In any sport or physical showing of strength and ability, you can easily get caught up in competitiveness and comparison.
Running and marathons are no different from the rest of the sporting world in this regard.
Nowadays we are faced with an app for everything, and people are posting their every action online, and so comparing yourself to others in everyday life is a trap we all fall into, and it is even worse with sports.
With step tracking smartwatches, that tells you how many steps you did, how far traveled, and how many calories you burned, everyone is always in competition with everyone else.
It is easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others when life has become so competitive, but we want to focus on what we can do. We forget to only compare ourselves against ourselves, our progress.
In timed events such as marathons, can, however, give us a competitive drive that makes us want to do better, which can be a good thing, as long as you don’t overexert yourself and end up injured of course.
So many people wonder, “what is a good marathon time?”, so let’s talk about that.
A good marathon time differs between men and women on average, for men, it is usually 4 hours, and for women, it is usually 4.5. There are exceptions but these are the average figures.
However, you cannot solely use these figures alone, a good marathon time also depends on other factors such as age, experience, and your personal goals.
A 24-year-old male will have a very different time and very different goals to a 54-year-old female, and so there can be no comparison there.
Remember, even if you fall below the average time, this does not mean that your time is not good, as long as you are working towards your personal best and trying hard to beat your record, improving as you go, there is nothing else to consider good, but that.
We cannot deny that it is normal to want a grand and respectable marathon time, especially when you commit so much of your time and life to train for it and participating in events, especially should they culminate in this one specific event.
So, today we will discuss with you, how to decide what exactly makes a good marathon time, and based on your time and the previous achievement and/or training if your time is good enough for you. Because the only thing that matters here is that you are happy with your achievements.
What makes for a good Marathon time?
Before we start here, we want to highlight and agree that a ‘good’ marathon time, is never going to be the same for everyone. That it will vastly differ from person to person.
Everyone has different contributing factors to their performance and each person will start their run with unique goals in their mind.
Every person has more than their own opinion of what is good for themselves, and what their goal is, but each person will also have different ideas of what is a good time for the whole population.
Some people may believe that ‘good’ is simply placing within your division, some may think that it means to be better than 75% of runners, whereas others may believe good runners to only be the small percentage of people who can qualify for top races, such as ‘The Boston Marathon’.
It could also be simply falling into areas closer to an average category, and that those other options are considered more ‘great’ than ‘good’. Simply, what ‘good’ is, is different for everybody.
A vague idea would be the 4-hour marker, or around that, and that applies to any runner.
Although rather arbitrary, 4 is a good number, and generally anyone, female, male, of any age group, who can complete a marathon in around four hours, has certainly given it all they have got and more.
Yet, this is not quite enough to narrow things down, for one, where exactly does a 4-hour mark sit on the general spectrum of marathon completion times?
Since we know that ‘good’ is a subjective term, for now, let’s just call ‘good’, average, and above. So that you can get a good idea of how you compare and look further into how you can better your performance.
What is the overall average Marathon time?
Before we jump into the specifics of marathon times, the logical place to start is just to look at average times, and we mean overall averages.
There is no perfect medium, as every course is different, but it does give a vague idea of where the middle of the pack is and how they are doing.
It is, of course, better to judge based on your times and performances, instead of taking stock into the times of other runners.
However, it is normal to want to know where you fall on the time spectrum, and how you compare to the majority of runners competing in the same distance as you are.
If we look at the overall average, then the average time to complete a marathon is just under 4.5 hours, at 4 hours and 21 minutes. To check out your marathon times, and how it stacks up you can look on ‘MaraStats’.
Putting in your gender and age range, you will get a percentage that tells you how you align with other people in your age and gender group.
You can also compare your stats to the opposite gender, other age groups, and the overall population should you wish to.
If you take a look at the statistic from MaraStats, when you put in your time and get your results, if you check this for men and women, the average will differ. ‘Good’ is not the same for men as it is for women.
For a female, a 4-hour marathon is faster than three-quarters of their population, whereas for ales it is just over average.
