How Long Is a Marathon? Plus, How to Train for Your First Marathon

The marathon is a legendary test of human endurance and resilience, and it may seem like everyone on your social feed is itching to complete one lately. If you’re ready to hop on the bandwagon and see what the marathon is all about, here’s some essential info to get you started.

How Long Is a Marathon?

The full marathon is a 26.2-mile-long endurance event. With an official distance of 26 miles and 385 yards (or 42.195 kilometers), it’s one of the longest distances for conventional races. Anything over that is considered an ultra marathon. 

Credit: Real Sports Photos / Shutterstock

This precise measurement traces back to the 1908 London Olympic Games, where organizers extended the race distance to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium. This was a race no one wanted to miss — including King Edward VII and his family — so it was essential that the royal family could view the start from their balcony. (1

What Is a Marathon?

A marathon is a long-distance running race. It’s one of the most iconic and challenging athletic events, attracting participants of all abilities from all over the world. 

The marathon’s origin traces back to ancient Greece, where legend has it that a messenger named Pheidippides ran from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of a military victory against the Persians. I’m exhausted just thinking about his journey in his military gear. 

Upon arriving in Athens, the messenger announced that they’d won, before collapsing and dying from exhaustion. This legendary feat inspired the modern marathon, and the race’s distance was standardized in 1921. (1) What a dramatic first marathon.

[Read More: How to Do Cross-Training For Marathons, With a Strength Workout Plan for Runners]

The marathon isn’t just for elite athletes. Every day runners who are first-time marathoners and seasoned wheelchair athletes can also participate. 

Wheelchair racing involves specialized equipment, including lightweight wheelchairs designed for speed and maneuverability. These athletes often start the race ahead of the runners to avoid congestion on the course and officials record their race time separately. 

A note on accessibility: Many formal marathon races require entry fees and particular qualifying times. Some do not have provisions for wheelchair athletes, and they may also have unclear or nonexistent standards for nonbinary and trans athletes. However, other organizations — like the New York City Marathon — have a nonbinary division for athletes to compete in. Check out races near you to learn about their qualification and inclusion standards.

How Long Does it Take to Run a Marathon?

The time it takes to complete a marathon varies greatly depending on several factors. Elite runners can run a marathon in around two to two and a half hours (yes, you read that right). Elite athlete Eliud Kipchoge held an average time of 2:52 per kilometer (or 4:35 per mile) for an entire marathon. (2

On the other hand, recreational runners may take anywhere from three to six hours or even longer to finish. However, various factors can influence your marathon time.

Fitness Level and Training

Fitness level and training quality heavily influence marathon performance. Long-distance running requires aerobic endurance, muscular strength, and mental toughness. (3) Athletes who train consistently with structured programs are much better equipped to handle the physical demands of the race. 

Training plans typically include a mix of long runs to build stamina, speed workouts to improve pace, and strength training to prevent injuries and enhance muscular power. 

[Read More: How Many Miles Should I Run a Day? Insights From a CPT]

If you’ve put in the effort and have remained consistent throughout your training, you’ll likely show up well-prepared on race day, ready to smash your goals. A well-prepared marathon runner is more likely to sustain their pace throughout the race and achieve a faster finishing time. However, if you’re undertrained, you may exhaust yourself in the beginning and have trouble finishing.

Course Difficulty

The layout of the marathon course significantly impacts performance — and therefore, your run time. Courses with challenging terrain, such as steep hills or uneven surfaces, pose additional obstacles that can slow runners down and increase fatigue. 

In contrast, fast and flat courses with minimal elevation changes enable runners to maintain a consistent pace and optimize their performance. 

If you aim to run quickly, it’s best to research the course before entering. 

[Read More: Here’s What Happened to My Strength After Running a Marathon]

For example, the Boston Marathon is notorious for its hilly terrain, while the Chicago Marathon is one of the fastest and flattest races in the U.S. I’d go with the flatter option, as it’s a much better opportunity to hold an even pace throughout — and the easier, the better, to be honest. But that’s always a personal choice, and if you’re aiming for a challenge…just make sure you train on similar terrain as your race.

Weather Conditions

Weather conditions influence performance and the overall race experience. Extreme temperatures — whether hot or cold — affect how much energy you use, your hydration levels, and how your body regulates temperature. High humidity can lead to heat-related stress and increase the risk of dehydration and heat-related illnesses. (4)

Credit: – Yuri A / Shutterstock

[Read More: The Best Leg Exercises and Workouts for Stronger Legs]

Similarly, strong winds can prevent forward progress, basically blowing you in the wrong direction and slowing you down. You’ll likely have to adjust your pacing strategies, especially on more exposed sections of the course. (4) Rain, on the other hand, may affect traction and visibility, requiring you to adjust your footing and pacing accordingly. 

