How Long is a Marathon?

Fancied a new running challenge but was never sure what it should be? Well, how about a marathon? 

Now I know what you are thinking; that sounds a tad extreme. Isn’t a marathon incredibly long, challenging, and will leave me in agony?

Well, if you watched Run Fatboy run, I can see why you might be thinking that! Or, you might be wondering, how long is a marathon?

Not to panic, all your questions, concerns, and queries will be answered today! We shall be looking at how long a marathon is and uncovering the length and time it takes to run a marathon!

How long is a marathon?

Let’s answer the question here and now so you can get on with your day! A marathon is 26.2 miles long, or 42.2 kilometers. Generally, we hear the marathon spoken about in miles rather than kilometers. 

To complete a marathon, usually, you will run 105.5 laps around a standard 400-meter track. Like the London marathon, outdoor marathons operate differently as you navigate your way across the city to complete the race. 

It sounds like a trek, doesn’t it? That's probably why less than 1% of the population runs a marathon. How cool would it be, though, to be part of that 1%?

26.2 miles sounds like a long journey, but how long exactly is it? Let’s have a look at some comparisons that can help put the distance into perspective. 

How far is 26.2 miles?

Let’s put that distance into a bit of perspective for you. Often, we find it hard to compute the distance of just one mile, myself included.

Yes, smartwatches have helped, and I can now tell you how many miles it is from my home to the postal office and back, but what does it all mean?

For the sports fans in the room, let's take a football field. To run or walk 1 mile, you would need to cover the football field’s length 17.6 times.

That's a lot of laps of the same space! To run a whole 26.2-mile marathon at a football field, you would need to do 461 laps! How mental does that sound? 

Let’s look at another example. The longest animal in the world is the blue whale, measuring 80 feet long. You’d need a line of 66 whales to make a mile in length. To do a 26.2-mile marathon, you would need 1,729 blue whales lined up end to end to cover the distance! When you think about it like that, it's crazy, isn’t it?

These comparisons help understand the length of a marathon and are entertaining to chuckle over. Another way is to set your meter to zero in your car and drive until you hit one mile. Or drive for 26.2 and imagine having to run that! Think about how far you can drive when you go for 26 miles! 

What can you see?

As we mentioned earlier, not all marathons are completed on a track. Many are done outdoors, in cities or parks. Where the marathon is run will not affect the distance. Fun fact for your next pub quiz, the distance was standardized by the International Amateur Federation (IAAF) in May 1921! 

Three popular outdoor marathons are the London Marathon, the New York Marathon, and the Boston Marathon. Although the distance is the same, the views will be entirely different. The cities close their roads and allow you to see countless landmarks as you run. 

In London, for example, you run across London Bridge, viewing the Tower of London and running past the London Eye, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. Usually full of tourists, these spaces on one Sunday a year are filled with runners.

When running the New York marathon, you will cover all five boroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan. You will run through Central Park and take in countless views as your calves burn. 

If you were to partake in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C., you would see the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown, the National Mall, and finish at the Marine Corps War Memorial. 

You can always look up routes beforehand and choose the best marathon location that appeals to you. While you might be focusing more on each step, looking up and seeing different scenery is always a welcome relief. 

Why is a marathon 26.2 miles?

You might be wondering, how came up with the cruel idea of humans running 26.2 miles continuously? Well, let’s take a look! 

As the marathon has been around since the first Olympics (held in Athens), it is hard to know which part of the story is true and which is fiction, so it is wise to take the tale with a pinch of salt. 

It is said that Phidippides, a Greek messenger, ran 25 miles from Marathon to Athens. He delivered a battle victory message after running 140 miles in the days before. It is said that once he arrived, he collapsed and died. This part of the story is largely debated. 

However, what we do know is during the first Olympics at Athens, they attempted to mirror Phidippides' run. There was a 40km run (24.9 miles), which was the same distance as the first Boston Marathon. 

From then, it wasn’t until 1908, during the London Olympics, that the marathon became 26 miles and 385 years. The only reasoning behind this seems to be a desire for the Marathon to start at Windsor Castle and finish at the Olympic stadium in a way that offered the royal family an easy viewing of it. 

The new distance stuck, and in the 1924 Paris Games, the marathon’s official distance became 26.22 miles or 42.2km. The kilometer measurement is mainly used across Europe compared to here in the US.  

Can you run a shorter route in a marathon?

It is very challenging to run a shorter route when completing a marathon. You are not running a straight line, and although the roads are usually closed, there will still be obstacles you will need to avoid. 

Running in between other runners, pulling over to grab water, or taking a turn too wide can all add to your distance. It might not seem like much at the time, but those little extras can add up once you have finished the marathon.

Instead of finishing at 26.2 miles, you might have run 26.5 miles! This is more common than you would think, especially on courses with lots of twists and turns! 

It can be frustrating when you are running, and your smartwatch tells you your 26.2 miles are complete, yet you have not crossed the finishing line!

What is more frustrating is being just under. Whether your stride is long, or you’ve been lucky and taken all the short turns, there are cases where people have crossed the line to find out they are short and don’t qualify. Imagine how heartbreaking that must be!  

What about when a marathon isn’t 26.2 miles?

