Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei are the reigning world record holders in marathon running.

While Kosgei pulverized Paula Radcliffe's 16-year-old world record in 2019, the men's world record has been improved several times this millennium.

Marathon has been run since 1896

With a distance of 42.195 kilometers, the marathon is the supreme discipline of running. The marathon is the longest running discipline at the Olympic Games. It has been run continuously since the 1st Summer Olympics were held in 1896.

When the marathon was shorter

However, the marathon has only had its actual course length of 42.195 kilometers since 1921. Until then, the marathon was usually 25 miles long, which corresponds to a distance of around 40 kilometers. The first official marathon was held in Greece in 1896, a few weeks before the Olympic Games. It was then the Greek Championships, where eleven runners ran from the village of Marathon to Athens. These two villages were about 40 kilometers apart, which meant that the marathon was initially run over this distance. At the Olympic Games, Olympic champion Spyridon Louis ran a time of 2:58:50 hours. For the Greek it was not the 1st marathon at that time. For only a few weeks earlier he finished 5th in a test race with 3:18:27 hours. In 1898, a marathon race was held for the first time in Germany in Paunsdorf (Leipzig), which was won by Arthur Techtow with a time of 3:15:50 hours.

The drama of the 1st "marathon" Olympic champion

At the other Olympic Games after 1896, there were no official guidelines on the course length. However, most of the time the distance was 40 kilometers or slightly longer. In 1908, however, at the Olympic Games in London, there was for the first time a marathon over the now familiar course length of 42.195 kilometers. At that time, the start was planned to be at Windsow Castle. The starting point for the measurement was the Olympic Stadium, which was built at that time. This resulted in a course length of exactly 42.195 kilometers. The marathon was won by the Italian Dorando Pietri. However, because he collapsed several times shortly before the finish and only crossed the finish line with the help of officials, he was disqualified. Therefore, the US runner John Hayes inherited the victory of the first official "Olympic Marathon", which was also the first unofficial marathon world record holder with 2:55:18.4 hours. The disqualified Dorando Pietri needed 2:54:46 minutes for this distance.

Since 1921 the marathon is officially 42.195 kilometers long

After that, the boom around the marathon spread rapidly. In the beginning, most of the competitions were held indoors, which meant that the participants had to complete more than 200 laps on a circular track of about 200 meters. But it wasn't until 1921 that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) established 42.195 kilometers as the official marathon distance. At that time, Alexis Ahlgren of Sweden was the reigning world record holder. He needed only 2:36:06.6 hours at the 1913 Polytechnic Marathon in London.

Marathon milestones

Since 1924, the marathon at Olympic Games has always been run over 42.195 kilometers. One year later, it was U.S. runner Albert Michelsen who took less than two and a half hours for this distance for the first time in Port Chester. He ran 2:29:01.8 hours on October 12, 1925. In the sixties, the British Jim Peters dominated. He improved the marathon world best time four times in a row. He was also the first runner to break the 2:20 hour mark. In 1953, he ran 2:18:40.4 at the Polytechnic Marathon. The Polytechnic Marathon times are not officially recognized, however, because it is a point-to-point course.

A marathon world record barefoot

After Abebe Bikila took gold running barefoot at the Rome Olympics in 1960, improving the marathon record of the time by exactly one second to 2:15:16.2 hours, it was U.S. runner Buddy Edelen who broke the 2:15-hour mark for the first time at the Polytechnic Marathon three years later. A year later, Abebe Bikila reclaimed the marathon world record at the Tokyo Olympics with a time of 2:12:11.2 hours - this time in running shoes. Just another three years later, Australian Drek Clayton achieved the first time under 2:10 hours at the 1967 Fukuoka Marathon with 2:09:36.4 hours. In 1981, his compatriot Robert de Castella ran under 2:09 hours for the first time, also in Fukuoka, with 2:08:18 hours.