Experienced marathoners typically prepare for various weather scenarios and adapt their race plan to optimize performance under possibly challenging conditions. That’s why it’s important to stick to your training schedule regardless of the weather conditions. Unless there’s a tornado. Then maybe stay indoors or use a treadmill

Nutrition and Hydration

When you’re in the middle of marathon training, you are what you eat — and drink, for that matter. Endurance running places substantial demands on your body’s energy levels, requiring adequate fueling before, during, and after the race. Carb loading in the days leading up to the marathon can help replenish glycogen stores and boosts energy. (5)

During the race, consuming carbs, fluids, and electrolytes at regular intervals — typically every 20-45 minutes — maintains blood glucose levels, prevents dehydration, and delays fatigue. (6)

Poor nutrition and hydration practices, such as inadequate fluid intake or reliance on sugary snacks, can lead to an upset stomach, muscle cramping, or poor performance. (5)

Race Strategy

Successful marathon performance requires a consistent race strategy that balances pacing, fueling, and mental strength. Starting too fast can lead to exhaustion early on. On the other hand, conservative pacing and negative splitting — where the second half of the race is faster than the first — can help you maintain energy reserves and finish strong. 

Effective fueling strategies involve consuming carbs and fluids regularly to prevent bonking (or energy crashing) and dehydration. 

[Read More: Learn How to Run Faster (At Any Skill Level) From a Triathlete Coach]

Mental tactics like positive self-talk and focusing on short-term goals can help you overcome challenges and stay motivated throughout the race. Many long-distance runners write reminders or motivational quotes on their hands to remind them to keep going when things start to feel tough. 

Mental Toughness

The marathon is all about mental resilience. Enduring months of rigorous training and pushing through the discomfort of the distance requires mental toughness and determination. 

Overcoming doubts, distractions and negative thoughts during the race is essential for maintaining focus and staying on pace. (7

Visualizing success, recalling past achievements, and drawing inspiration from supporters and fellow runners can boost your confidence and motivation. 

Average Marathon Times

RunRepeat’s study of marathon results included more than 100 million race results from 1986 to 2018. These times don’t include specific stats from nonbinary runners, who often must compete with other athletes of their assigned gender at birth. (8)

The average marathon time is 4:32:49. However, this doesn’t consider gender, age, experience level, or preparation strategies. Here are the average marathon times according to experience level, (8)

How to Train for a Marathon

Thinking of running a marathon for the first time? That probably means you’ve competed in — or at least run on your own — shorter races, perhaps including a half marathon. When you’re getting serious about completing the length of a marathon in its entirety, you’ll need a marathon training plan. 

Stretch, Stretch, Stretch

Stretching is something I neglected for so long in my training journey, and I know I’m not the only one. But stretching is essential for flexibility, mobility, and muscle recovery. Exercise shortens your muscles, leading to stiffness and mobility issues over time. All things being equal, looser muscles help with a greater stride, allowing you to run faster for longer with less risk of injury. (9)

Tight quadriceps are common among runners. This tightness can throw you off balance and increase your risk of injury. Focusing on stretching this muscle improves your alignment and flexibility. 

Here are some stretches to pepper in before and after your run, along with some of the best stretches generally. (Yes, you’ll need them after those long, long runs.)

The Best Stretches to Do Before a Run, According to a CPT

The Best Post-Run Stretches for Your Cool-Down (+ A Stretch Routine From a Personal Trainer)

The Best Mobility Exercises, PT-Approved

Mix Up Your Runs

Vary your training runs to build fitness and prevent boredom and monotony. For specific guidance based on your experience levels, you might also want to get in touch with a running coach before hitting the starting line.

Consider incorporating the following runs into your weekly schedule as you gear up to tackle to distance of a marathon:

Long Runs: These are the foundational components of training. They should build endurance and mental toughness. Perform these runs at a comfortable, conversational pace and gradually increase the distance throughout the workout program. They’re a great time to practice fueling and hydration. 

Tempo Runs: Also known as threshold runs, these are structured workouts to improve lactate threshold (performing at 90 percent of your maximum heart rate) and running economy (the amount of oxygen your body uses). This pace is comfortably difficult, challenging enough to elevate heart rate and breathing but sustainable for a prolonged period. These tempo runs improve aerobic capacity and increase endurance. (10)

Interval Runs: These involve alternating periods of high-intensity effort with recovery or rest times. These workouts typically consist of repeated intervals of hard running followed by intervals of jogging or walking for recovery. Intervals improve anaerobic capacity and speed by challenging the body to perform at maximal or near-maximal effort for short bursts. (10)

Recovery Runs: Easy recovery runs are low-intensity, short-duration runs at a relaxed pace to facilitate recovery and promote active recovery between more challenging sessions. They allow you to flush out metabolic waste products and loosen tight muscles. Easy runs improve blood flow and circulation, reduce delayed muscle soreness, and enhance recovery without adding too much stress to your body. (10)

Build Those Muscles

Adding strength training to your schedule as you get ready for your first marathon finish is essential to aid injury prevention and improve running efficiency. (11)

Focus on running-specific exercises that target key muscle groups such as the core, hips, glutes, and legs. Include exercises like:



Single-Leg Deadlifts


Calf Raises 


Add hip strengthening drills to enhance stability and power. 