If we continue to state that ‘good’ is average or around average, then we could say that a 4 hour time for men is ‘good’, but for women ‘ is substantially better, or ‘great’.
As we look at this we know that people love to know averages in every and all categories, especially when it comes to personal performances, and self-ranking.
It doesn’t even really have to be said that most people would also like to fall above that ‘average’ line, even just by a tiny bit. So, with that in mind let us have a look at the more specific averages for males, females, and age groups.
Average Marathon times: Males and Females
From the minute that sports came into being, they have been divided by gender, unless you’re in kindergarten. Competitive sports almost always have competitors within one gender.
One of the reasons men and women are often divided in sports is due to some archaic set-ups, but also because of the different builds, men are better than women at some sports and women wipe the floor with men in others.
When you sign up for a race, you will always have to state your gender, even if it feels like you aren’t competing, that is what running a race is.
And when it comes down to determining what ‘good’ is, in terms of a marathon’, gender does make a difference.
Despite how many women there are that would break this rule, taking the fastest men and the fastest women in the world, men are generally faster.
However, women do have endurance on their side. While men are faster, women have better endurance, biologically.
Based on our previously discussed ‘average’, let’s take a look at what would equal a ‘good’ time for either gender.
- Female- 4:39:09
- Male- 4:10:10
These times are the equivalent to the ‘middle’ or considered race times that would be viewed as ‘good’.
But while we talk about gender, we must be aware of a previous thought, gender is not the only contributing factor here We must also take into consideration: age.
Average Marathon times: Looking at age
No matter how competitive you are, you know it would never be fair to put a 20-year-old up against a 60 or 70-year-old.
This is why in a majority of running races/ competitions, finish times are often divided by age groups. Plenty of races will also usually hand out awards for the top three finishers of each gender in each category.
You can see this as an extra backup that it is widely recognized that different genders and age groups do not have the same average finish time or even goal.
Age groups are often divided by decade, though there can often be some wider or even narrower categories, it is very dependant on the individual race. Let us show you the average marathon times by age group and gender.
20 – 29
30 – 39
40 – 49
50 – 59
60 – 69
As previously stated there is no requirement for any runner to put any stock into what the average times are and what anyone else is doing.
Now we would like to help you to look into how you can determine what is a good marathon time for you. But, we would like to take a quick moment to have a look at something else.
The Boston Marathon. And we would like to quickly discuss the people who run fast enough to qualify for this race.
The Boston Marathon: Achievement Unlocked
Talking about Marathon times, we have to bring up this race.
Any avid runner, especially marathon runners, puts this race up on a pedestal, and if said runner hasn’t competed here yet, you can be sure that it is an end goal at the very least.
It has a unicorn mascot and it symbolizes the ‘great’ over the good. It stands as a new competition for runners who have beaten that good mark and are well on their way to the ‘great’ mark.
A kind of motivational race to keep on pushing and pursue something even more.
Any time we use a qualifying or goal time, that pushes us to be our best selves, then we know these ties have value. When you see those times written down it will become more real and drives us to better ourselves ever more so.
Any time that we consider ‘good, or ‘great’, can also hold us back as much as it can push us forward. As is such with the Boston qualifying time.
You may find yourself not believing that you could qualify for the Boston Marathon, as you may view it as an elite event. However, do not feel drawn in by humbling yourself into self-doubt.
You can always persevere and finally get the time you need to qualify. Make sure to try hard, but not let your marathons and your time define you.
If you can reach above and beyond and reach times you didn’t know you could, that is as much of an accomplishment as achieving a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.
If you get the qualifying time then that is also fantastic, but remember not to just stop there. Good should be leaving everything out there that you can so that you can run the best race you possibly can.
There are a few people who may even consider Boston qualifying times as the base for a ‘good’ tie, but that is really what falls more into ‘great’ than ‘good’. And a good time is self-defined.
Marathon times as a guideline
Now that we have discussed the age and gender differences in marathon times, as well as the coveted Boston Marathon, we should also discuss what exactly you should do with that information.
Although it is great to have a baseline for what you want to achieve in your running, there are some issues you may find with paying attention to averages.
