you feel.

Don’t restrict yourself to certain foods just because they are part of the training regimen, but instead develop a plan that also works to keep your energy levels consistent throughout your day.

Minor Injuries

One of the reasons that not everyone switches to running is that they can’t do it. Positions, profession, lifestyle, and pain tolerance all play a role in this conclusion. So maybe it’s not that you can’t do it, it’s that you are not sure how to do it.

Before you start running, you need to understand some of the basic concepts of running. Running is not walking fast, or like Forrest Gump running wherever you go.

Unlike walking, running is a balanced activity that needs to be understood.

Running is done by a combination of the glutes, quadriceps, calves, shins and core muscles. You don’t want to run and end up with a tight back because you relied on your hamstrings to run. That would be bad.

The distance you run also plays a part in your random chance of injury. If you plan to run a marathon, you will need to build up to that. It is not something accomplished in a few days or weeks, and you can’t start on a marathon program by running two miles, five times a week. Not only will you not be ready, but more importantly, you will injure yourself.

Tips for Running a Marathon

Even if you’ve never run more than a mile before, you can still run a marathon as long as you put the training in.

The minimum requirement to complete a marathon is pretty low, but, naturally, you’ll want to put in the training to be able to finish with your fastest time.

If you are brand new to running, it may take you a while to get used to 26.2 miles before conquering it, but you should see improvement as you train.

In order to become a marathon runner, you need to have a base of miles put in and a dedication to running. This can help you:

  • Finish
  • Improve your time
  • Be a more efficient runner

Here are some tips to making the training more enjoyable and help get you ready to run a marathon.

Be Patient

This is your first marathon, so don’t expect to be running it at your fastest time.

It will take time to put in the miles, and your stamina and endurance take time to develop.

So be patient and train consistently.

Rest Often on Your Runs

You’ll be running a lot, and you’ll be sore. You need to have enough rest in order to train your body to handle the mileage.

Before the Race

It is Important to:

  • To Not Eat a Huge Meal
  • Do Not Drink a Lot in the Course of the Race
  • — What are the Competitive Levels?

The results in the sport of running are commonly classified using a sliding scale. While the standards vary slightly between the different organizations, they still are essentially the same.

Competitive levels are measured in percentiles calculated from the rankings of every other runner that year. So if you run the marathon in 4 hours and 20 minutes and there are 100,000 other marathon runners, you are in the 80th percentile.

The competitive levels are further divided into categories. In most cases, beginners would usually fit into the:

  • 5,000 meters or under category
  • 7K to 10K (3K to 6.2 miles) category
  • 10k to 20k (6.2 to 12.4 miles) category
  • 20k to 30k (12.4 to 18.6 miles) category
  • 30k to 40k (21 to 24.2 miles) category
  • 40k to 50k (24.2 to 31 miles) category
  • 50k to 60k (31 to 38.4 miles) category
  • Over 60 kilometers (39.7 miles) category.

Better results are possible with proper training, nutrition, hydration, and medical attention.

Running the Marathon

If you have been training for the marathon for a while, you are probably wondering what reference time you should be aiming for.

You probably have seen some great marathon times that you’d like to hit, but don’t know if they are realistic.

Or perhaps you are a newbie to running but want to have some fun with your friends or family and would like to know if you’re in reasonable shape to run a marathon.

You can find the answer to both of these questions by looking at the average time other runners have run the marathon.

In this article, I’ll show you how to find what you should be shooting for so you can get the most out of your training and racing.

Not everyone is looking to be a champion runner, and many runners simply want to enjoy the event and finish without falling apart.

So, my advice is to look past the world-class and superstar marathoners and focus instead on the runners who are more realistic and easier to relate to.

Here are the numbers you are looking for. These are the times that the average man and woman finish the marathon.

After the Race

Ease into recovery by allowing your muscles to cool down with some easy post-race stretching. Include stretches for your hamstrings and calves, quads, hip flexors, and lower back.

Take the time to stretch out your arms as well. Runners are especially prone to tight shoulders and biceps.

Slowly sip on some cool liquid. You can alternate between sports drinks like Gatorade or water to replenish lost electrolytes.

If you notice that you are cramping up or feeling a bit off balance, you may want to eat something within the first hour after the race.

Replace some of the simple carbs you depleted with some easily digestible whole grains, dairy, or lean protein.

Soak your tired muscles in a warm bath for at least 20 minutes.