What’s The Fastest Marathon Time for Men and Women?

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

If you’re on a quest to uncover the secrets behind the fastest marathon times, you’re in for a treat. Marathons, the ultimate test of human endurance, captivate hearts and minds around the world. Runners, young and old, from all walks of life, are drawn to the challenge.

But what sets apart the fastest marathon runners from the rest of the pack? How do they achieve the seemingly impossible? In this article, we’ll embark on a journey through the world of marathons, where records are shattered, limits are pushed, and human potential is on full display.

So, fasten your virtual running shoes, because we’re about to dive into the exhilarating world of the fastest marathon times!

So what’ the current Fastest Marathon times?

The current world record for the marathon stands at 2:01:39. It is held by the legendary Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge, dominating the world marathon stage since winning the Chicago Marathon in 2014.

In the years thereafter, the Kenyan athlete has won every marathon he has participated in, including the gold in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Then, in the Berlin Marathon in 2018, Kipchoge made history when he won the Berlin marathon at 2:01:39. His finish time broke the previous world by one minute and 18 seconds, the biggest jump over a previous record since 1967.

Eliud has managed to finish a marathon in less than two hours, though, but his historical run wasn’t officially recognized as a world record (we’ll get into why later).

Eliud is also an Olympic legend, defending the men’s title he had won in Rio 2016 by crossing the finish line first at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Useful resource – Here’s the full guide to how long a marathon is.

The Fastest Women’s Marathon

The female world record for the marathon is at 2:14:04 and belonged to Brigid Koskey. The race took place during the Chicago Marathon on October 13, 2019, in a race completed by men and women.

The IAAF recognized another female world record of 2:17:01, set by Mary Keitany at the London Marathon for women only.

The Sub Two-Hour Marathon Record Explained

Eliud Kipchoge’s achievement of completing a marathon in under two hours during the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in October 2019 was a remarkable feat of human endurance and precision planning. However, it was not recognized as an official world record by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) for several reasons.

To be considered an official world record by the IAAF, there are strict criteria that must be met:

  • IAAF Sanction: The event must be officially sanctioned by the IAAF, meaning it must adhere to their rules and regulations, and the race must be open to all eligible participants.
  • No Rotating Pacemakers: The use of rotating pacemakers, as was done in Kipchoge’s sub-two-hour attempt, is not allowed for official world record attempts. In official races, athletes must run without such assistance.
  • Aid Stations: In official races, drinks and other forms of assistance can only be provided at specified aid stations along the course. Runners are not allowed to receive personalized or unscheduled aid.
  • Competitive Conditions: World record attempts are typically conducted under competitive conditions, where multiple elite athletes compete against each other, pushing the limits of performance.

While Kipchoge’s achievement was a monumental moment in the history of the marathon, it didn’t meet all the criteria set by the IAAF for an official world record. However, it demonstrated the incredible potential of human endurance and has inspired many in the world of long-distance running.

Note – learn more about the history of running here.

Additional resource – How to nail your sub 4-hour marathon pace

The Criteria For A World Record

The criteria established by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) for a marathon time to be ratified as a world record are quite stringent to ensure fair and consistent measurements.

Some of these key rules include:

  • Exact Course Length: The racecourse must be an exact 42.195 kilometers (26.219 miles) long, measured with precision using the calibrated bicycle method. This accuracy ensures that all marathon courses are of the same standardized length.
  • Precise Measurement Timing: The course should be measured and verified as close to the event as possible, preferably on race day or shortly thereafter. Different “A” grade measurers should ideally perform the measurements to ensure accuracy.
  • Start and Finish Points: The start and finish points of the course must be within 50 percent of the distance, measured along a theoretical straight line between them. The course should not be laid out in a point-to-point manner to prevent unfair advantages.
  • Elevation Change Limit: The overall drop in elevation between the start and finish points should not exceed one meter per kilometer. This limitation ensures that the course does not provide excessive downhill assistance to runners.

Additional resource – How fast can Bolt Run

Putting Things In Context

Completing a fast marathon requires a combination of factors, including pacing, weather conditions, and both physical and mental endurance and strength. Eliud Kipchoge’s remarkable achievements in marathons highlight just how exceptional his running abilities are.

Let me put his performances into perspective so you can get a better glimpse of how great this guy is.

The average marathon finish time for men, as reported by Running USA, is approximately four hours and 16 minutes. Eliud Kipchoge’s world record marathon time of 2:01:39 is not only significantly faster but also extraordinary.

Eliud’s 5K split time during his world record marathon was an astounding 14 minutes and 24 seconds, which is exceptionally fast compared to the average 5K finish time of around 30 minutes. This showcases his exceptional speed and endurance.

While pursuing the world record, Eliud hit the 5K mark in 14 minutes and 24 seconds. That’s not fast—that’s lightning fast.

