With a length of 42.195 kilometers, the marathon is the longest Olympic running distance and the most prestigious discipline in athletics.
Hardly in any other discipline does the battle for victory and the hunt for world records attract such media attention as the marathon.
First marathon over 42.195 kilometers in 1908
The first official marathon was held in 1896, although at that time the distance was somewhat shorter and not regulated. The first marathon over today's valid distance of 42.195 kilometers was held at the 1908 Olympic Games in London. 13 years later, this distance was established as the official and only valid marathon length.
Since then, marathon world records have been regularly improved. Anyone who follows the marathon scene even marginally will have noticed in recent years that new world records have mostly been set in Berlin. So if you were betting on a future marathon world record, you should have the next Berlin Marathon in particular in focus.
Incredibly fast: marathons in Berlin, Chicago and London
Looking exclusively at world records in this millennium, the selection of city marathons with "world record potential" is slim. In the men's race, seven marathon world records were set in Berlin between 2003 and 2018. In 2002, US runner Khalid Khannouchi also managed to do so in London (then listed as a "world best" rather than a "world record").
The London Marathon was also responsible for the women's marathon world record for 16 years, set in 2003 by Britain's Paula Radcliffe, who had first held it a year earlier in Chicago. In 2019, the marathon world record went back to Chicago thanks to Kenyan Brigid Kosgei. Two other world best times were set in 2001 for the women in Berlin and Chicago.
So, in total, world records and world best times were run in the following marathons this millennium:
- Berlin Marathon: 8 (7 x men + 1 x women)
- Chicago Marathon: 3 (1 + 2)
- London Marathon: 2 (1 + 1)
So, if only the marathon world records are taken into account, the Berlin Marathon is the fastest marathon in the world, ahead of Chicago and London.
Other fast marathon routes
Since the demand for starting places for the marathons in Berlin, Chicago and London is significantly higher than the available contingent, it is anything but easy, especially for amateur runners, to get a starting place for these coveted marathon courses.
If the 100 fastest marathon times for men and women are taken into account, several more marathons make it into the selection:
- Dubai Marathon: 38 top 100 times
- Berlin Marathon: 29
- London Marathon: 20
- Chicago Marathon: 18
- Valencia Marathon: 18
- Amsterdam Marathon: 14
- Rotterdam Marathon: 11
- Tokyo Marathon: 10
- Frankfurt Marathon: 8
- Milan Marathon: 8
- Paris Marathon: 4
- Nagoya Marathon: 3
- Osaka Marathon: 3
- Toronto Marathon: 3
- Seoul Marathon: 2
- Marathons in Prague and Seville, among others: 1
Note: Cutoff date for the data is the end of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Between 2012 and 2019, 38 male and female runners made it into the top 100 on the world leaderboard at the Dubai Marathon. However, if you don't want to travel quite that far, Valencia, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Frankfurt, Milan, Paris, Prague or Seville, among others, are excellent options for beautiful and fast marathon courses in Europe.
And the Boston Marathon?
The Boston Marathon is also considered one of the fastest marathons in the world. However, due to the point-to-point course and the excessive course gradient, the Boston Marathon is not world-record capable. In 2011, Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai even managed the fastest marathon performance of all time at the time with 2:03:02 hours in Boston.
Another fast but rather unknown marathon is the Malta Marathon, with a drop of 200 meters in altitude between start and finish. This marathon is therefore not world record worthy, but for hobby runners a good possibility to set up an (unofficial) marathon best time.
The official marathon world record has been held since 2018 by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, with 2:01:39 hours at the Berlin Marathon. In the women's race, countrywoman Brigid Kosgei ran the last marathon world record in 2019 with 2:14:04 hours in Chicago.
More Marathon: The 25 most beautiful marathons in the world