Can Anyone Run A Marathon?

You might be planning on entering a marathon or simply wondering whether anyone can run a marathon. Whichever it is, it’s a valid question with a multifaceted answer.

First of all, anyone can complete an “unofficial” marathon in their own time and place, no matter whether it takes a long time and involves walking breaks.

Can Anyone Run A Marathon

As for official marathon events, however, it’s a different story.

In this guide, find out the answer to whether anyone can run a marathon, explained in detail, including marathon requirements, marathon fitness requirements, marathon times, and more. 

Marathon Requirements

For official marathon events, there is typically a set of requirements that have to be fulfilled before being able to participate.

So, right off the bat, you would have to meet these requirements before being able to run in a professional marathon.

This is especially true for the “big five” marathon events, which include the London Marathon, Berlin Marathon, New York Marathon, Boston Marathon, and Chicago Marathon.

The entry criteria for marathon events are not the same but, in general, the main requirement is a minimum age.

Other requirements can include application and selection (known as a marathon ballot), an entry fee, and sometimes qualification through an associated race finished within a past time frame (typically one year).

Marathon Cut Off Times

Marathon events also tend to feature cut-off times. This is the limit within which you have to reach the finish line to have completed the marathon. 

As a result, cut-off times are another factor in whether anyone can run a full marathon as, while most people can enter and be selected to participate, not everyone is fit enough to finish the marathon within the time limit.

Another reason could be injuries suffered during the marathon, preventing the participant from finishing.

To give you a general idea, here are the cut-off times for the five most popular marathon events:

  • London Marathon – 7 hours
  • Berlin Marathon – 6 hours and 15 minutes
  • Chicago Marathon – 6 hours and 30 minutes
  • Boston Marathon – no cut-off time (previously 6 hours)
  • New York Marathon – no cut-off time

Average Marathon Time

So, what is the average marathon finish time?

Now that you know about cut-off times, the average marathon time is also worth knowing to provide a general idea of the time it takes most people to finish a marathon as well as a target to aspire to – if you plan on entering.

On average, taking into account both males and females, the time it takes to complete a marathon is 4 hours and 21 minutes.

For males, that’s 4 hours and 13 minutes. And for females, 4 hours and 42 minutes.

So, for most people of an average fitness level who have also made sure to train for the event, the marathon is achievable within the general cut-off time.

What Is A Good Marathon Time?

A good marathon time, which is considered above average, is around 3 hours and 48 minutes for both males and females.

Achieving a marathon time of at least 4 hours and under is considered a fantastic achievement, but does require a good level of fitness and running experience.

If you are curious about the fastest marathon times, the fastest marathon time for males is 2 hours and 1 minute, achieved by Kenyan runner, Eliud Kipchoge, in the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

The fastest marathon time for females is 2 hours and 14 minutes, achieved by Kenyan runner, Brigid Kosgei, in the 2019 Chicago Marathon.

What Happens If You Don’t Finish A Marathon In Time?

What Happens If You Don’t Finish A Marathon In Time

If you are not able to finish a marathon in time, whether that’s due to fatigue, injury, or another reason, what happens?

For official marathon events with cut-off times, participants who have not reached the finish line within the time limit would generally be escorted to the finish line via a sweeper bus once the marathon is considered over.

The role of the sweeper bus, or sweeper, is to follow the rearmost participants in case of dropout or escorting non-finishers at the end of the marathon.

This is so these participants can reach the finish line to regroup with others and join in any post-event proceedings.

For participants who do not finish a marathon in time, this can also result in not receiving an official certificate/medal or finisher’s souvenir, depending on the marathon. 

Can Anyone Run A Marathon?

So, can anyone run a marathon?

For marathon events, running (completing) a marathon would involve being approved to participate after applying and reaching the finish line within the cut-off time, if applicable.

In general, this would require having a decent level of fitness and experience, supported by prior training for the marathon itself.

Some marathon events also require qualification through a previous race, which is another factor to consider.

Overall, anyone with a good level of fitness and running experience can run a self-organized marathon.

But for official marathon events, there are certain application requirements and fitness requirements to be able to participate and complete the race in time.

How To Train For A Marathon

If you are planning on entering and competing in a marathon, it’s worth knowing how to train for a marathon. 

Marathons are by no means easy and therefore require a certain level of fitness, mental resilience, and even a few things to manage during the race itself.

These include pace management, mental drive management, and energy management (through water and consumables intake).

Before competing in any marathon, it’s advisable to have completed smaller distance runs, such as the half marathon.

This is not a requirement but can help to improve fitness, learn to manage running pace, and rack up competitive experience.

Either way, training for a marathon is essential. This includes frequent running, tracking progress and increasing distance, establishing personal running pace, setting goals, living healthily, and building up a good mindset.

It is also important to rest and recover between training as well as consume the right food, which is especially important before, and coming up to, the marathon itself.


The short answer? Anyone with a good level of fitness and running experience can run a self-organized marathon in their own time and place.

For official marathon events, however, other factors come into play, such as meeting the minimum requirements and being selected to participate, as well as being fit enough to complete the marathon within the cut-off time.

Megan Rinzel
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