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How Long is a Marathon and How Long Does it Take to Run One?

Amanda Wendorff

The marathon distance intrigues runners, new and experienced, and even the non-running population. If you've put "run a marathon" on your bucket list, you are certainly not alone—scenes from the Olympic marathon, as well as many famous races such as the Boston Marathon, have inspired many people to lace up their running shoes and see if they can run one too.

If you're thinking about entering a marathon but wondering how long it is and how long it will take you to run, we've got your answers. The length of a marathon is just over 26 miles (26.2 miles, to be precise) or 42.2 kilometers, and for most trained runners, it takes between three and five hours to complete.

But beyond the distance, what defines this long distance event, and more importantly, can you, as a newer runner, realistically aim to complete it?

We wholeheartedly say, "Yes, you can do it!" – with proper training and preparation. Let's begin our journey into marathon training and find out how you can get ready to tackle the challenge and enjoy the great feeling of making it to the finish line.

In this article, we'll answer these questions:

  • How long is a marathon?
  • Why is the marathon 26.2 miles?
  • How popular is the marathon?
  • What's the average finish time for a marathon?
  • What's a fast marathon time?
  • How long does it take to train for a marathon?
  • Can I walk a marathon?
  • What does a marathon training plan look like?
MOTTIV app user Dena McPhedron is all smiles running to cross the finish line of her event.

How Long is a Marathon?

Before you even start to think about training for a marathon, make sure you have a handle on the race distance. You can look at a marathon running race from a few different standpoints as far as distances go:

  • A marathon is 26.2 miles long. That's a bit over 138,000 feet!
  • For our metric friends, a marathon is 42.195 kilometers long.
  • If you were to run the distance of a marathon on an outdoor 400-meter track, it would take a little over 105 laps.
  • For an average person, it'll take roughly 55,000 steps to run a marathon or 59,000 steps to walk it.

For many runners, the marathon is the pinnacle distance of the sport. Covering 26.2 miles on foot is a major challenge, but many runners of all speeds have successfully completed it. One thing is for certain—the process of training for and racing a marathon will leave you forever changed.

The History of the Marathon and Why It is 26.2 Miles

The marathon has a rich history that dates back to ancient Greece. The event is inspired by the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger who, according to myth, ran approximately 25 miles from the battlefield near the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in 490 B.C. Legend says that he exclaimed, "Niki!" (Victory!) upon his arrival and then tragically collapsed and died from exhaustion. This fabled run set the stage for the marathon's symbolic distance.

However, the exact distance of 26.2 miles wasn't standardized until the 1908 London Olympic Games. The original marathon distance was about 25 miles, but to accommodate the royal family's viewing preferences, the course was extended from its planned start at Windsor Castle to a spot in front of the royal box at the Olympic Stadium in London, setting the marathon length at its current 26.2 miles.

The Popularity of the Marathon Distance

The marathon is not just a race distance; it is a legendary challenge that tests the limits of human endurance and spirit. Recognized globally and contested at every Modern Olympic Games since 1896, the marathon captivates audiences worldwide.

Part of the marathon's widespread appeal comes from its ability to draw spectators and runners to some of the most famous urban settings. For example, many people, runners as well as those who have never run a step in their life, have heard about the races that are a part of the World Marathon Majors:

  • Tokyo Marathon
  • Boston Marathon
  • London Marathon
  • Berlin Marathon
  • Chicago Marathon
  • New York City Marathon

These races have thousands of participants, weave through large cities, and are broadcast to national and international viewers. Such races are well-known even among non-runners and continue to grow in popularity, reflecting the marathon's unique blend of sporting challenge and urban spectacle.

In 2018 alone, it's reported that over 1.1 million people crossed the finish line of marathon races worldwide, illustrating the massive and growing interest in this formidable distance.

MOTTIV app user Joanne Courtney runs in her very first race!

What is the Average Finish Time for a Marathon Running Race?

In 2019, the folks at and the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) published a report entitled "The State of Running." This report is the largest and most recent major analysis of race results. Its authors analyzed the finishing results of more than 70,000 running races from 1986 to 2018.

According to this study, the average marathon time for male runners was 4 hours and 22 minutes, which is a pace of 6 minutes and 13 seconds per kilometer (or 10 minutes per mile).

For women, the average marathon finish time was 4 hours, 52 minutes, a pace of 6 minutes, 56 seconds per kilometer (or 11 minutes, 9 seconds per mile).

To find out the average time it takes to cover the marathon course for your age and gender, you can use the following calculator:

What's a Fast Marathon Time?

Marathon events often have plenty of new runners hoping to reach the finish line for the first time. At the front of the race, however, you can always find speedsters aiming to reach the finish line as quickly as possible.

Official World Marathon Records

To give a sense of the fastest marathon runners, the world record finish times for the marathon distance are:

  • 2 hours and 35 seconds for men, set on October 8, 2023, by Kelvin Keptum of Kenya at the Chicago Marathon
  • 2 hours, 11 minutes, and 53 seconds for women, set on September 24, 2023, by Tigst Assega of Ethiopia at the Berlin Marathon

World Athletics, the international governing body for the marathon, also recognizes a second world record for women in the "Women Only" category, meaning the marathon was run without any male competitors. The Women Only marathon record is 2 hours, 16 minutes, and 16 seconds, which Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir set at the London Marathon on April 21, 2024.

Unofficial Marathon Record

Although not recognized as an official world record for the marathon, one man has run under two hours—Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. On October 12, 2019, in Vienna, Austria, Kipchoge ran the full 26.2 miles in 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 2 seconds as part of the Ineos 1:59 Challenge.

