How Long Does It Take to Run a Marathon?

Athlete jogging along the banks of the River Thames early in the morning, while listening to music on her smartphone or music player.

GCShutter / Getty Images

If you've ever wondered whether you're capable of running a marathon, the good news is that with proper training, almost anyone can. You might also wonder how long it would take you. Average marathon times 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 different 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 you 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.

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.

Training

How long you spend training leading up to the race and how hard you train each week matters. 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 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 the race, and after the race is essential to prevent dehydration. Some research has shown that dehydration can affect running performance and slow finish time.

Weather

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 seem a lot easier, making 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 both? It takes longer to run uphill than on flat surfaces, but you can train for this as you prepare for you rmarathon.

Will the race take place at a high elevation in the mountains of Colorado or 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.

Pace

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.

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. Remember that your marathon pace will likely be a little 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. Keep in mind that an expected marathon time does not guarantee that 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 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 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.

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.

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 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. 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?
3 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. History Channel. Why is a marathon 26.2 miles?.

  2. 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

  3. 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