What Is Considered An Elite Marathon

What Is Considered An Elite Marathon – it’s the pinnacle of the sport, where the world’s best athletes compete for glory and record-breaking times.

But what does it take to be considered an elite marathoner?

This post will explore the world of elite marathon running and what it means to be among the best of the best. Here are just a few of the things we’ll cover:

  • The history and evolution of elite marathon racing, including current world records
  • The qualifying standards for major marathons and Olympic competition
  • Profiles of some of the world’s top elite marathoners and their training regimens

So whether you’re a fan of the sport or aspiring to be an elite marathoner yourself, get ready to discover what it takes to run with the best. It’s time to explore the world of elite marathon running and the incredible athletes who make it all possible.”

Defining Elite Marathon

An elite marathon is a running event that features top-performing athletes in the marathon distance, typically around 26.2 miles. These runners demonstrate exceptional skill, endurance, and speed, distinguishing themselves from the average marathon participant.

Elite runners often represent their countries in international competitions or are recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) due to their high-performance standards.

These athletes have dedicated significant time, usually over five years, to become competitive in marathon running.

In terms of time, elite male marathon runners generally finish between 2:02 and 2:10. In contrast, elite female marathon runners complete the race between 2:15 and 2:25.

These times are considerably faster than the average marathon times for men and women, which are 4:21:03 and 4:48:45, respectively.

Some factors that contribute to the success of elite marathon runners include:

  • Genetics: Heritability of endurance-related traits plays a significant role in marathon-running performance, prompting numerous genomic studies to identify factors associated with marathon success.
  • Training: Rigorous training programs, including high-intensity workouts and careful progress monitoring, are essential in developing an elite runner’s stamina and power.
  • Nutrition: Elite marathon runners adhere to specialized diets, focusing on nutrient balance and appropriate calorie intake to optimize performance.

Becoming an elite marathon runner requires dedication and perseverance, and those who achieve this status are considered among the best in the world in long-distance running.

Their exceptional skills set them apart from recreational runners, making them exciting to watch and inspiring for other aspiring athletes.

Traits of Elite Marathon Runners

Physical Attributes

Elite marathon runners possess specific anatomical and physiological characteristics contributing to their exceptional performance.

These athletes typically have a lean body composition, advantageous muscle fiber distribution, and high joint flexibility. Additionally, their cardiovascular system is highly efficient, enabling them to maintain an optimal pace throughout the marathon.

Training and Ability

The training regimen of elite marathon runners is extensive and usually includes large training volumes.

Successful marathon runners are also characterized by a strong mental attitude, allowing them to endure physical and mental challenges throughout their training and competition.

It is important to note that developing these abilities takes years of dedication, commitment, and hard work.

Running Economy

Elite marathon runners have developed an excellent running form, which plays a significant role in their performance. Key aspects of their form include:

  • An upright body position with a slight lean from the ground.
  • A relaxed head, face, and shoulders while running.
  • A mid or forefoot landing underneath the knee, reducing lateral strain on the joints.
  • Use of arm strokes to establish rhythm instead of maintaining balance.

These factors contribute to their efficient running stride, producing a higher running economy.

VO2 Max

VO2 max, or the maximum rate at which an individual can consume oxygen while exercising, is one of the most significant predictors of elite marathon performance.

Elite runners have a higher VO2 max than the general population, which allows them to consume and utilize more oxygen during extreme endurance events like marathons. This enables them to maintain a faster pace and endure the race relatively easily.

Top Elite Marathoners and Their Achievements

Eliud Kipchoge

Eliud Kipchoge is a Kenyan long-distance runner who has significantly impacted the world of marathon running. He holds the men’s world record for the marathon, with a time of 2:01:39, set in the 2018 Berlin Marathon. Kipchoge’s other achievements include:

  • Olympic gold medalist in the marathon in 2016
  • Winner of the London Marathon four times (2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019)
  • Victory in the 2018 Berlin Marathon with a world record time

Kenenisa Bekele

Kenenisa Bekele is an Ethiopian runner with an illustrious career in track and marathon events. Although Bekele is mainly known for his track accomplishments, he has also excelled in marathon running. His marathon highlights are:

  • Winning the Berlin Marathon in 2016 and 2019
  • Coming close to Kipchoge’s world record, finishing the 2019 Berlin Marathon in 2:01:41, only two seconds shy of the record.
  • Victories in the Paris Marathon in 2014 and the Dubai Marathon in 2017

Brigid Kosgei

Brigid Kosgei is a Kenyan marathon runner who currently holds the women’s world record in the marathon, with a time of 2:14:04, set at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. Some of her other significant achievements include:

  • Winning the London Marathon in 2019 and 2020
  • Defending her title at the 2020 Chicago Marathon
  • Securing a silver medal in the women’s marathon at the 2019 World Athletics Championships

Elite Marathon Time Standards

Elite marathon runners are a select group of athletes who have honed their skills and endurance to compete at the highest level of marathon running.