Train Your Mind, Too

It’s all in your head when it comes to marathon preparation. While you may be physically fit, it’s your mind that sets you up for success on race day. (12)

Credit: Real Sports Photos / Shutterstock

[Read More: Methods to Improve Your Focus and Workout Mindset]

Practice visualization techniques to envision yourself crossing the finish line strong and confident. Develop a positive mindset through goal-setting and affirmations such as “I am strong and capable,” or “Nothing can stop me.” 

Practice Fueling

Experiment with different fueling strategies during your long runs and race-specific workouts to determine what works best for you. Energy gels are a popular option, but they don’t sit well in everyone’s stomachs. 

Test various brands of energy gels, chews, tablets, and sports drinks to find products that sustain your energy without causing tummy troubles. If you don’t enjoy gels, you can always experiment with other options like dates, dried fruits, bananas, honey stinger waffles, energy bars, gummies, or even baby food. It’s all about finding what works for you without leaving you in search of a bathroom on your runs.

[Read More: How to Run a Faster Mile, According to a Running Coach]

Practice timing your fueling intake to maintain energy levels and glycogen stores and avoid hitting the wall during the later stages of the race. (13) Once you hit the wall, there’s usually no bouncing back. 

Prioritize Rest Days as Much as Training Days

Rest days are crucial for allowing your body to recover from the rigors of training for any running event — especially a marathon. (14) Schedule at least one or two rest days per week to give your muscles a break from the physical demands of running. 

[Read More: Can You Train for a Marathon On a Treadmill? An Expert Running Coach Teaches You How]

Use rest days to do some active recovery activities such as strengthening, foam rolling, yoga, or low-impact cross-training to promote circulation and muscle relaxation without placing extra stress on your body. 


A marathon is 26.2 miles long, officially measuring in at 26 miles and 385 yards (or 42.195 kilometers).

Recreational runners may take anywhere from three to six hours or more to finish a marathon.

Diverse factors influence marathon performance, including fitness level, course difficulty, weather conditions, race strategy, nutrition, and mental strength.

Follow a structured training program incorporating different types of runs, strength training, and rest days.

Prioritize nutrition and hydration to support your training and prevent injuries.

Stay mentally tough through visualization, positive self-talk, and goal-setting to overcome challenges and stay focused during training and on race day.

Stretching is essential for improving flexibility and reducing tension.

Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

Running a marathon is extremely tough, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are some answers to kickstart your journey.

What is a marathon distance?

The marathon distance is standardized at 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195 kilometers), representing the length of the historic route from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens in ancient Greece.

How many hours does it take to finish a marathon?

The time it takes varies widely depending on factors like fitness level or weather conditions. Elite runners can complete a marathon in as little as two hours, while recreational runners typically take three to six hours or longer.

How many laps does it take to run a marathon?

In most traditional marathon races, participants complete the entire distance in one continuous course rather than multiple laps. However, in some cases, such as track marathons or certain ultramarathons, runners may complete numerous laps to achieve the total distance. It depends on the specific race and course.

Where did 26.2 miles come from?

The standard distance originated during the 1908 London Olympics, where officials extended the course to cover the ground to Windsor Castle so that the royal family could watch. 


World athletics: Marathon. World Athletics. Accessed May 13, 2024. 

McAlister S. How fast was Eliud Kipchoge’s 2022 Berlin Marathon World Record? Olympics. September 26, 2022. Accessed May 13, 2024.

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Venturini E, Giallauria F. Factors influencing running performance during a marathon: Breaking the 2-H barrier. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine. 2022;9. 

Tanous D, Wagner K-H, Leitzmann C, et al. Dietary intake of recreational endurance runners associated with race distance—results from the Nurmi Study (step 2). Nutrients. 2022;14(18):3698.

Armstrong LE. Rehydration during endurance exercise: Challenges, research, options, methods. Nutrients. 2021;13(3):887. 

Gameiro N, Rodrigues F, Antunes R, et al. Mental toughness and resilience in Trail Runner’s performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 2023;130(3):1202-1220. 

Andersen JJ. The state of running 2019. RunRepeat. March 25, 2024. Accessed May 13, 2024. 

MacMillan C. How to stretch before a run-properly. Yale Medicine. February 12, 2021. Accessed May 13, 2024. 

Hogg JS, Hopker JG, Coakley SL, Mauger AR. Prescribing 6-weeks of running training using parameters from a self-paced maximal oxygen uptake protocol. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2018;118(5):911-918. 

Prieto-González P, Sedlacek J. Effects of running-specific strength training, endurance training, and concurrent training on recreational endurance athletes’ performance and selected anthropometric parameters. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022;19(17):10773. 

1. van Sprundel M. Running and the science of mental toughness. The MIT Press Reader. June 29, 2022. Accessed May 13, 2024. 

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Featured Image: Real Sports Photos / Shutterstock

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