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'26.2' - The Marathon Training Website:

The goal of the 26.2 website is to provide you with all kinds of news and information about the marathon event that will help in your training and in the race itself.

How Fast Can You Run A Marathon?

Setting your marathon time goal...



What is a good marathon time? Obviously the answer depends on several key factors. For many of us, just finishing the marathon is enough. Sooner or later though, we all try to set a time goal that we can achieve. What this time goal should be however, can be quite difficult to determine. This article looks at the online marathon predictor calculators as well as other factors involved when you are setting your goal. 

Marathon Time Calculators.

There are quite a few online calculators that give you a predicted marathon finish time based on your 10K or 5K times. Here are a few:

1.  Marathon Guide: http://www.marathonguide.com/FitnessCalcs/predictcalc.cfm

2.  Running times: http://www.runningtimes.com/rt/articles/?id=6765

3.  Runners World UK http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/news/article.asp?UAN=1681

4.  Runworks: http://www.runworks.com/calculator.html

5.  Hal Higdon – uses a formula of 5 times your 10K time



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Test Results 

I tested each of the above predictors based on a sample 45-minute 10K finish time. Here are the results:


3hrs 27 mins

Runners World UK

3hrs 27 mins

Marathon Guide

3hrs 29 mins

Running times

3hrs 31 mins

Hal Higdon

3hrs 45 mins

 As you can see they are all quite close to each other, except for Hal Higdon’s, which is actually the one I prefer as being the most realistic.

I don’t totally agree with the calculators especially if you use a 5K time to project your marathon finish time. It just doesn’t work that way…otherwise everyone would be meeting his or her marathon time goal!!  

In reality there are too many other factors that can affect your time during the marathon. It doesn’t matter what your 10K time was two months ago when you’re totally out of energy at the 20 mile mark in the marathon. That last 10K after the 20 mile point in the marathon can easily add an hour to your total time…

I’m not saying a 45 minute 10K can’t translate into a 3hrs 30 min marathon time. It can – if everything else falls into place.

Key Factors that will affect your time are:

 - Running ability and speed (This is what most race predictors are based upon)
 - Your age
 - Number of years you have been running

 - Number of previous marathons
 - Amount and intensity of your training
 - Recent injuries
 - Marathon day weather
 - The marathon course

So as you see, there are a lot of things that can have an impact on your final result. This is why normally fast runners have a disappointing race. They neglected to take into account the other factors and set their expectations too high.

So, how do you pick a realistic goal for your next marathon…?

Don’t pick a time!
Pick a time range! For example, instead of 3hrs 40 mins, you might select 3 hrs 35 mins – 3 hrs 45 mins. I always do this because it has built-in flexibility, so you can modify the time depending on race conditions.
If you are trying to qualify for Boston, then your qualifying time should be at the upper end of your target range times.



Use the Boston Marathon Qualifying times as your benchmark
The Boston times are based on your age, and assume you have a good base of running experience. I would say three years or more. You can use the time as a basis for determining your own goal.






3hrs 10min

3hrs 40min


3hrs 15min

3hrs 45min


3hrs 20min

3hrs 50min


3hrs 30min

4hrs 00min


3hrs 35min

4hrs 05min


3hrs 45min

4hrs 15min


4hrs 00min

4hrs 30min


4hrs 15min

4hrs 45min


4hrs 30min

5hrs 00min


4hrs 45min

5hrs 15min

80 and over

5hrs 00min

5hrs 30min


Adjust for the Key factors.
You might want to start with one of the calculators’ results or your Boston qualifying time, and then add extra time to compensate. For example if it’s a hilly course in extreme (very hot or cold) windy weather I would add 15 minutes (this is only 34 seconds per mile slower!) or more to my initial time estimate. Your age is also a big factor; it’s harder to put out a sustained effort for 26 miles when you are 55 years old compared to 40.

Turn it around!
Another way to approach your marathon goal is to decide a target time for yourself (within your abilities) and then adjust your training accordingly to meet this goal. You still need to make the adjustments for weather and course though.


The bottom line is to be realistic, both about your abilities and the marathon conditions. A fast 5K doesn’t mean you can ‘ace’ the marathon the first (or even second or third!) time around. Running a good marathon time requires:

  • Patience

  • Marathon experience

  • The proper running base and training

  • Running strategically (i.e. don’t go charging out of the start line).

In the final analysis, you’ll be much happier (and less likely to get injured) finishing your marathon within a realistic time range, than failing to meet a faster time goal.


In my Marathon Race Strategies report I talk more about adjusting your time expectations on race day, and how to run the race so you still have energy reserves after the 20-mile mark.

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