African dominance

In 1985, the Portuguese Carlos Lopes ran 2:07:12 hours at Rotterdam. He is also the last European to set a marathon world best time. The first 2:06 time was achieved three years later in the same place by the Ethiopian Belayneh Dinsamo with 2:06:50 hours. In 1999, Moroccan Khalid Khannouchi broke the 2:06 mark with 2:05:42 in Chicago.

Eliud Kipchoge runs into a new era

The first officially recognized world record was set by Paul Tergat in Berlin in 2003. The Kenyan ran the 42.195-kilometer course in Germany in 2:04:55 hours. By 2018, six more world records would follow, all set at the Berlin Marathon. Haile Gebrselassie even ran two world records in two consecutive years. In 2008, he was the first runner under 2:04 hours with 2:03:59 hours. Six years later, Dennis Kimetto cracked the 2:03 mark with 2:02:57 hours, before Eliud Kipchoge stunned the athletics world in 2018 with 2:01:39 hours. Kipchoge thus holds both the official marathon world record and the unofficial fastest marathon time. That's because in May 2017, he ran 2:00:25 hours on the Formula 1 track in Monza under non-record conditions, and on October 12, 2019, in Vienna, he became the first person to achieve a marathon time under two hours with 1:59:40.2 hours - but again under non-record conditions.


Development of the marathon world record for men*.

1908  John Hayes 02:55:18
1909  James Clark 02:46:53
1909  Albert Raines 02:46:05
1909  Henry Barrett 02:42:31
1909  Thure Johansson 02:40:34
1913  Alexis Ahlgren 02:36:07
1925  Albert Michelsen 02:29:02
1935  Fusashige Suzuki 02:27:49
1935  Yasuo Ikenaka 02:26:44
1935  Son Kitei 02:26:42
1936  Son Kitei 02:29:20
1952  Jim Peters 02:20:42
1953  Jim Peters 02:18:40
1953  Jim Peters 02:18:35
1954  Jim Peters 02:17:39
1956  Paavo Kotila 02:18:05
1958  Sergei Popow 02:15:17
1960  Abebe Bikila 02:15:16
1963  Tōru Terasawa 02:15:16
1963  Buddy Edelen 02:14:28
1964  Basil Heatley 02:13:55
1964  Brian Kilby 02:14:43
1964  Abebe Bikila 02:12:11
1965  Morio Shigematsu 02:12:00
1967  Derek Clayton 02:09:36
1970  Ron Hill 02:09:29
1974  Ian Thompson 02:09:12
1978  Shigeru Sō 02:09:06
1980  Gerard Nijboer 02:09:01
1981  Robert de Castella 02:08:18
1984  Steve Jones 02:08:05
1985  Carlos Lopes 02:07:12
1988  Belayneh Dinsamo 02:06:50
1998  Ronaldo da Costa 02:06:05
1999  Khalid Khannouchi 02:05:42
2002  Khalid Khannouchi 02:05:38
2003  Paul Tergat 02:04:55
2007  Haile Gebrselassie 02:04:26
2008  Haile Gebrselassie 02:03:59
2011  Patrick Makau 02:03:38
2013  Wilson Kipsang 02:03:23
2014  Dennis Kimetto 02:02:57
2018  Eliud Kipchoge 02:01:39

* The first official world record dates back to 2003. Performances before that partly not officially recognized.

First documented marathon time for women in 1926.

For women, the story is somewhat shorter, as for a long time women were forbidden to participate in running competitions. Rumor has it that Violet Piercy of Great Britain completed a marathon in London in 1926 in 3:40:22.

13-year-old runs world marathon record

The first official female marathon was documented in 1964 in Ryde at the Isle of Wight Marathon. There, the British woman Dale Greig was allowed to start five minutes ahead of the field. She was accompanied by paramedics throughout the marathon and finished the 42.195 kilometer race in 3:27:45 hours. Three years later, someone as young as 13 ran a marathon world best. Canadian Maureen Wilton needed only 3:15:22.8 hours for the marathon distance at this tender age.

While no German runner ever set a marathon world record in the men's race, several German athletes managed to do so in the women's race. The first was Anni Pede-Erdkamp, who in 1967 pushed the marathon best time to 3:07:26.2 hours.

