Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

Average Marathon Run Time | Tips to PR over 26.2M

How do you take an average marathon run time and make it a great one instead? Well, it will take persistence and focus but it can be achieved. I was able to lower my best from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 using the strategies outlined in this brief post. My goal for you is to start using leverage. Remember, higher mileage isn't always the answer. What if 90 percent of your weekly volume is spent running aerobically?

How prepared will you be at racing over 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers? So, you have to start changing up the way you train. The marathon is not the 5K. Athletes often times try to rush their fitness. The result is they question themselves when they miss their time goals. What was the real problem? A major reason could be they simply didn't train long enough for their race.

The best time frame to prepare for a marathon is between 16 to 24 weeks. My top recommendation to you is to focus on a longer build up. You will be better prepared to practice running at paces that are faster than your goal marathon race pace.

What is a Good Marathon Time for My Age?

Below are some generally good marathon times by times by age…

Credit: Marathon Hand Book

Below are some good marathon times by age for females

Credit: Marathon Hand Book
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Average Marathon Time for First Time Runners

An average marathon run time for most males is around 4:30 and 4:50 for females. Of course, there are runners who can run much faster and some much slower. How fast you run doesn't define your worth. I think a lot of runners compare themselves to other runners. The focus should always be to do the very best that you can with the abilities your Creator gave to you.

I would focus on running 4 to 8 weeks easy first. Remember, it takes time for your body to get into great shape. The more of a rush you are in to get in marathon shape the more disappointed you will be. I always recommend to my visitors to focus on a 16 and preferably 24 week build up. The reason is you need to first focus on strengthening the muscles of the body. Of course, you can add in strides into your routine twice per week.

Strides are shorter acceleration drills that will help you work on explosiveness and on your form. Strides are only about 50 to 100 meters in length. So, you won't build up any large amounts of lactic acid doing them. In addition, can do these types of short sprints on top of your other marathon training workouts. You can take an average marathon run time and make it a great time with enough patience and fortitude.

What is a Good Marathon Time for a Woman

Marathon Hand Book did a study that found that a good marathon time for men is around 3:34. In comparison, for the ladies a good marathon time is around 4:08. I tend to agree with their assessments. An average marathon run time for males could be around 4:30 to 5 hours and females 4:50 to 5 hours. The faster the athlete is seeking to run this distance the more that is going to be required out of them. The marathon is the longest Olympic running event.

3 hour marathon pace
Coach Pennington finishing as the top American and in 4th place at the 2007 California International Marathon in 2:19:35 (1:07:09/1:12:26)

Of course, there are ultra marathoners who compete in 50k, 100k, 100-mile, 50-mile and even 24-hour and 48-hour races. That being said, the marathon is one of the most popular running events in the world. The key tactic is to teach the body to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. Easy running will not teach you to do this. Faster running will. In fact, running at paces that are closer to your 5k to 10k race pace will.

Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new videos there each week to help runners around the world set new personal bests. I have done my best to create running courses and training plans located here to help speed up your learning curve. In addition, provide online running coaching for athletes that want to work with me one on one. You are more than welcome to visit the about page if you would like to know more about my racing background.

Average Marathon Time by Age and Gender

The above charts are overall descent indicators of what athletes can expect to run at their current age. Of course, these are just estimates. There are no graphs or tests that can test the power of the mind. I started off running the 1600m in high school in 5:30. I would later go on to hold 5:19 per mile (1609m) for 26.2 miles (2:19:35). Remember, I didn't have a great deal of talent. What I did have was a great deal of work ethic.

So, success in this sport can be achieved with drive, focus and persistence. The marathon demands respect. It may take you several months, years or decades to produce your very best marathon time. The charts you see above are just an overview. There are many runners in these same age categories who have run much faster. For example, Irishman Tommy Hughes recently ran a 2:30:01 marathon at the age of 62.

Consistency is mandatory if you want to become a better marathoner. Are you seeking to break the 5 hour, 2 hour or 3 hour marathon barriers? What about 2:30? If so, I have created running courses here for athletes such as yourself. I cover everything I have been taught the past 30 years by some of the world's top distance running coaches.

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How to Train for a Marathon

There are numerous tactics you can use to run faster over 26.2 miles. Below are some of my top recommendations. One of the most important and commonly overlooked is mental training. There are far too many runners who focus all their energy on physical training and neglect mental rehearsal. The world's best runners do not. They realize both mental as well as physical training is needed to produce a superior time.

So, start spending 10 minutes daily visualizing yourself crossing the finish line with your goal time on the clock. In addition, running confident, relaxed and passing people. Relaxation is also essential. So, continue to practice staying as relaxed as you can while training. It is much harder to do this while sprinting or during tempo runs but can be mastered.

How Long Does it Take to Go from Couch to Marathon?

Minimum 16 weeks and more than likely about 6 months. I always recommend a longer build up. In fact, I have training plans that are as long as 24 weeks in length. The reason for this is for those athletes starting from scratch. Remember, if you take a year away from the sport it may take a year or longer to get back to where you were. Fast results simply don't come in this sport.

So, you have to be extremely patient with yourself. Can an average person train for a marathon? Absolutely. I am an example of one. I didn't run my first marathon until I was 25 years old. I started running in 1992 as a freshman in high school and ran my first marathon in 2002. I, too, started from the couch and gradually over many years started competing in marathons.