Kipchoge's time did not count as an official world record because the Ineos 1:59 Challenge was a closed event that did not incorporate all of the marathon's normal rules. However, Kipchoge remains the only person to have completed the marathon distance in less than two hours.

Marathon Times for Local Elite Runners

For male local elite runners, such as those trying to qualify for their country's Olympic Trials races, a good marathon time is in the 2 hours and 15 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes range. Of course, many professional runners may be faster than that.

Local elite female runners will likely be able to finish a marathon in 2 hours and 35 minutes to 2 hours and 50 minutes.

How Long Does it Take to Train for a Marathon?

Once you've decided to begin training for a marathon, it's time to set a training schedule and determine how many weeks you'll need to be ready to cross the finish line.

Generally, we don't suggest starting with the marathon as your first running race. There is much to be learned in training for a 5k, 10k, or half marathon. For most beginner runners, running a shorter race, like a 5k, is the best place to start. Or if you haven't yet started to run at all, check out our Learn to Run plan.

Once you're ready to take on your first marathon, the number of weeks you need to train for the 42k distance depends on multiple things, including:

  • Your background in endurance sports: for example, if you've been an elite swimmer in the past, it'll take fewer weeks to train than if you're still a very new runner.
  • Your current activity level: if you've already been running or walking regularly or recently completed a 5k, 10k, or half marathon, it will take you less time to increase your mileage to train for a marathon than if you took a long break from running and are just getting re-started with an exercise routine.
  • Your goals for race day: generally, if your goal is to finish without worrying about your speed or time, the training required to meet your goal will be less than if you were trying to race for the win or a personal record.

Generally, most runners need between four and six months to train for a marathon properly, assuming they have already been running regularly.

To determine how long you should devote to training for a marathon, you can use this calculator, which takes into account your background and goals:

Remember that these recommendations are minimums. If you can devote even more weeks or months to your marathon training than the calculator shows, that will help keep you injury-free for your race.

MOTTIV app user Steve Evers finishes a race in the Netherlands in front of a supportive crowd watching the race!

How Many Laps is a Marathon on the Track?

When training for a marathon, your local running track is ideal for building mileage and practicing running faster.

Most modern outdoor tracks are 400 meters per lap or ¼ of a mile. To run a marathon on an outdoor track, you'd need to complete 105 laps. That probably sounds like a lot of laps! Few runners will complete the entire marathon distance on a track. However, the track is an excellent place for shorter workouts, intervals, or tempo runs that will be part of your marathon training.

Indoor tracks at gyms and colleges can vary in distance. Tracks at colleges or universities used for track and field competitions are likely 200 meters. 42 kilometers on a 200-meter track would take 210 laps - again, a fairly unreasonable amount. Use the track for training, and move your long runs to more enjoyable surfaces.

Keep in mind as well that indoor tracks at recreation centers or gyms are not standardized and can be almost any distance. In this case, getting clarification from the facility manager is best.

Can I Walk a Full Marathon?

It is absolutely permissible to walk during a marathon race. Whether you include walking breaks between jogging intervals or decide to walk the entire race, you are still welcome in any marathon event.

You'll definitely have company if you include walking in your marathon race! You will find athletes in all sorts of situations who choose to walk during the marathon, including:

  • Newer runners who are still building up to running 42 kilometers continuously: Most training plans built for beginner runners will start with a run-walk program that, on most training days, alternates walking and running intervals. This strategy works very well for new runners and may last many months or years. But you don't need to wait to enter a marathon until you can run the full distance - run-walk intervals work in races, too!
  • Experienced runners whose bodies do better with walk breaks: Many experienced runners, including lots of marathoners, find that including short walk breaks during their races allows them to finish the race faster and feel better. Many running coaches suggest walking through the aid stations in any distance race, as the short break is good to bring the heart rate down a bit, allows for a mental reset, and generally helps runners maintain good form for longer.
  • Devoted walkers doing a marathon walk: Every marathon race has some participants who choose to walk the entire race. Many of these walkers are experienced racers who simply prefer walking. Some athletes have very fast walking paces and often walk faster than many runners!

The only concern with walking in a marathon race is ensuring that your walking pace is fast enough to complete the race within the stated time cutoff, if there is one. Finishing after the cutoff does not necessarily mean you cannot finish the race or will be pulled from the course. It simply means the official race is over, so you may not get an official time or finisher medal.

What Does a Marathon Training Plan Look Like?

If you're ready to get started, a good training plan will help you to prepare to reach the finish line. We have designed marathon training programs to help runners (at any fitness level) comfortably finish a marathon and even reach the finish line in a faster time. These training programs provide a holistic approach to training for a marathon, and will help you to increase your weekly mileage and speed with plenty of recovery incorporated to keep you healthy. They also provide lots of great training tips, such as how to fuel your weekly long runs and race day and how to incorporate strength and mobility work to keep your joints and muscles healthy.

You can look at an example basic training plan (look on the left-menu for beginner, intermediate and advanced options) or get a marathon training plan personalized to your fitness levels and goals, for free with our run training app.


If running a marathon piques your curiosity, you're not alone. Training for and completing a marathon run is a wonderful way to challenge yourself physically and mentally and will leave you with a sense of satisfaction and strength that few experiences can replicate.

This article has introduced you to the basics of the marathon, including:

  • The distance of a marathon
  • The history of the marathon distance
  • The time it takes to run a marathon
  • How long it takes to train for a marathon
  • How you can train for a marathon on the track
  • The pros and cons of walking in a marathon
  • What a training plan for a marathon looks like

Now, it's time to take your next steps. Lace up your shoes, find a training plan, get running, and before you know it, you'll be celebrating at the finish line.

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Amanda Wendorff

| Author

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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