What Is a Good Marathon Finishing Time?

Marathon runners running on paved road

 ZamoraA / iStock

A "good" marathon time will look different from person to person. If you've never run a marathon before, it can be hard to gauge a good finishing time. Learn about the average marathon times for elite and amateur runners, how to estimate what your marathon time will be, and some ways to improve it. The most important part of running the 26.2 miles of a marathon is making it your goal to finish the race regardless of your finish time.

Average Marathon Times

You want to finish your marathon in a good time, but what does that mean? How you compare can depend on typical marathon times for the course, your age group, and qualifying times for well-known marathons.

Overall Average Marathon Times

According to RunRepeat's report on running data, the average marathon time around the world in 2019 was 4:32:49. To break that down further, in 2019 the average men's marathon time was 4:30:46, and the average women's marathon time that same year was 4:56:39. Keep in mind that this data covers thousands of marathon runners, but not elite runners.

Marathon Times for Elite Runners

Elite runners train consistently for many years, so don't be discouraged if your time doesn't match up. Most elite runners finish between 2:02 to 2:10 for men and 2:15 to 2:25 for women.

Boston Qualifying Times

For many amateur runners, the Boston Marathon qualifying times (BQ) is the measure of a "good" marathon time. But only a small percentage of marathon runners actually achieve these times.

The BQ time standards can change from year to year. To qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon, men ages 18 to 34 had to run 3:00:00 or faster, and women in that age group had to run 3:30:00 or faster. After that, additional time is given to older age groups.

To qualify, you must run a marathon that is one of the designated Boston Qualifier races. Many runners select one of the marathons with the fastest courses to attempt to earn a BQ time.

Age-Graded Times

Your marathon performance depends on numerous factors, such as your level of experience, age, and sex. One way to put all marathon participants on a level playing field is by age-grading.

Age-graded results let you compare your race times to those of other runners in the race, as well as to the standard for your age and sex. You can use an age-grading calculator to figure out your age-graded race time to get a comparison of how your finishing time compares with others.

Times for a Specific Race

If you're curious about the range of typical finishing times in a specific event you're running, take a look at the race's previous results, which should be listed on the marathon's website. You can see the times of the age group winners, those who finished in the middle of the pack, and those who finished in the back of the pack.

Most races have cut-off times by which all participants are expected to finish; after these times, race support such as water stations and blocked traffic is typically not available. You can find these times on most marathon websites, too.

Factors Affecting Marathon Time

There are a host of factors that can play a role in a marathon finish time, including:

  • Age: Runners between 30 and 50 years old typically have the best marathon times, averaging 4:24:00. Runners older than 70 tend to finish slower at 5:40:00 while people younger than 30 and between ages 50 and 60 finish around 4:33:00.
  • Course: Whether the terrain is flat or hilly can impact your run time. Keep the landscape in mind when training so you can prepare effectively.
  • Experience: If this is your first marathon, you should expect to take longer than more advanced runners. As you train for and run additional marathons, you can work toward beating your personal record (PR).
  • Training: The amount of time you spend training and how hard you train directly impacts your finish time. Following a structured training plan is a good way to help you achieve your goal time.
  • Weather: Even though you can't predict the weather for certain day months in advance, you can gauge the general temperature and precipitation based on the season. If you will be running in Florida during the summer, expect there to be hot temperatures and humidity. If New York during winter is your plan, prepare for cold weather and a chance of snow or rain.

How to Estimate Your Finish Time

Knowing your approximate finishing time can help you pace yourself throughout the race. You can use your finishing time for shorter distances to estimate your marathon race time. By knowing your time for other distances such as the mile5K10K, and half-marathon, you can determine if you are on track for your best marathon time.

To determine your approximate finish time, you can use the calculator below. From the dropdown menu, choose "marathon" as your race, or enter 26.2 miles. Then, enter your typical pace per mile and click "calculate." This will compute your estimated finish time.

You can also calculate your potential finish time by hand. Simply multiply your average pace per mile by 26.2 miles. Then, divide the total number by 60 minutes to get your results in hours.

Your predicted finishing time may differ from your actual time for many reasons—but remember that anytime is a good time, especially if it is your first race.

How to Improve Your Marathon Time

Simply finishing a marathon—completion time aside—is a good goal to have. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to run a fast time in your first marathon. Once you have a marathon under your belt, then it's fun to compete against yourself and try to beat your personal record (PR) rather than worrying about what other runners are doing.

A marathon is a serious challenge, no matter whether it's your first or your fifteenth. Your time should improve with experience and proper conditioning. If you're planning to run a marathon, here are some training schedules to choose from:

A Word From Verywell

As runner John Bingham said, "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start." Even if you avoid rookie marathon mistakes and are fully prepared for race day, anything can happen over the course of 26.2 miles. You might take home the trophy for your age group or be the last runner across the finish line. Either way, you are a marathoner and you are a winner. Wear your marathon medal with pride.

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  1. The State of Running 2019. RunRepeat. Published March 2, 2021.