Are you in college? I would focus on this event after you finish school. Focus on getting as fast as you can get in the mile to 10k distances before moving to the marathon. Below are some top strategies to use to run your marathon faster than the average marathon run time.

Focus on Longer Long Runs

What has been the longest long run you have done in the past training for your marathons? 10 miles? 14? I would recommend working your way toward 18 to 23 miles in length. I have went as far as 30 miles training for marathons and it didn't help me get any faster. So, running further than 23 miles is not going to necessarily guarantee you a faster marathon time.

Generally speaking, a long run between 18 to 23 miles is optimal. What you don't want to do is run long, slow and easy every single weekend. The reason is you need to teach the body to clear lactic acid more effectively. Easy running doesn't teach the athlete to do this. Of course, you will build an enormous amount of endurance running longer. So, alternate a longer easy long run followed the next week with a faster, varied paced long run.

Run Your Long Runs Faster

I was able to lower my marathon best from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 using this tactic. I, too, used to do my long runs easy every single weekend. It helped me to build my endurance. That being said, I had issues holding race pace for the entire distance. How does an athlete go from holding 6:14 to 5:19 mile pace for 26.2 miles? Faster long runs.

Below are some examples of the types of long runs I was doing prior to running 2:19:35. No, I did not start doing these types of long runs until I had put several weeks of easy mileage first. Remember, easy first then and only then do you start working on your speed development and stamina…

  • 2 mile jog, 5 miles@5:25 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 4 miles@5:45 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 4 miles@5:55 mile pace, 2 miles easy (22 miles)
  • 1 mile jog, 10 miles@5:25 mile pace, 1 mile easy, 2 miles@5:15 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 4 miles@5:35 mile pace, 1 mile jog (21 miles)

The following week's long run was easy running anywhere from 7 to 9 minute mile pace. I would highly recommend investing in a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitor training will ensure you are training at the proper intensities without overtraining. I use the Garmin 245 and highly recommend it. You get to focus more on heart rate rather than worrying about what splits you are hitting. Your splits will take care of themselves as you get fitter.

Focus on Longer Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are spent at the anaerobic threshold. Your anaerobic threshold is running between 85 to 88 percent of your maximum heart rate. Remember, we race our marathons right around the anaerobic threshold. So, the longer you can spend training at this intensity, the better. I would recommend working your way toward doing tempo runs ranging from 10 to 14 miles in length.

Of course, you still need to start slow and focus on adapting to a 2 to 3 mile tempo first. Yes, you will want to be able to be in great shape quickly but it doesn't work like that in this sport. It took me from 2002 to 2007 to go from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35. So, I had many setbacks along the way before I broke the 2:20 marathon barrier. It was, by no means, an easy process.

That being said, the tactics I share in the running courses and training plans are what helped me to get there. My hope for you is that you will invest in yourself and bypass the mistakes many other runners make.

Work on Your Overall Leg Speed

Yes, the marathon is a highly aerobic event. That being said, you still need to develop your leg speed even for this event. Remember, the goal is to recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers. The more of these the athlete can recruit the more efficient he or she is going to run. Also, you will slow down less than your competition. In addition, be able to sustain pace more effectively than those you are competing against.

Below are some examples of the types of vo2 max workout you are likely to see in our training plans and running courses…

  • Track intervals i.e. 5-6x1mile, 2-3×2 mile, 16x400m etc.
  • Road intervals i.e. 8-10x1K, 4x5K, 8x800m etc.
  • Fartlek workouts i.e. 25 minutes of 1min hard/1min easy and variations thereof
  • Hill workouts i.e. 10x200m, 10x300m etc.

Our training plans focus on 4 specific training phase to set you up for success…

  • Base-building phase (introductory running workouts spent at easy, aerobic efforts with strides)
  • Marathon race specific training phase (paces vary from at or close to goal marathon race pace)
  • Speed development phase (running at paces that are closer to your mile to 10k race pace)
  • Taper phase (focusing on a 10-day rather than a 3-week taper)

Practice Hydrating Better

Want to improve an average marathon run time and turn it into a superior time? Start learning how to better hydrate during your races. One of the biggest mistakes marathoners make is not taking in enough fluid and calories during their races. Remember, this is the marathon, not the 5K. You may be able to get away with not drinking in a 5k or 10k but not the marathon.

So, start putting out water bottles every 3 miles or 5 kilometers on your long run course. The reason is so you can ingest fluids on your way out and on the way back from your long run. Make sure to ingest some protein, a Powerbar and some fruits no less than 30 minutes after your workout too.

Closing Thoughts

I hope that this post has been helpful to you. Again, this is just a brief overview of some of the areas you really need to be focusing on to run a great marathon time. Be patient with yourself. It takes even the best runners several months and years to run a peak performance effort in the marathon. I love this event and earlier in my career didn't think it was my best event. Remember, an average marathon run time can be considerably improved.

Once I ran 2:19:35 for the marathon I began to think perhaps I could be a descent marathoner. I spent an additional decade after running that time and the closest I got was 2:26:42. 2:19 was my peak effort and it is also very difficult to duplicate an effort like that. So, be patient with yourself. Again, we are in a sport which allows us to continue to run very fast times even in our 60s or 70s.

I coached a guy who recently dropped his marathon time from 3:46 to 2:58. So, it can most certainly be done.

The roads are always open…

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