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Marathon legends around Grete Waitz and Christa Vahlensieck with record performances

In 1971, Beth Bonner achieved the first time under three hours. The US athlete ran 2:55:22 at the New York Marathon at the age of 18. In the same year, a time of 2:46:30 by Australian Adirenne Beames is also documented, but it was not recognized due to lack of evidence. In December 1971, Cheryl Bridges (USA) managed a time under 2:50 hours for the first time with 2:49:40 hours in Culver City. In 1975, another runner from the USA, Jacqueline Hansen, broke the 2:40 hour barrier in Eugene with 2:38:19 hours, after the German Christa Vahlensieck had previously held the world record. The latter was again the world record holder in marathon running for one year from 1977 to 1978 with 2:34:47.5 hours, before the great era of Grete Waitz began. She set a total of four marathon world best times, albeit three on a course in New York (42.044 kilometers) that was too short. She also ran under 2:30 hours for the first time in 1979 with 2:27:33 hours in New York. Joyce Smith also managed this in 1981 in London (2:29:57 h), but on an actual 42.195 kilometer course. Grete Waitz reclaimed the world marathon record in London in 1983 with 2:25:28 hours. In between, German Charlotte Teske (2:29:02 h) was also the fastest marathon runner in the world, among others.

The first marathon time under 2:20 hours was run by Naoko Takahasi of Japan in Berlin in 2001 with 2:19:46 hours. From 2003 to 2019, Paula Radcliffe held the marathon world record with 2:15:25 hours. The British woman ran 2:15:25 hours in London. In October 2019, Brigid Kosgei of Kenya achieved a surprising improvement on the record performance with 2:14:04 in Chicago.

Development of the women's marathon world record*

1926  Violet Piercy 03:40:22
1964  Dale Greig 03:27:45
1964  Mildred Sampson 03:19:33
1967  Maureen Wilton 03:15:23
1967  Anni Pede-Erdkamp 03:07:26
1970  Caroline Walker 03:02:53
1971  Beth Bonner 03:01:42
1971  Beth Bonner 02:55:22
1971  Cheryl Bridges 02:49:40
1973  Miki Gorman 02:46:37
1974  Chantal Langlacé 02:46:24
1974  Jacqueline Hansen 02:43:54
1975  Liane Winter 02:42:42
1975  Christa Vahlensieck 02:40:16
1975  Jacqueline Hansen 02:38:19
1977  Chantal Langlacé 02:35:15
1977  Christa Vahlensieck 02:34:48
1980  Joan Benoit 02:31:23
1980  Patti Catalano 02:30:58
1980  Joyce Smith 02:30:27
1981  Joyce Smith 02:29:57
1982  Charlotte Teske 02:29:02
1982  Joan Benoit 02:26:12
1983  Grete Waitz 02:25:28
1983  Joan Benoit 02:22:43
1984  Ingrid Kristiansen 02:24:26
1985  Ingrid Kristiansen 02:21:06
1998  Tegla Loroupe 02:20:47
1999  Tegla Loroupe 02:20:43
2001  Naoko Takahashi 02:19:46
2001  Catherine Ndereba 02:18:47
2002  Paula Radcliffe 02:17:18
2003  Paula Radcliffe 02:15:25
2019 Brigid Kosgei 02:14:04

* Performances before 2003 were not official world records.

The fastest marathon runners in the world

There are currently seven marathon runners who have completed a marathon time of 2:03:00 hours or lower. All athletes are from Kenya or Ethiopia. More than 20 even ran under 2:04 hours, but with Bashir Abdi (Belgium) only one athlete who is not from Kenya or Ethiopia.