10 Fastest Marathoners on Record-Eligible Course: Men

  • Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) – 2:01:39 (Berlin, 2018)
  • Keninisa Bekele (Ethiopia) – 2:01:41 (Berlin, 2019)
  • Birhanu Legese (Ethiopia) – 2:02:48 (Berlin, 2019)
  • Dennis Kipruto Kimetto (Kenya) – 2:02:57 (Berlin, 2014)
  • Emmanuel Mutai (Kenya) – 2:03:13 (Berlin, 2014)
  • Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) – 2:03:23 (Berlin, 2013)
  • Paul Tergat (Kenya) – 2:04:55 (Berlin, 2003)
  • Patrick Makau (Kenya) – 2:03:38 (Berlin, 2011)
  • Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) – 2:03:59 (Berlin, 2008)
  • Sammy Kitwara (Kenya) – 2:04:28 (Chicago, 2014)

10 Fastest Marathoners on Record-Eligible Course: Women

  • Brigid Kosgei (Kenya) – 2:14:04 (Chicago, 2019)
  • Paula Radcliffe (UK) – 2:15:25 (London, 2003)
  • Mary Keitany (Kenya) – 2:17:01 (London, 2017)
  • Ruth Chepngetich (Kenya) – 2:17:08 (Dubai, 2019)
  • Worknesh Degefa (Ethiopia) – 2:17:41 (Dubai, 2019)
  • Tirunesh Dibaba (Ethiopia) – 2:18:31 (London, 2017)
  • Gladys Cherono (Kenya) – 2:18:11 (Berlin, 2018)
  • Vivian Cheruiyot (Kenya) – 2:18:31 (London, 2018)
  • Ruti Aga (Ethiopia) – 2:18:34 (Berlin, 2018)
  • Joyciline Jepkosgei (Kenya) – 2:18:40 (Valencia, 2020)

10 Fastest American Marathoners on Record-Eligible Course: Men

  • Galen Rupp – 2:06:07 (Prague, 2018)
  • Khalid Khannouchi – 2:05:38 (London, 2002)
  • Ryan Hall – 2:06:17 (London, 2008)
  • Dathan Ritzenhein – 2:07:47 (Chicago, 2012)
  • Abdi Abdirahman – 2:08:56 (Chicago, 2006)
  • Bob Kempainen – 2:08:47 (Boston, 1994)
  • Meb Keflezighi – 2:08:37 (Boston, 2014)
  • Bill Rodgers – 2:09:27 (Boston, 1979)
  • Alberto Salazar – 2:08:51 (New York, 1981)
  • Leonard Korir – 2:07:56 (Amsterdam, 2019)

10 Fastest American Marathoners on Record-Eligible Course: Women

  • Deena Kastor – 2:19:36 (London, 2006)
  • Jordan Hasay – 2:20:57 (Chicago, 2017)
  • Joan Benoit Samuelson – 2:21:21 (Chicago, 1985)
  • Amy Cragg – 2:21:42 (Tokyo, 2018)
  • Shalane Flanagan – 2:21:14 (Berlin, 2014)
  • Laura Thweatt – 2:25:38 (London, 2017)
  • Desiree Linden – 2:22:38 (Boston, 2011)
  • Sara Hall – 2:22:01 (London, 2020)
  • Molly Huddle – 2:26:33 (London, 2019)
  • Kara Goucher – 2:24:52 (Boston, 2011)

Progression of Men’s Marathon World Record Since 1900:

Note – Please keep in mind that the concept of “world records” in the marathon did not begin until the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) started ratifying them in 1913. Before that, there were “world best” times, which were widely recognized as the fastest-recorded times, but they did not have the official status of world records.

  • Johnny Hayes (USA) – 2:55:18.4 (London, 1908 Olympics) – Though it was a recognized best time, note that the marathon distance was not standardized until 1921. The distance of this race was approximately 26.22 miles.
  • Hannes Kolehmainen (Finland) – 2:29:39.2 (Stockholm, 1920)
  • Albert Michelsen (USA) – 2:29:01.8 (Port Chester, 1925)
  • Fusashige Suzuki (Japan) – 2:27:49 (Tokyo, 1933)
  • Yun Bok Suh (South Korea) – 2:26:42 (Boston, 1947)
  • Shigeki Tanaka (Japan) – 2:27:45 (Boston, 1951)
  • Jím Peters (UK) – 2:20:42.2 (London, 1953)
  • Sergey Popov (USSR) – 2:15:17 (Stockholm, 1958)
  • Buddy Edelen (USA) – 2:14:28 (Chiswick, 1963)
  • Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia) – 2:12:11.2 (Tokyo, 1964 Olympics)
  • Derek Clayton (Australia) – 2:09:37 (Fukuoka, 1967)
  • Derek Clayton (Australia) – 2:08:33.6 (Antwerp, 1969) – This record stood for over a decade.
  • Roberto Salazar (Tanzania) – 2:08:05 (New York, 1981)
  • Steve Jones (UK) – 2:08:05 (Chicago, 1984)
  • Carlos Lopes (Portugal) – 2:07:12 (Rotterdam, 1985)
  • Belayneh Dinsamo (Ethiopia) – 2:06:50 (Rotterdam, 1988) – This record also stood for over a decade.
  • Ronaldo da Costa (Brazil) – 2:06:05 (Berlin, 1998)
  • Khalid Khannouchi (USA) – 2:05:42 (Chicago, 1999)
  • Paul Tergat (Kenya) – 2:04:55 (Berlin, 2003)
  • Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) – 2:04:26 (Berlin, 2007)
  • Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) – 2:03:59 (Berlin, 2008)
  • Patrick Makau (Kenya) – 2:03:38 (Berlin, 2011)
  • Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) – 2:03:23 (Berlin, 2013)
  • Dennis Kipruto Kimetto (Kenya) – 2:02:57 (Berlin, 2014)
  • Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) – 2:01:39 (Berlin, 2018)

Additional resources:

How to determine Marathon pace

Guide to Marathon Des Sables

How to qualify for the Boston Marathon

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