Their marathon times are significantly faster than the average marathon time of recreational runners.

Men’s elite marathon runners typically finish the marathon between 2:02 and 2:10. In contrast, elite women marathon runners have finishing times between 2:15 and 2:25.

These times are reserved for only the most talented and dedicated athletes, often representing their countries in international competitions such as the Olympics.

Age and sex also play a role in determining an elite marathon time. For example, the New York City Marathon has established time standards for different age groups:

  • 18 to 34 years old: 2:53 for men, 3:13 for women
  • 35 to 39 years old: 2:55 for men, 3:15 for women
  • 40 to 44 years old: 2:58 for men, 3:15 for women

In addition to age group-specific standards, different marathon events may have unique entry requirements or time standards for elite athletes.

These standards are set to ensure a high level of competition, showcasing the best of the best in the world of marathon running.

Notably, the world record marathon times for men and women are currently 2:01:39 and 2:15:25, respectively. These exceptional times are held by a select few individuals who have managed to push the boundaries of human endurance and performance.

To put these times into perspective, an elite male marathon runner’s average pace would be around 4:41 minutes per mile, and for elite female marathon runners, approximately 5:14 minutes per mile.

These paces are substantially faster than the average marathon runner, who might complete the distance within a timeframe of 3:34:56 for men and 4:29:57 for women, depending on age groups and abilities.

Training for an Elite Marathon

Different Training Levels

When it comes to marathon training, there are three primary levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

Elite marathon runners often fall into the advanced category, but their training plans can differ significantly from those of advanced amateur runners. Professionals usually compete in 2-3 marathons annually, separated by at least 3 months, with one half-marathon and around three shorter races1.

Creating a Training Plan

Elite marathoners use double periodization, which consists of two cycles of 5-6 months, based on spring and autumn marathons. These plans focus on the following:

  • Mileage: High weekly mileage is crucial for building endurance. Elite runners may gradually increase their weekly mileage to 100-140 miles2.
  • Workouts: Include a mix of tempo runs, intervals, hill workouts, and long runs.
  • Pace: Train at various running paces, from easy to marathon race pace.
  • Periodization: Break the training cycles into distinct phases, focusing on building a base, increasing volume and intensity, and tapering before the race.

Importance of Rest Days

Rest days are essential for elite marathoners to allow their bodies to recover from the intense training.

Following a marathon, they typically take 7-14 days of rest1. Moreover, the training plan must include at least one rest day per week to avoid overtraining and potential injuries.


Proper nutrition is vital to an elite marathoner’s training and performance. Here are some essential components of their nutrition plan:

  • Carbohydrates: Consume sufficient carbs to fuel training sessions and aid recovery.
  • Protein: Maintaining adequate protein intake to support muscle repair and growth.
  • Healthy fats: Include healthy fats like avocados and almonds for sustained energy.
  • Hydration: Ensure proper hydration throughout the day, especially during and after workouts.
  • Supplements: Some elite runners may use supplements such as electrolyte drinks, gels, and recovery powders for additional support.

Following the approaches and guidelines discussed above, elite marathon runners can optimize their training and performance in marathon races.

Prevalence of Injuries among Elite Marathoners

Elite marathon runners are known for their incredible endurance and dedication to the sport.

Unfortunately, the physical demand of long-distance running can also lead to a higher prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries among these athletes.

A study assessing pain among elite marathon runners revealed that the prevalence of any running-related musculoskeletal pain was 75%, with the most frequently reported location being the lower leg (19.1%) 1.

This prevalence of pain is nearly four times higher than that found in another study assessing musculoskeletal pain in recreational runners who ran an average of 30 kilometers per week 2.

Some common injuries faced by elite marathon runners include:

  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (Runner’s knee)
  • Iliotibial band syndrome
  • Shin splints
  • Achilles tendinitis
  • Plantar fasciitis

Injuries often frustrate these athletes, as they may interfere with their training schedule and affect their ability to perform optimally during competitions.

Elite marathoners must be vigilant about injury prevention through proper training, appropriate footwear, and seeking professional advice on running techniques and biomechanics.

Recovering from an injury can be challenging for these athletes, as it requires patience, persistence, and adherence to a rehabilitation plan designed by healthcare professionals.

Depending on the severity of the injury, some elite marathoners may need to modify their training or take a break from competitive running to allow for complete recovery.

While the inherent anatomical, physiological, and biomechanical factors contributing to an elite marathon runner’s performance may also increase their risk of injuries, these athletes must prioritize their health and well-being throughout their training and competitive careers.

Essential Gear for Elite Marathoners

Elite marathoners require high-quality equipment to ensure optimal performance during their races. This section details the essential gear for elite marathoners, mainly focusing on shoes and preparing for the route.


