More women than men run marathons – and runners have never been older

More women than men now run marathons – and runners have never been older with an average age of 39, study finds

  • A little over 50 percent of marathon runners today are women
  • The percentage of women marathon runners has risen from 20 per cent in 1986
  • The average runner is 39.2 years old, and the average marathoner is 40 

In 2018, more women than men ran marathons for the first time, according to a new study.

The percentage of marathon runners made up by women has risen dramatically, going from 20 percent in 1986 to a little over 50 percent in 2018, making it the first year more women than men ran marathons.

At the same time, marathon runners have never been older.

The average age of runners around the world has been steadily rising, from 35.2 in 1986 to 39.2 in 2018

The average age of marathon runners has risen from 38 in 1986 to 40 in 2018, according to the study, a collaboration between Danish research firm Run Repeat and the International Association of Athletics Federation.

The average age of general runners has also steadily increased even more, going from 35.2 in 1986 to 39.3 in 2018.

The average woman runner is 36, while the average male runner is 40.

These demographic shifts have posed some challenges to marathon organizers around the country.

Runners of all distances have gotten steadily older over the years, and marathon runners are the oldest, with an average age of 40

‘Twenty years ago, you ran a marathon,’ Virginia Brophy Achman, one of the organizers of the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis-St.Paul, told the Star Tribune.

‘But [baby] boomers are aging out and younger people have so many choices — not only shorter, more manageable races, but they’re going to the gym, they’re doing CrossFit and yoga and biking,’

The Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis-St. Paul has seen the number of marathon runners decline, as people have developed interests in other fitness activities, including CrossFit, yoga, and biking

‘They’re combining travel with a race.’

‘Our greatest challenge, and I think the industry’s as a whole, is to resonate with this demographic.

The Twin Cities Marathon as seen enrollment in its shorter distance races increase at the same time as full marathon participants has declined

Today, marathon runners appear less interested in optimizing their times than they are the experience.

‘Maybe the average runner today is more focused on a good experience than an achievement than before – not saying it’s overshadowing the achievement motive, but saying that maybe achievement means less today, relatively to the experience itself,’ the study authors say.

Iceland is the nation with the highest percentage of women runners, with 59 per cent.

The United States has the second highest percentage of women runners at 58 per cent, followed by Canada, Ireland, and Australia.

The countries with the highest percentage of men runners are Switzerland, Japan, India, Italy, and Korea.

The United States has the second highest percentage of women runners in the world, second only to Iceland. Switzerland has the lowest percentage of women runners

The rising popularity of ultra marathons and other extreme running events may also have contributed to some declines in completion times as fewer expert or experienced runners are among those still competing.

Average completion times for both men and women have gone up over the last 30 years.

Marathon completion times have gone up for both men and women, something researchers say could be caused by expert runners shifting focus to ultra marathons and other extreme races

In 1988, the average woman finished a marathon in four hours and 13 minutes.

In 2018, the average finish time for women had risen to four hours and 51 minutes.

For men the finish time in 1988 was three hours and 45 minutes and in 2018 had risen to four hours and 21 minutes.


The marathon was inspired by the legend of Philippides, who supposedly ran from the town of Marathon to Athens to warn Greeks that a Persian army was invading.

The distance from Marathon to Athens  was roughly 25 miles.

The first marathon was run during the inaugural Olympic Games in 1896.

The original distance was 40,000 meters, or 24.85 miles.

Only 25 people competed in the marathon, and only 9 finished.

Spyridon Louis won the first marathon with a completion time of 2 hours 58 minutes.

At the London Olympics in 1908, the distance was increased to 26.2 miles to ensure the course passed in front of the Royal Family’s viewing box.

The first women’s marathon was  held during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.


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