Marathon world best list men (times under 2:04 hours)

1. Eliud Kipchoge Kenya 2:01:39 Berlin 2018
2. Kenenisa Bekele Ethopia 2:01:41 Berlin 2019
3. Birhanu Legese Ethopia 2:02:48 Berlin 2019
4. Mosinet Geremew Ethopia 2:02:55 London 2019
5. Dennis Kipruto Kenya 2:02:57 Berlin 2014
Titus Ekiru Kenya 2:02:57 Mailand 2021
7. Evans Chebet Kenya 2:03:00 Valencia 2020
8. Lawrence Cherono Kenya 2:03:04 Valencia 2020
9. Emmanuel Mutai Kenya 2:03:13 Berlin 2014
Wilson Kipsang Kenya 2:03:13 Berlin 2016
11. Mule Wasihun Ethopia 2:03:16 London 2019
12. Amos Kipruto Kenya 2:03:30 Valencia 2020
13. Getaneh Molla Ethopia 2:03:34 Dubai 2019
14. Sisay Lemma Ethopia 2:03:36 Berlin 2019
Bashir Abdi Belgium 2:03:36 Rotterdam 2021
16.. Patrick Makau Kenya 2:03:38 Berlin 2011
17. Tamirat Tola Ethopia 2:03:39 Amsterdam 2021
18. Herpasa Negasa Ethopia 2:03:40 Dubai 2019
19. Guye Adola Ethopia 2:03:46 Berlin 2017
20. Stanley Biwott Kenya 2:03:51 London 2016
Kinde Atanaw Kenya 2:03:51 Valencia 2019
22. Reuben Kipyego Kenya 2:03:55 Kenya 2021
23. Haile Gebrselassie Ethopia 2:03:59 Berlin 2008

Last Update: January 5, 2022

The fastest female marathon runners in the world

The world record of Paula Radcliffe was unattainable for 16 years before Brigid Kosgei improved the record mark by a staggering 81 seconds with a time of 2:14:04 hours in Chicago on Oct. 13, 2019. Besides the Briton, only runners from Kenya and Ethiopia have managed to run a marathon time under 2:19 hours, as well as the Kenyan-born Israeli Lonah Salpeter and the Kenyan-born Romanian Joan Chelimo Melly. On the other hand, more than 50 female runners have now run under 2:20 hours, including athletes from Germany, Namibia, Japan, China or the USA.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

Women's marathon world best list (times under 2:19 hours)

1. Brigid Kosgei Kenya 2:14:04 Chicago 2019
2. Paula Radcliffe UK 2:15:25 London 2003
3. Mary Keitany Kenya 2:17:01 London 2017
4. Ruth Chepngetich Kenya 2:17:08 Dubai 2019
5. Peres Jepchirchir Kenya 2:17:16 Valencia 2020
6. Yalemzerf Yehualaw Ethopia 2:17:23 Hamburg 2022
7. Worknesh Degefa Ethopia 2:17:41 Dubai 2019
8. Joyciline Jepkosgei Kenya 2:17:43 Kenya 2021
9. Lonah Salpeter Israel 2:17:45 Tokio 2020
10. Tirunesh Dibaba Ethopia 2:17:56 Ethopia 2017
11. Angela Tanui Kenya 2:17:57 Amsterdam 2021
12. Ashete Bekere Ethopia 2:17:58 Tokio 2022
13. Degitu Azimeraw Ethopia 2:17:58 London 2021
14. Joan Chelimo Melly Romania 2:18:04 Seoul 2022
15. Gladys Cherono Kenya 2:18:11 Berlin 2018
16. Sutume Asefa Kebede Ethopia 2:18:12 Seoul 2022
17. Gotytom Gebreslase Ethopia 2:18:18 Tokio 2022
18. Roza Dereje Ethopia 2:18:30 Ethopia 2019
19. Vivian Cheruiyot Kenya 2:18:31 London 2018
20. Azmera Abreha Ethopia 2:18:33 Ethopia 2019
21. Ruti Aga Ethopia 2:18:34 Berlin 2018
22. Birhane Dibaba Ethopia 2:18:35 Tokio 2020
23. Catherine Ndereba Kenya 2:18:47 Chicago 2001
24. Alemu Megertu Ethopia 2:18:51 Sevilla 2022
25. Tiki Gelana Ethopia 2:18:58 Rotterdam 2012

Last Update: April 24,, 2022

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