High-quality running shoes are crucial for elite marathoners. A reliable pair of shoes should provide ample support, cushioning, and traction while remaining lightweight and breathable. One top pick for marathon shoes is the Brooks Ghost 14; this shoe has received praise for its comfort and support during long-distance runs. When selecting shoes, elite runners should also consider their running gait, foot pronation, and individual comfort preferences.

Route Preparation

Elite marathoners need to familiarize themselves with the race route ahead of time. Studying the course helps them strategize, identify areas requiring pacing adjustments, and mentally prepare for turns, hills, or other obstacles.

Some runners use apps to track marathon routes, while others may participate in local races or scout the course in person before the main event.

Additional Gear

Apart from shoes and route preparation, elite marathoners should also consider the following items for enhanced performance:

  • Running clothes: Lightweight, breathable shirts and shorts (or running tights) are essential for optimal comfort. Material choices should be moisture-wicking and quick-drying to help manage sweat during long runs.
  • Socks: High-quality socks are crucial for blister prevention and improving overall foot comfort. Marathoners should look for socks with cushioning, moisture-wicking properties, and seamless design.
  • Hydration: During a marathon, staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining performance. Elite runners may opt for a handheld water bottle, such as the Nathan Insulated Water Bottle, or use aid stations provided along the race route.
  • Weather-appropriate gear: Marathoners should be prepared for varying weather conditions. This may include running gloves, hats, additional layers when running in colder climates, or sun protection and sweatbands for hot or sunny conditions.

By paying close attention to their gear, athletes can ensure they are well-prepared for the demands of an elite marathon race. With comfortable shoes, knowledge of the route, and additional gear catered to individual needs, runners can maximize their performance during these challenging events.

Elite Marathon Races and Prize Purse

Elite marathon races attract top runners worldwide to compete for prestigious titles and sizable prize purses. These marathons typically occur in prominent cities and are often part of the World Marathon Majors series.

The World Marathon Majors comprises six of the most renowned marathons globally, including the Boston Marathon, London Marathon, Berlin Marathon, Chicago Marathon, New York City Marathon, and Tokyo Marathon.

These races are recognized for offering some of the highest appearance fees and prize money in the world of marathoning. *However, it should be noted that there is no formal minimum requirement for elite support or prize money for these events.

The prize purse for elite runners and wheelchair racers in the World Marathon Majors has seen some changes in recent years. The whole bag now amounts to $100,000 for each category. In addition, the top five finishers in both the runners and wheelchair racers categories receive a share of the prize purse.

Aside from the World Marathon Majors, other elite marathons offer substantial prize purses for top finishers. For example, the 2023 Austin Marathon has a total prize purse of $20,000, attracting elite and half marathoners from various countries.

In many elite marathons, the prize money is distributed among the top finishers, often extending up to the top 10 or even 15 in some cases. For instance, the Boston Marathon offers prize money going up to the 10th place finisher, with rewards ranging from $150,000 for the winner down to $5,500 for 10th place.

In summary, elite marathon races are prestigious events that attract top runners worldwide to compete for significant prize purses. As a result, these races often feature international athletes vying for victory and taking home a share of the substantial prize money. Ultimately, the pursuit of greatness and the allure of financial rewards drive runners to push their limits in these elite marathon events.

Comparing Elite Marathoners to Other Sports Professionals

Elite marathoners, like other sports professionals, undergo rigorous training and possess an exceptional degree of athleticism. However, the physical demands and performance indicators noticeably differ for marathon runners compared to athletes in sports like football.

In marathon running, athletes must maintain exceptional endurance and running economy. For example, the Olympic qualifying time for men’s marathons is 2:11:30, which requires an average pace of 5:01 per mile. This level of performance is vastly different from NFL players, who excel in short bursts of high-intensity activity like running, tackling, and jumping.

  • Elite Marathoners:
    • Emphasize endurance and maintaining speed for long periods.
    • Focus on competing in an average of two high-quality marathons per year. Proper nutrition, injury prevention, and weather can factor into their performance.
    • Possess better running economy than other runners, using less oxygen and energy to maintain a speed.
  • NFL Players:
    • Excel is an intense physical activity requiring strength, power, and agility.
    • Prioritize performance during a sixteen-game regular season, with a chance for playoffs and potentially the Super Bowl.
    • Training regimens emphasize weightlifting, plyometrics, and conditioning exercises to support explosive movements and durability.
SportEmphasisPerformance MetricsTraining Focus
MarathonEndurance, Running Economy5:01 per mile pace, Olympic qualifying time of 2:11:30 for menDistance running, Nutrition
NFL FootballStrength, Power, AgilitySpeed, jumping ability, reaction time, tackles, yards gained/lostWeightlifting, Plyometrics

Though elite marathoners and NFL players are considered top athletes in their respective sports, the nature of their disciplines requires different training and performance evaluation approaches.

While marathon runners focus on maximizing their long-distance abilities, NFL athletes must be well-rounded and adapt to various physical demands.



Slightly obsessed middle aged runner.