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Learn the world records for marathon run times, plus other marathon fun facts and stories. 

Running a marathon is a hefty feat not many people are willing to do. In fact, it’s been reported by the International Institute for Race Medicine1 that just 1.1 million people globally ran a full marathon in 2018—that’s only 0.014% of the world population of 7.6 billion2 in 2018. 

Well there’s your first fun fact: If you’ve completed a 26.2-mile race, you can consider yourself among the world’s elite. Ahead, many more marathon fun facts, plus marathon record time tables and statistics. 

What Is the Fastest Marathon Time Ever? 

marathon running illustration

The fastest time ever recorded for a marathon belongs to Eliud Kipchoge, a Kenyan distance running professional athlete and Olympian. He was the first athlete to ever break the two-hour barrier with a marathon record of 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds (1:59:40:02). 

Kipchoge set this record in Vienna, Austria on October 12, 2019. 

Coached and supported by the INEOS 1:59 Challenge 3, Kipchoge remains the only known marathon runner to log a sub-two-hour marathon. 

However, although Kipchoge is the current men’s marathon world-record holder 4, his impressive 1:59:40 time does not count as an official race record, as reported by Reuters, the Associated Press, New York Times, and other major news outlets. 

This is because he didn’t actually cross a true finish line: The run was not completed under open marathon conditions and Kipchoge was accompanied by a large professional team of pacemakers and support staff. So, although it’s a wildly impressive feat, it’s not an official course record nor an official world record.

Kipchoge’s world-record marathon distance time is 2 hours, 1 minute, and 9 seconds (2:01:09), which was recorded at the 2023 Berlin marathon. His previous world record of 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds (2:01:39) was recorded at the 2018 Berlin marathon, meaning he beat his own world record by an astonishing full 30 seconds.

What Is the Fastest Marathon Time for Men? 

You know now that the fastest known marathon times belong to Eliud Kipchoge. But let’s take a look at other records for men, including those from the world championships and world marathon majors. 

Marathon Record Times for Men in the U.S. 

USA men's marathon record chart
Competitor NameTimeCountryDateMarathon/LocationMile Pace
Khalid Khannouchi2:05:38USAApr 14, 2002London, Great Britain4:47.5
Galen Rupp2:06:07USAMay 6, 2018Prague, Czech Republic4:48.6
Ryan Hall2:06:17USAApr 13, 2008London, Great Britain4:49.0
Dathan Ritzenhein2:07:47USAOct 7, 2012Chicago, Illinois USA4:52.4
Leonard Korir2:07:47USAOct 20, 2019Amsterdam, Netherlands4:52.8
Mbarak Hussein2:08:10USAMar 14, 2004Seoul, South Korea4:53.51
Abdi Abdirahman2:08:56USAOct 22, 2006Chicago, Illinois USA4:55.1
Martin Hehir2:08:59USADec 20, 2020Chandler, Arizona USA4:55.2
Meb Keflezighi2:09:08USAJan 14, 2012Houston, Texas USA4:55.5
Noah Droddy2:09:09USADec 20, 2020Chandler, Arizona USA4:55.6
Alberto Salazar2:09:21USADec 4, 1983Fukuoka, Japan4:56.0
Source: World Athletics Stats Zone5

Marathon Record Times for Men in the World

mens marathon record times world
Competitor NameTimeCountryDateMarathon/LocationMile Pace
Eliud Kipchoge2:01:09KenyaSep 16, 2018Berlin, Germany4:38.4
Kenenisa Bekele2:02:48EthiopiaSep 29, 2019Berlin, Germany4:38.5
Birhanu Legese2:02:48EthiopiaSep 29, 2019Berlin, Germany4:41.0
Mosinet Geremew2:02:55EthiopiaApr 28, 2019London, Great Britain4:41.3
Dennis Kimetto2:02:57KenyaSep 28, 2014Berlin, Germany4:41.4
Titus Ekiru2:02:57KenyaMay 16, 2021Milano, Italy4:41.4
Evans Chebet2:03:00KenyaDec 6, 2020Valencia, Spain4:41.5
Lawrence Cherono2:03:04KenyaDec 6, 2020Valencia, Spain4:41.6
Emmanuel Mutai2:03:13KenyaSep 28, 2014Berlin, Germany4:42.0
Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich2:03:13KenyaSep 25, 2016Berlin, Germany4:42.0
Amos Kipruto2:03:13KenyaMar 6, 2023Tokyo, Japan4:42.0
Source: World Athletics Stats Zone5

What Is the Fastest Marathon Time for Women? 

Now let’s take a look at women’s world records and U.S. records. 

