How Long Does It Take to Run a Marathon?

Runners in the ING New York City Marathon in 2013
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

If you've ever wondered whether you're capable of running a marathon the good news is with proper training almost anyone can. You might also wonder how long it would take you, but average marathon times can vary depending on a number of factors such as an individual's age, sex, and level of fitness.

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. While most marathon runners reach their peak by their mid-30s, it doesn't mean that older runners still can't achieve a personal best. That's why training for a marathon is of the utmost importance.

The average marathon finishing time in 2019 for men in U.S. marathons was 4:30:46 (10:19 minutes per mile pace), 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 different factors affecting average marathon times.

Factors Affecting Marathon Time

The length of a marathon can seem pretty daunting if you've never run one before, especially the fact that it could take you several hours to complete your first 26.2-mile race. But don't let this overwhelm you. Yes, you can really run a marathon, but you'll have to fully commit to a solid endurance training program.

There are a lot of factors that 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. Here are other factors that can affect your marathon finish time.

  • Training: How long you spend training leading up to the race and how hard you train each week matters. Following a training program that ensures you're logging enough miles each week will affect your marathon time. Note that your training schedule may differ depending on whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced runner. 
  • Nutrition: While you're training for a marathon you'll be burning more calories than you're used to, which means you'll need to eat plenty of energy-dense whole foods to replace that spent energy. Prior to race day, most runners "carb-load" on bread, pasta, and other high-carb foods to ensure they have enough energy to not only finish the race but perform at their best.
  • Hydration: Staying hydrated leading up to the race, during the race, and of course, after the race is important to prevent dehydration. Some research has shown that dehydration can affect a runner's performance and slow their finish time.
  • Weather: While it can be impossible to predict how the weather will be on race day, you will be able to plan for the season the marathon is in. For instance, if the race is in November, you'll want to train during the colder months the year prior to get used to those conditions. Training in the summer heat can make running in cooler months seem a lot easier, which could make your finish time faster. Or, if it's pouring rain on race day it could slow your finish time.
  • Course Conditions: Is the course flat, hilly, or a mix of both? For instance, if the course is hilly, you'll know during your training that it takes longer to run uphill than on flat surfaces. Will the race take place at a high elevation in the mountains of Colorado or at sea level in New York City? Knowing the conditions of the course in advance can factor into how you train and also affect how long it will take you to complete the race.

Of course, how long it takes you to complete a marathon will also be determined by your race pace. If you're already a runner you will likely have some data about how to calculate your marathon pace. But if you're brand new to running, you'll want to log some miles for a few weeks to get a sense of your current pace. Keep in mind that your marathon pace will likely be a little slower than your training pace. Once you know you're training pace, use this pace calculator to help determine your average race pace.

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.

Estimate Your Marathon Time

It's helpful to have an estimate of your marathon finishing time before you run your first race so you know how to pace yourself properly. You'll also want to give your family members and friends that are cheering for you an idea of when to expect you on the course.

Predicting race times, especially for marathons, can be tough because there are so many variables, such as weather and course conditions. Keep in mind that a predicted marathon time is not a guarantee that you'll run that time. In most cases, only experienced marathoners achieve their predicted time or very close to it.

If you decide to run a marathon, remind yourself 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 ran 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. The range of finishing times and the number of participants will probably be similar this year. 

Try the race time prediction calculators below. If this is your first marathon, add 5–6% to the calculator prediction. Some marathons do 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.

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 who are at your same pace, especially at the back of the pack if you find yourself there.

A Word From Verywell

If you're running your first marathon focus on completing the race and finishing strong. Regardless of your time, finishing a marathon is an incredible achievement. You should strive for the time you want, but also remember to be realistic. Slowly, with proper training, you can improve your finish time.

Was this page helpful?
2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mata F, Valenzuela PL, Gimenez J, et al. Carbohydrate availability and physical performance: physiological overview and practical recommendationsNutrients. 2019;11(5). doi:10.3390/nu11051084

  2. O’Neal EK, Wingo JE, Richardson MT, Leeper JD, Neggers YH, Bishop PA. Half-marathon and full-marathon runners’ hydration practices and perceptionsJ Athl Train. 2011;46(6):581-591. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-46.6.581