First of all, it can make us feel less than if we are trying our best and we cannot hit that mark, every person is different and when we pay too much attention to these times we can forget that.
The other thing is that it can stifle us if we are thinking “Hey, I have already reached that marker, I can put my feet up now.”
Making us overconfident and feel like that is nothing that we can do to better ourselves. The truth is that there is always the potential for improvement and even if you do have an incredible time, it does not mean that you should stop altogether.
The point is that having an understanding of what is a “good” marathon time is nice to know as long as you are just using it as guidelines, or a dipstick, and focusing more on your abilities.
You can always use average times as a goal, but you should not focus entirely on it and feel beaten down if you didn’t quite get there.
There are lots of runners whose personal fitness levels would make these particular times unsuitable and in some cases unrealistic especially those of certain age groups, certain health conditions, or even just by being a beginner.
Of course, you can progress and work to get there eventually, if you are running a 2.5 hour half marathon at the moment then you should not anticipate anything under 5 hours for a marathon.
This would be unrealistic considering where you are currently at. For you this time 5 hours would be reasonable, and then over time and with training, you can build on that time as you progress.
This is why personal best times are what you should consider a ‘good’ time, rather than averages, or even the considerations of what others believe to be a ‘good’ time.
Make that decision yourself and use your times as a basis of what is good and what is great, for you.
We all want to feel like we are good at something. That is natural and no harm at all until self-doubt sinks in of course.
You do not want to decide not to try at all because self-doubt has sunk in and now you feel like you won’t be good. Nor do you want to quit because you do not feel you are not good enough.
It can be easy to get bogged down in the numbers and figures of others, and self-doubt will always creep in, if there is room for it, remember though, it is just your mind being mean, and that you can achieve whatever you dream, you just have to crush that self-doubt and push yourself.
Remind yourself that what others do is no reflection of yourself. You can do it!
On the other side, there is a possibility that you may not push yourself because you have already reached your ultimate goal and now you are in the top half.
So, what’s the point, right? Everything! When you reach your goals, you can always set new ones, pushing yourself to be and achieve even greater things.
When we look to break down marathon times and find an average, or consideration of what others may view as a ‘good’ time, this is something to be viewed lightly.
Then there are other categories, it is also important to view these things when seeking your own ‘good’ time, which in reality is just your own personal best.
First of all, if you are running a marathon for the first tie, then you may be more focused on training properly and your goal is to finish.
Once you have done this, you can better understand all the logistics and will have a starting point to go off of to determine your ‘good’ time.
On your first marathon, you may wonder where you fit in, time-wise, if you fell short here, who cares, you ran a marathon! Well done you! If you surpassed the average, fantastic, keep at it, see what you can achieve next!
So, what if you are below the 5th percentile? There are plenty of runners just like you who fall below the halfway mark of their age group.
This does not mean that you are not a good marathon runner, you have still come to something amazing, and completed a marathon. You shouldn’t give up and should keep on trying.
There is often an opportunity to train and build more upon yourself so that you can do better next time, of course. But whatever your time if you are surely still capable of fantastic and amazing things.
If you’re above the 50th percentile, good on you, keep going. Not only are you running a marathon and completing it, but you’re also doing it at speed! Good on you.
Now, keep going. If you are happy with your time and don’t want to continue with marathons and want to tackle something else then great.
But never forget you always have something more to give, and if you still want to keep trying, there is more out there, go grab it.
Training can be a lot though, if you can still tackle that there is no reason not to, don’t let the idea that you already have a good time stop you from doing even better.
It’s all down to you.
Some people may look to the times of others to get their drive to do better.
You may pay attention to their training, techniques, and how much work they put in to wage how you can improve. This can be when a comparison can be good.
But you have to also nail yourself down, and stop scrolling through the stats and achievements of others and take what you learn from them, and apply it. So that you can find exactly how capable you are.
What a good time is, is all down to you, and your perspective, and your times and abilities. No one else gets to decide if your time is good or not, it is totally up to you.
Focus on your personal best and your achievements.
Only once you’ve given it your all can you know that you have given your best marathon time, and that, whatever it is, is something to be proud of.