How Long Is A Marathon? (& How Long Does It Take To Run One?)

marathon runners legs running on city road

How long is a marathon?

What’s the story behind it?

How to train for one as a beginner?

If you’re looking for answers, then know that you have come to the right place.

In today’s post, I’ll provide answers to the most frequently asked marathon questions that will leave you feeling informed and motivated and talking like a running expert in no time.

More specifically, I’ll explain:

  • How far is a marathon?
  • How is the course measured?
  • The story and legend behind the marathon
  • Marathons in the Olympics
  • The impact of the London Marathon
  • How to start marathon training
  • And so much more

Sounds great?

Let’s lace up and dig in.

How Long is A Marathon?

The official distance of a marathon is 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers.

This is the official distance set by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

The official course is measured using a bicycle calibration method, usually in the presence of three assigned judges with a police escort.

Often, the course is measured three times in order to be as precise as possible.

Marathons in the US are always measured in miles, but almost everywhere else in the world will typically be measured in kilometers.

Still, having trouble wrapping your head around exactly how long a marathon is?

Then here some concrete examples to help you out.

  • Think of your commute distance. The average commute is 16 miles… Running a marathon is doing that 1.5 times.
  • Running 105 times around a 400-meter track.
  • Running the length of a football field 461 times.

If you think that’s a lot of miles to cover, you’d be right. Ooft.

That’s why only less than 1 percent of the population will actually finish running a marathon.

It’s such a big feat for anyone—and everyone.

How Long It Takes To Run A Marathon?

How long it’s going to take you to run a marathon depends on your speed.

On average, a marathon takes about four hours to complete—the world’s record is just over two hours.

As a beginner, you should focus on training fully for the entire 26.2 miles and make it to the finish line in one piece.

As your skill improves, you can try to beat your personal best for the marathon.

Here’s a simplified marathon pace chart:

  • At a 5-minute mile pace, it will take you 2:11:06 to run the whole marathon distance.
  • At a 6-minute mile pace, it will take you 2:37:19 to run the whole marathon distance.
  • At a 7-minute mile pace, it will take you 3:03:32 to run the whole marathon distance.
  • At an 8-minute mile pace, it will take you 3:29:45 to run the whole marathon distance.
  • At a 9-minute mile pace, it will take you 3:55:58 to run the whole marathon distance.
  • At a 10-minute mile pace, it will take you 4:22:11 to run the whole marathon distance.
  • At an 11-minute mile pace, it will take you 4:48:24 to run the whole marathon distance.
  • At a 12-minute mile pace, it will take you 5:14:38 to run the whole marathon distance.
  • At a 13-minute mile pace, it will take you 5:40:51 to run the whole marathon distance.

What’s A Good Marathon Pace?

Now that you have a good idea of the different paces and times, let’s discuss what’s an actual good marathon pace.

Here’s the truth.

I actually don’t have the answer.

No one has—even the internet.

The definition of a good running pace varies from one runner to the next, and it depends on factors such as your fitness level, age, weather, terrain conditions (flat or hilly course), etc.

What is The Average Marathon Finish Time?

According to a meta-analysis of more than 100 million race results from all over the world between 1986 and 2018, counting only recreational runners.

The average marathon finish time was 4:32:29, with an average male marathon time clocking at 4:52:18, whereas the female time was 4:48:45.

All in all, marathon finish times range from over two hours for elite marathoners to six hours or more for other participants.

marathon runners

Why Is The Marathon 26.2 Miles?

Now that we have established that a marathon is 26.2 miles, let’s take a look at history.

The First Olympics

The distance of an Olympic marathon was not precisely fixed from day one.

The marathon events in the early Olympic Games were roughly 25 miles (40 km), which is about the distance from Marathon to Athens by the longer, flatter route.

The Myth

Sometimes around 790 B.C. A great battle took place in the plains of Marathon, a small village in the northwest of Athens.

During the battle, a Greek general named Miltiades inflicted an important defeat against the invading Persian army.

Then, a messenger, Pheidippides, was tasked to deliver the good news and was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens.

The Greek messenger is said to have run some 25 miles from without resting, then burst into the assembly, declaring νενικήκαμεν (nenikēkamen, “we have won!” in Greek).

Upon delivering the good news, he collapsed out of exhaustion and died.

To honor his dramatic feat, the distance of the 1896 Olympic was set at 25 miles.

The Marathon Nowadays

The first Olympic Marathon event took place in Athens in 1896.

The course spanned a distance of 25 miles, or roughly 40 kilometers, starting at the Marathon Bridge and ending in the Olympic Stadium in Athens.

There were 25 participants, and only 9 crossed the finish line.

Greek water-carried Spyridon Louis took the gold, becoming a local hero.

The Changing Distance of The Marathon

Following 1896, the next few Olympic marathon events varied in length quite a bit, but the principle was that as long as all the participants run the same course, there’s no need to keep the distance exactly the same.

Check the following table.

City Year Kilometers Miles

Athens18964024.85
Paris190040.2625.02
St Louis19044024.85
Athens190641.8626.01
London190842.19526.22
Stockholm191240.224.98
Antwerp192042.7526.56
Paris192442.19526.22

The Birth Of The Official Distance

During the 1908 London Olympics, the marathon course spanned from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium—a distance of 26 miles.

The course was designed so that it could kick off at Windsor Castle and end at the Olympic Stadium.

But here’s the little caveat.

So, where does the extra 0.2 miles?

Well, let’s thank the British royal family.

The finish line was stretched an additional 385 yards, so the race would climax in front of the Royal Family’s viewing box.

By the way, this is what started the tradition of yelling “God Save The Queen” in the last mile.

Marathons Nowadays

Nowadays, marathon events take place virtually everywhere on the planet, from the North Pole, the Amazon, the Sahara to the Great Wall of China.

There are 100’s of organized marathons around the globe each year, with roughly 400,000 marathon finishers in the US alone.

Beginner Marathon Training Tips

Serious about participating in a marathon?

Then you better build your base before you jump into marathon training.

At a minimum, you should have been logging miles for at least six months, running at least three times per week.

If you have zero running experience, the wise thing to do is to start with shorter distances, such as the 5K and the 10K, then build on that.

You can’t really jump stages when it comes to marathon training—otherwise, you’ll get hurt.

Preparing For A Marathon

Once you have built a solid base, it’s time to train for the 26.2 race.

How?

Follow a training plan, so you’re properly prepared for the big day, prevent getting hurt, and feel confident on the big day.

Having a well-designed plan will also help keep you motivated during your long months of training needed to prepare for the race.

It’s not an easy feat.

Marathon Training Plans

Here are some links to my favorite marathon training plans.

The plans cater for everyone: the beginner looking to finish their first event as well as the advanced runner attempting to break the 3-hour mark.

Take your pick.

It all depends on you.

I cannot decide for you.

  • The Walking marathon schedule. Planning to walk, not run, the whole distance? Then try out this plan.
  • The couch to a marathon plan. This is a 26-week beginner marathon training schedule suitable for the complete beginner runner with no previous running experience.
  • The intermediate runner plan. Already can run an hour and/or have already run a few 5Ks and 10Ks? Then this plan is for you.
  • The advanced marathon plan. Have you been running for years and already participated in a dozen marathon races? Then follow this plan on your way to a new PR.

Conclusion

There you have it!

If you’re looking for answers to how long is a marathon distance as well as some of the history and random tidbits about it, then today’s article should get you started with the basics.

The rest is just details.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep Training Strong.

David D.