Marathon Record Times for Women in the U.S. 

womens marathon record times usa
Competitor NameTimeCountryDateMarathon/LocationMile Pace
Keira D’Amato2:19:12USAJan 16, 2023Houston, Texas USA5:18.6
Deena Kastor2:19:36USAApr 23, 2006London, Great Britain5:19.5
Sara Hall2:20:32USADec 20, 2020Chandler, Arizona USA5:21.6
Jordan Hasay2:20:57USAOct 8, 2017Chicago, Illinois USA5:22.6
Shalane Flanagan2:21:14USASep 28, 2014Berlin, Germany5:23.2
Joan Samuelson2:21:21USAOct 20, 1985Chicago, Illinois USA5:23.5
Amy Cragg2:21:42USAFeb 25, 2018Tokyo, Japan5:24.3
Emily Sisson2:23:08USAApr 28, 2019London, Great Britain5:27.6
Emma Bates2:23:18USAJul 18, 2023Eugene, Oregon USA5:27.9
Kellyn Taylor2:24:29USAJun 16, 2018Duluth, Minnesota USA5:30.8
Lindsay Flanagan2:24:43USAJul 3, 2023Gold Coast, Australia5:31.1
Source: World Athletics Stats Zone5

Marathon Record Times for Women in the World

womens marathon record times world
Competitor NameTimeCountryDateMarathon/LocationMile Pace
Brigid Kosgei2:14:04KenyaOct 13, 2019Chicago, Illinois USA5:06.8
Paula Radcliffe2:15:25Great BritainApr 13, 2003London, Great Britain5:09.9
Mary Keitany2:17:01KenyaApr 23, 2017London, Great Britain5:13.6
Ruth Chepngetich2:17:08KenyaJan 25, 2019Dubai, UAE5:13.8
Peres Jepchirchir2:17:16KenyaDec 6, 2020Valencia, Spain5:14.1
Yalemzerf Yehualaw2:17:23EthiopiaApr 24, 2023Hamburg, Germany5:14.4
Worknesh Degefa2:17:41EthiopiaJan 25, 2019Dubai, UAE5:15.1
Joyciline Jepkosgei2:17:43KenyaOct 3, 2021London, Great Britain5:15.2
Lonah Salpeter2:17:45IsraelMar 1, 2020Tokyo, Japan5:15.2
Tirunesh Dibaba2:17:56EthiopiaApr 23, 2017London, Great Britain5:15.7
Angela Tanui2:17:57KenyaOct 17, 2021Amsterdam, Netherlands5:16
Source: World Athletics Stats Zone5

When Was the First Marathon? 

The first known, organized marathon race was the Athens Olympic Marathon in 1896, according to HISTORY.com6. On April 10, 1896, 17 competitors ran approximately 25 miles from Marathon, Greece, to Athens, Greece, on dirt roads. This race marked the beginning of the modern marathon. 

Why are Marathons 26.2 Miles Long? 

marathon running illustration

The seemingly arbitrary length of a marathon—an arduous 26.2 miles—is actually drenched in history, too. 

According to legend, as reported by Britannica7, an Athenian messenger ran from Marathon to Athens (a distance of about 25 miles) after the Battle of Marathon to report the good news of victory to his fellow Athenians. 

As the tale goes, the messenger (who was apparently not in tip-top marathon shape) only managed to eek out the word “Nike!” (“Victory!”) before collapsing and dying of exhaustion.

It’s not entirely clear if the brave messenger in this tale is the same person as Pheidippides, who is thought to have run the much further distance of 240 kilometers (about 150 miles) from Marathon to Sparta and back to request help from the Spartans prior to battle. 

Either way, an honorable mission. 

As for where the extra 1.2 miles came from, HISTORY.com reports8 that for the 1908 Games in London, Queen Alexandra requested that the mileage be extended. Her reasoning? She wanted the race to begin on the lawn of Windsor Castle and conclude directly in front of the Royal box at the Olympic stadium. Oh, to be royal. 

Evidently, this new (and rather random) distance of 26.2 miles stuck.

How Many People Run Marathons in the World?

The most recent full-blown report of global marathon participation was conducted by the International Institute for Race Medicine1 and it states that a mere 1.1 million people completed a marathon in 2018. A hair over a million may sound like a lot, but it’s really not, considering the 2018 world population was 7.6 billion.2 

Which Running Shoes Are Banned From Marathons? 

nike alphafly shoes

What if there was a pair of shoes that could increase your speed and efficiency along a marathon course, allowing you to break your own previous record with little to no extra effort? 

Actually, there is such a pair—the Nike Alphaflys—but you can’t wear them in an official sanctioned race. Well, you can, but elite athletes can’t. 

Dubbed “technological doping,” the Nike Alphaflys were banned from elite racing in 2020 by the World Athletics federation. These shoes were designed with three carbon plates and a midsole height of more than 40 millimeters. The intention? To maximize energy return and speed. 

That the shoes did: According to a 2018 peer-reviewed study in the journal Sports Medicine9 (funded by Nike, unsurprisingly), the prototype of Alphafly shoes resulted in a 4% increase in running economy and an estimated 3.4% increase in speed. Those are no small numbers when you’re talking about marathon world records. 

In response to the banning of Alphafly shoes, Nike released a similar pair called Vaporflys, which include just one carbon fiber plate and a thinner midsole. These shoes comply with the regulations that World Athletics instated in 2020, but they’ve also been shown to improve running economy, as reported in a 2019 study in the journal Sports Medicine.10 

According to a 2021 study in the European Journal of Sports Science11, the advantages stem from the stiff footplates, thick midsole width, and stiff midsole material. 