As we have said, marathons are 26.2 miles, but sometimes it is possible to run further or shorter distances while completing the race. But why? Sometimes a smartwatch will show you a distance longer than 26.2 miles. 

We discussed above how sometimes this can be caused by weaving between other runners and stopping for water, but what about running a course interrupted? Shouldn’t the course be 26.2 miles exactly?

Well, not always. Often, the course set up will be slightly longer than 26.2 miles. But why, you ask? Well, let’s find out why! 

Racecourses are measured with a calibration course. They use one that knows the correct marathon distance to calibrate a bicycle. Once completed, the calibrated bike is used to measure a new racecourse. 

This measuring is done multiple times, but the bicycle completes the shortest route possible on the course. This is done to ensure no runner runs less than 26.2 miles, which, as we know, means they don’t qualify as completing the marathon. 

While this ensures everyone can run the  26.2 miles, it does mean many runners will end up running a little longer than 26.2 miles.

However, should you follow the shortest route with a 100% accurate smartwatch, you should see 26.2 miles when you finally reach the finish line. This is extremely difficult to achieve, and it's best to expect being a little over the 26.2-mile mark when running a marathon. 

Where can I get accuracy?

You are more likely to see an accurate number if you were to run this distance on a treadmill instead. With many treadmills, you can set a distance you wish to run, and the treadmill will be sure to stop when you hit your goal. 

It allows for an accurate run of 26.2 miles and one without interruption from other runners. You can also set your own space, and it can be a good way of knowing how long it will take you to complete a marathon. 

While treadmills provide accurate distance and a controllable speed, we would still recommend running outside when preparing for a marathon.

Running on a treadmill feels very different from running on the ground, and you must experience outdoor running before your marathon. It will give you a good idea of what to expect, and experience in variable distances and dodging obstacles such as people and dogs! 

Some smartwatches also let you set a distance when running. This will depend on the watch and any running programs that you use.

You can punch in 26.2 miles, and once completed, your watch should notify you, whether that is by vibration or sound. This is a good way again of seeing your timings when it comes to running a  marathon and ensuring that you only cover the 26.2 miles. 

As most marathon runners run a little longer than 26.2 miles, it might be a good idea to run for a little longer, too, or throw some corners in the mix that will add to your distance. This will provide you with a more accurate run, and better prepare you for any upcoming marathon. 

How long does it take to run a marathon?

There is no one answer fits all for this question. The amount of time it will take to run a marathon will vary from person to person. Generally speaking, it will take 4-5 hours for a marathon to be completed. 

The time will depend on the runner’s fitness level, any health conditions they might have, and stopping along the way for water. The amount of training a runner has undergone before the marathon will also impact their timings. 

Some people opt to walk a marathon, which increases their time. If you were to sustain a 16 minute a mile walking pace, you would complete the marathon in roughly 7 hours. 

The fastest male-run marathon’s current record is 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds. This is held by Eluid Kipchoge, who recorded this speed at the 2018 Berlin marathon. 

Currently, the woman holding the fastest run marathon is Brigid Kosgei, who ran the 2019 Chicago marathon in 2 hours, 14 minutes, and 4 seconds. How fast is that?

The speeds the record-holders completed the marathon in are incredibly fast. Generally, any time under 3hours for men or women is considered a top speed compared to other runners. 

Don’t let these incredible speeds put you off, though! It’s not always about who gets there first, especially if you are not a professional runner. Ultimately, your run’s quality and training are far more critical than clocking a top speed. 

To successfully run a marathon, you need to train regularly and have a good stamina level to push you through those more challenging miles. It is a good idea to train in a range of conditions, as you don’t always get to run your race in the sunshine! Be sure to have the appropriate clothing and make the most of stopping for water. 

All of these factors are sure to help you run a marathon, and whether you clock in at 3 hours or 6 hours, the fact that you completed such a long and challenging run is something worth celebrating.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Any last-minute marathon related queries? Let’s answer them now!

How long should you run when training for a marathon?

When it comes to training, runners often ask what the longest run they should complete is. While no answer suits everyone, it is good to complete at least one 20 or 21-mile run. 

Running a longer run before a marathon will allow you to see how your body will react and provide a good indication of timings. When running such a long distance, be sure to map the run beforehand and have plenty of water with you to sustain you. 

When completing a long run, be sure that you do not push yourself too hard, as this can cause pain and injury after your run. Remember to carefully consider your training plan to ensure there is enough time for longer runs and recovery periods.

How long is a half marathon?

A half marathon is half the distance of a full marathon, making it 13.1 miles or 21.1km long. This doesn’t mean that running a marathon will feel like running two half marathons.

 On average, runners running a marathon will run 11 minutes slower during the second half of the marathon compared to the first. This is mainly attributed to the level of exertion building after each mile has been completed. 

How long is an ultramarathon?

Any run longer than the 26.2-mile marathon is referred to as an ultramarathon. These can range in distance, but commonly are 50 miles, 50km, 100 miles, and 100km. 

These are slightly different from marathons and tend to venture off-road for more technical trails. 

Final Word

Here we are, the end of the line! As you can see, a marathon is 26.2 miles and can be a grueling run requiring lots of training and willpower to push through the aching calves! 

Whether you are looking for a new challenge or just curious, we are sure you are leaving here today wiser and better prepared for any marathon (or marathon related quiz question!).

Suzie

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