If you’ve ever wondered whether you can run a marathon, the good news is that with proper training, almost anyone can. You might also wonder how long it would take you. An average marathon time can vary depending on several factors, such as an individual’s age, sex, and fitness level.
The length of a full marathon is always 26.2 miles. Finishing times for marathons range from a little over 2 hours for world-class, elite marathoners to 8 hours or more for other participants.
The average marathon time was 4:30:46 (10:19 minutes per mile pace) in 2019 for men in U.S. races, according to RunRepeat. The median finishing time for women was 4:56:39 (11:18 minutes per mile pace). Learn more about how long it takes to run a marathon and the factors affecting average marathon time.
Why Is a Marathon 26.2 Miles?
The distance from the city of Marathon in Greece to Athens is 40 kilometers, or about 25 miles, so the original modern marathon, first held in 1896, was 40 km long.
When the 1908 Olympic Games were held in England, Queen Alexandra wanted the marathon race to begin on the lawn of Windsor Castle and end at the Olympic stadium in front of the royal box. This distance was 26.2 miles, and it became the new standard distance.?
Factors Affecting Marathon Time
The length of a marathon can seem pretty daunting if you’ve never run one before, mainly because it could take several hours to complete your first 26.2-mile race. But don’t let this overwhelm you. Yes, you can run a marathon, but you’ll have to fully commit to a solid endurance training program.
Many factors can affect how long it will take you to finish the race, such as crowds on the course that either uplift or distract you or how you feel both physically and mentally on race day.
How long you spend training leading up to the race and how hard you train each week matters. A training program that ensures you log enough weekly miles will affect your marathon time. Note that your training schedule may differ depending on whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced runner.
Nutrition and Hydration
While you’re training for a marathon, you’ll be burning more calories than you’re used to, so you’ll need to eat plenty of energy-dense whole foods to replace that spent energy. Before race day, many runners load up on bread, pasta, and other high-carb foods to ensure they have enough energy to finish the race and perform at their best.
Staying hydrated leading up to the race, during, and after the race is essential to prevent dehydration. Some research has shown that dehydration can affect running performance and slow finish time.
Nutrition Guidelines for Long Runs and Race Day
While you can't predict with certainty what the weather will be on race day, you will be able to plan for the season the marathon is in. If the race is in November, you'll want to train to get used to those conditions.
Training in the summer heat can make running in cooler months much more manageable, making your finish time faster. Or, if it's pouring rain on race day, it could slow your finish time.
Is the course flat, hilly, or both? It takes longer to run uphill than on flat surfaces, but you can train for this as you prepare for your marathon.
Will the race occur at a high elevation in the mountains of Colorado or at sea level in New York City? Knowing the course conditions in advance can inform how you train and affect how long it will take you to complete the race.
Of course, your race pace will also determine how long it takes you to complete a marathon. If you're already a runner, you will likely have some data about how to calculate your marathon pace.
If you're new to running, you'll want to log some miles for a few weeks to get a sense of your current pace. Remember that your marathon pace will likely be slightly slower than your training pace.
Once you know your training pace, use this calculator to help determine your average race pace.
Estimate Your Marathon Time
It's helpful to estimate your marathon finishing time before running your first race, so you know how to pace yourself properly. You'll also want to give your family members and friends cheering for you an idea of when to expect you on the course.
Predicting race times, especially for marathons, can be challenging because there are many variables, such as weather and course conditions. Remember that an expected marathon time does not guarantee you'll run that time.?In most cases, only experienced marathoners achieve their predicted time or are very close to it.
If you decide to run a marathon, remember that any finish time is a good time, especially for a first marathon. Make it a goal to stay focused on finishing the race and don¡¯t worry too much about time.
To get a sense of your marathon time in advance, you can use race time prediction charts or calculators that determine a finish time based on a recent race. For the most accurate prediction, you should use a race time from a race you’ve done about 4 to 6 weeks before your marathon.
Additionally, if you run a marathon during the previous year, it's a good idea to analyze those results. If you're curious about where you might end up finishing (top 25%, age group winner, etc.) in a particular marathon, you can also look at the online results from last year's race which will probably be similar this year.?
A quick formula that a lot of runners like to use is to take a recent half marathon time, double it, and then add 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the difficulty of the course.
Try the race time prediction calculators below.?If this is your first marathon, add 5% to 6% to the calculator prediction.
- MarathonGuide.com Race Results Prediction: Choose a distance and a time to calculate theoretical race results and check out your marathon prediction.
- Runner’s World Race Time Predictor: This calculator uses a recent race time to determine a predicted marathon finish time.
Before you sign up for your first marathon, know that big city marathons and fast, flat courses tend to be much more competitive than small, local races. But the advantage of a large marathon is that there will be more racers at your same pace, especially at the back of the pack if you find yourself there.
Some marathons have time limits, such as 6 or 7 hours (although others have no limit). If you’re a slower runner or walker, find out if there’s a cutoff time when selecting a marathon.
A Word From Verywell
If running your first marathon, focus on completing the race and finishing strong. Slowly, with proper training, you can improve your finish time. Regardless of your time, finishing a marathon is an incredible achievement. Strive for the time you want, but also remember to be realistic.
26 Reasons to Run a Marathon
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a good marathon time for a beginner?
If you are a beginner, a good marathon time is about 5 or 6 hours. This assumes you'll be running at a 12 to 15 minutes-mile speed on average. If you've done a lot of cardiovascular activity training outside of marathon training, you might expect to finish closer to 4 hours if you are a beginner.
Marathon Training Tips for Beginners
How long do you have to train before you are ready for a marathon?
It's wise to train for at least 6 months before you begin targeted training for a marathon. Use this time to build up your endurance, stamina, and muscles. A solid year of running three to four times per week and racing shorter races such as a half marathon, will best equip you for the rigors of training for and running a marathon.
Why You Should Run a Half Marathon Before a Full
How fast do you have to run to qualify for the larger marathons like Boston, NYC, and Chicago?
How fast you need to run to qualify for larger marathons like Boston Marathon, NYC Marathon, and Chicago Marathon will depend on your sex and age. For women, it ranges between 3.5 hours to 3 hours and 50 minutes. For men, the range is 3 hours and 3 hours and 20 minutes.
Qualifying For the NYC Marathon