Sports scientists and running specialists have differing opinions on the Alphaflys and Vaporflys, with some saying12 that the use of such shoes “does not generate a historically unusual level of performance improvement” and others saying13 “the new technological footwear implies a clear impact in long-distance running performance, and probably an unfair advantage due to the greater improvements they provide when compared to the years prior of the technological revolution.”

Who Is the Oldest Person to Run a Marathon? 

Fauja Singh is thought to be the oldest person to ever complete a marathon, crossing the finish line of the London Marathon at 101 years old. However, Guinness World Records has not awarded him the title of “Oldest Person to Run a Marathon” since Singh wasn’t able to prove his birth date. According to a report by NDTV Sports14, Singh didn’t have a birth certificate since they weren’t available under British colonial rule when he was born. 

According to Oldest.org15, there are several other marathon participants who have finished a marathon over the age of 85: 

  • Iva Barr, 87
  • Betty Jean McHugh, 88
  • Jenny Wood Allen, 90
  • Paul Freedman, 90
  • Gladys Burrill, 92
  • Harriette Thompson, 94
  • Jonathan Mendes, 96
  • Dimitrion Yordanidis, 98
marathon fun facts

Who Ran a Marathon in all 50 States? 

There are many runners who have completed marathons in all 50 U.S. states. According to the 50 States Marathon Club, there are, at the time of writing, more than 5,000 people who have accomplished that feat. 

Perhaps most notable, however, is Dean Karnazes, who ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. 

What was the Biggest Marathon Ever?

While there doesn’t seem to be an official record for the largest marathon ever, the Guinness Book of World Records has listings for a few interesting tidbits: 

  • The largest half-marathon ever recorded was the The Great North Run in the United Kingdom on September 7, 2014, with 41,615 participants16
  • The largest ultramarathon was the Comrades Marathon in South Africa on May 31, 2015, with 23,000 participants17
  • And the largest women’s-only marathon was the Nagoya Women’s Marathon in Nagoya, Japan, on March 11, 2018, with 21,915 participants18
marathon fun facts

Which Marathons Qualify for the Boston Marathon?

There are hundreds of Boston-qualifying marathons around the world. In short, any race certified to meet the exact 26.2-mile distance is a qualifier. 

According to the Boston Athletics Association, some of the most prominent include: Tokyo Marathon, London Marathon, New York City Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Stockholm Marathon, California International Marathon, and Ottawa Marathon.

References

  1. Andersen, Jens Jacob, and International Amateur Athletic Federation (World Athletics). “The State of Running 2019.” International Institute for Race Medicine, 16 July 2019. 
  2. World Bank. Population, total | Data
  3. History made. INEOS 1:59 CHALLENGE.
  4. Eliud Kipchoge, profile. World Athletics. 
  5. Stats Zone. World Athletics. 
  6. Klein, C. The Olympic marathon’s outlandish early history. HISTORY.
  7. Battle of Marathon | Summary, facts, & significance | Britannica.
  8. Nix, E. Why is a marathon 26. 2 miles? HISTORY.
  9. Hoogkamer W, Kipp S, Frank JH, Farina EM, Luo G, Kram R. A Comparison of the Energetic Cost of Running in Marathon Racing Shoes [published correction appears in Sports Med. 2017 Dec 16;:]. Sports Med. 2018;48(4):1009-1019. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0811-2
  10. Barnes KR, Kilding AE. A Randomized Crossover Study Investigating the Running Economy of Highly-Trained Male and Female Distance Runners in Marathon Racing Shoes versus Track Spikes. Sports Med. 2019;49(2):331-342. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-1012-3
  11. Rodrigo-Carranza V, González-Mohíno F, Santos-Concejero J, González-Ravé JM. The effects of footwear midsole longitudinal bending stiffness on running economy and ground contact biomechanics: A systematic review and meta-analysis [published online ahead of print, 2021 Aug 8]. Eur J Sport Sci. 2021;1-14. doi:10.1080/17461391.2021.1955014
  12. Dyer B. A Pragmatic Approach to Resolving Technological Unfairness: the Case of Nike’s Vaporfly and Alphafly Running Footwear. Sports Med Open. 2020;6(1):21. Published 2020 May 24. doi:10.1186/s40798-020-00250-1
  13. Rodrigo-Carranza V, González-Mohíno F, Santos-Concejero J, González-Ravé JM. Comment on “A Pragmatic Approach to Resolving Technological Unfairness: The Case of Nike’s Vaporfly and Alphafly Running Footwear”. Sports Med Open. 2021;7(1):94. Published 2021 Dec 17. doi:10.1186/s40798-021-00378-8
  14. Agence France-Presse. At 101, Fauja Singh completes his final marathon | Other Sports News. NDTVSports.com. Published 2013 February 24.
  15. 9 Oldest Marathon Runners in The World. Oldest.org.
  16. Largest half marathon. Guinness World Records.
  17. Largest ultramarathon. Guinness World Records.
  18. Largest women’s marathon. Guinness World Records.

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