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Marathon Running Statistics & How To Beat The Average Time

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7 Minute Read

Ready to set out on the challenge of completing a marathon? Or looking to complete another, but to beat your personal record?

This 26.2 mile (42.2 km) run isn’t one to take lightly. Throughout this article, we’ll touch on a few very interesting stats and discuss what’s needed to beat the average marathon time.

Marathon statistics

Average marathon time

The average marathon time across males of all ages is roughly 4 hours and 33 minutes, which is significantly slower than the 1989 average of 3 hours and 52 minutes. A good marathon time for a beginner is crossing below the 4-hour mark.

Keep in mind this also includes the times of runners of all levels – beginners, avid runners, and professionals. If you’re running a marathon for the first time and simply ‘in it to complete it’, depending on your age, you might be looking at a time closer to 6 hours.

Marathon records

  • The world record for the fastest marathon ever recorded was run during the 2018 Berlin Marathon by Eliud Kipchoge, a Kenyan. This comes out to an average pace of  4:42 per mile, which is faster than the average treadmill can even go.
  • The New York marathon is the world’s largest marathon race, with the world record of finishers recorded in 2013 as 50,266 participants crossed the finish line.

Other interesting facts and statistics about the marathon:

  • The top 3 countries with the highest percentages of people who complete marathons (source: IIRM) are #1: Germany (40%), #2: Spain (38%), and #3: the Netherlands (25%)
  • Less than 1% of the U.S. population has completed a marathon (source: RunRepeat)
  • The best-paid marathons are the Boston marathon (the 1st place wins $150,000), and the Chicago Marathon (the 1st place in women’s and men’s open divisions wins $100,000!)
  • The average age of marathon runners is 40 (source: IIRM)
  • The oldest person to ever complete a marathon was Fauja Singh in 2011, who ran the race at 100 years old.
  • Globally, about 30% of marathon runners are women, 70% are men.
  • Hawaiian marathon runners are the slowest in the U.S.

Running injuries

Unfortunately, running injuries are quite common ranging from knee injuries to ankles, hips, groin, and even feet pains and injuries

A 2007 study analyzing long-distance runners showed that lower extremity injuries take place in 19.4% to 79.3% of runners, with over half of those sustaining multiple injuries within a two-year period.

With a few changes and some work, you can make a big difference in preventing running injuries even if you’re putting down some heavy miles.

How many people run marathons

Less than 1% of people ever complete a marathon, but each year,  just over a million runners participate in sanctioned marathons across the globe.

Marathons for beginners

So, you’ve decided to register for a marathon? Let’s hope you’ve got some time to spare, if this is your first run anywhere near this distance, you’re going to need a really solid 8 – 12 months of training.

How to beat the average marathon time

Everything you need to consider if you want to perform your best and smash the average marathon finish time on your first go…

Injury check

Many running injuries are a result of either improper form or a sudden increase in training mileage. We can’t stress enough how important it is for your longevity as a runner to ensure your running form is not put on the side burner and instead kept at the forefront of your focus, regardless of how comfortable you feel.

For those of you that enjoy indoor running, a motorless treadmill can help improve your running form and reduce the chance of an injury. However, the best way to improve form is to hire a running coach or learn the fundamentals so that you can record yourself on a treadmill and practice proper form regularly, learning from your own movements.

As far as mileage goes, while many new, or highly motivated runners can get a bit too headstrong, the process for increasing the number of miles you’re running each week needs to be thought through if you want to avoid getting injured.

A good rule of thumb is: When building your base miles aim for a 10 – 15% increase week after week. For example, if you’re at 30 miles a week, the following week you can put in 33 – 34.5 miles.

However, it’s critical to listen to your body, if you notice any usual pains or discomforts, it might be worth dropping down, or even giving yourself a rest week where you take it down 10 – 15% rather than going up.

And finally, I suggest getting a full physical from a physician before venturing out on this journey to ensure your body is up for the task.

Marathon program

If you’re looking to beat the average time, or just challenge yourself and do your best…you’re going to want to follow a step-by-step marathon training program designed by a professional running coach.

A well-organized training program will have predetermined miles for you to follow, including a variety of days focused on distance, speed, and intervals. This mixture of training will help you adapt as required for running a marathon.

As you’ll find once you speak to a coach, communicate your goals, and have a plan created for you, it’s best to allow for some flexibility…there’s zero chance you’ll get through a full marathon training program by following every single predetermined day perfectly. You’re bound to have days where you feel better and want to run further, or faster, and especially days where you don’t feel 100%, or are exceptionally sore, yet are expected to put in serious work.

Alongside hiring a running coach, we also recommend tracking your runs through Strava to be able to gain insights into your progress and recovery.

Clean eating

A nourished body will perform better, there’s no doubt about it. And as you enter your training, it’ll become clear that you need more carbohydrates, and a variety of vitamins and minerals to aid in the digestion of those macronutrients and help your body recover and perform at its best.

For marathon training, we suggest a plant-based diet that is heavy in carbohydrates, especially starches such as potatoes, pasta, and rice in the evenings as well as lighter (simple) carbohydrates in the mornings like melons, citrus fruits, bananas, smoothies, and even oatmeal.

Recovery protocol

Having an athlete recovery regime can make a monumental impact on not just your performance, but also your daily happiness. Here’s how you can optimize your recovery to feel and perform your best.

Active rest

The term ‘active rest’ sounds a bit contradictory, but there is validity behind it. Science shows us that light movement, such as walking, swimming, or even easy riding on a spin bike can help flush lactic acid and improve blood flow, thus decreasing your recovery time.

Massage and compression tools

The use of handheld massagers and compression boots has taken the athlete recovery space by storm the last few years. If you haven’t heard of these tools, it’s a fair assumption that you might be living under a rock. (It’s okay, we can provide some insight…)

Incorporating these into your routine after some long miles on your legs can help ease pain, and again, decrease recovery time.

Cold water immersion

I get it, not everyone wants to be Wim Hof plunging under ice under miserable conditions to improve their willpower. But even a little bit of cold water immersion therapy, such as having a cold shower in the morning, or just a quick dip into a cold plunge, can go a very long way in helping to reduce chronic pain, improve blood flow, and even lower the chances of illness.


Alongside CWI, heat therapy is often used as a way to treat pain, especially chronic lower back pain. Surprisingly enough, the research favors heating over cooling for pain reduction.

You can use heat pads, or even infrared saunas to get the job done. Many recovery protocols will have athletes cold plunge immediately following a 30-minute session in the sauna.

Mental strengthening

This goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway; a marathon is a very tough challenge. You can put in more than enough miles, and still break on race day if your mind isn’t prepared for the challenge.

On race day you’re likely to experience a whole suite of emotions that you normally don’t in training, which can drain you of energy, leaving you feeling more fatigued than you thought you would.

Although some runners report the opposite, the pressure, adrenaline, and crowds make it easy to push themselves further.

Either way, strengthening your ability to withstand discomfort will irrefutably help you complete your marathon with a personal record.

Here are our quick tips:

  • Participate in activities that challenge your mind (cold plunges are a great, safe way of doing this)
  • Discipline yourself; this can mean waking up, and going to bed at the same exact time everyday, or never missing a training session
  • Consider your minds diet (what you hear shapes the way you think), i.e. listen to uplifting, motivating podcasts, youtube videos, etc.

Have any tips for mental fortitude you’d like to share? Drop them in the comments below! We wish you the best of luck on your journey and would love to hear your feedback if this article helped you crush a PR.

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