In this study, we compared the marathon performance across nations. With a database of 2,195,588 marathon results, this analysis is the largest in history.
Below you will find infographics, tables, and interactive maps. Feel free to use any information on this page as long as you refer to the source.
Growth in Popularity of Marathon Running
Marathon running is popular, but not equally around the world.
The worldwide growth from 2009 to 2014 was +13.25%. Women are picking up faster than men with a growth of +26.90% while men’s participation rate has increased +7.80%.
Top and Bottom Performing Areas
Surprisingly Europe is growing less than the rest of the world. Europe experienced an increase of only +10.30%.
The big surprise is Asia. A growth from 2009 to 2014 of +92.43%. Both men (+90.40%) and women (+97.80%). China’s participation rate has increased 259.47%. In addition, India is picking up with a growth of 154.78%. The only Asian country in this research experiencing negative growth is South Korea (-21.88%).
In USA the growth from 2009 to 2014 has been 13.92%. The popularity is powered by women’s increase in participation rate. Men’s increase has been 5.44% while it for women has been a staggering 25.20%.
The world average proportion of women marathon runners is 29.76%. Europe’s proportion of women is 21.99%, Northern America is 44.67%, South America is 26.26% and Asia is 27.86%.
Top and Bottom Performing Areas
Of the 401,582 marathon results recorded for USA, an amazing 181.319 were women. 45.15% of all American marathon runners are women. This is the highest proportion of women for any country listed in this analysis. USA is the most gender equal marathon nation.
Looking at the list, Canada comes 2nd with 44.42% women and then New Zealand 3rd with 43.96% women. Those three nations are significantly more gender equal than the rest of the world. 4th goes to Australia with 35.81% women.
At the other end of the spectrum, you will find Spain with only 6.41% of marathon runners being women. Portugal (8.13%) and Greece (9.84%) are also male dominant nations. All South European nations. The last South European nation is also at the bottom – Italy –with only 14.15% women.
The Scandinavian nations were expected to have a high proportion of women. The proportion of women marathon runners in Scandinavia is lower than the world average. Though, higher than the European average.
The World’s Fastest Marathon Nations
The world’s average finish time of a marathon was 4 hours 21 minutes and 21 seconds in 2014. Looking at 2009 to 2014 the time was 4 hours 22 minutes and 5 seconds. For men it was 4:13:23 and for women 4:42:33 (29:10 minutes slower). On average, marathon runners are being slower.
Of all nations the winner is Spain. With an average finish time from 2009 to 2014 of 3:55:35 Spain is the world’s fastest marathon nation. Looking at the years separately Spain was the fastest nation in 2011, 2012 and 2013. But in 2014, to our big surprise, Iceland came first. Second on the list is Portugal (3:59:04) and third Luxembourg (4:00:46).
The Slowest Nations
Positioned 39th of 47 nations you find USA, the slowest nation in Northern and Southern America.
The worst European nation is Greece (4:32:27) closely followed by the UK (4:32:24). The worst performing nation is Philippines (5:05:13) followed by India (5:03:41) and Japan (4:40:14). All Asian nations.
Europe is Dominating
Canada comes in as the fastest non-European nation at a 8th with an average finish time of 4:04:29. Next non-European Nation is Israel positioned 16th and then the Russian Federation positioned 18th. However, those two nations are in many context considered European.
Looking at the average finish time across continents you find Europe positioned first (4:18:41) closely followed by South America (4:20:32).
Improvements over the Years
From 2009 to 2014 there has been some changes in the performance. Some nations have become better while others worse. The nations that have improved the most are 1) Iceland (23:47 minutes faster), 2) Singapore (19:40 minutes faster) and 3) Denmark (16:30 minutes faster).
China, Hong Kong and Ecuador are the nations that decreased the most in performance. Respectively, they became 33:38 minutes, 31:47 minutes and 19:48 minutes slower.
One could argue that comparing the performance across nations for men and women compiled would be unfair. Some nations are male dominant, while others are more gender equal. Spain is the most male dominant nations and USA is the most gender equal nation. When comparing nations, one should separate results for men and women.
Males – The World’s Fastest Nations
At the top of the list (the fastest men) you will find Iceland (3:52:11), Luxembourg (3:52:40) and Canada (3:52:44). Spain comes in 4th in 3:53:45.
The slowest nations are still India (5:00:34), Philippines (4:57:53) and Japan (4:34:02). Indian men are 1 hour 8 minutes and 23 seconds slower on average than Icelandic men.
Over the years Iceland, Philippines and Singapore are the men’s that have improved the most followed by all Scandinavian nations (Sweden, Norway and Denmark).
Females – The World’s Fastest Nations
First comes Iceland (4:18:29) followed by Canada (4:19:12) and Portugal (4:19:17). Again, Spain is positioned 4th.
Slowest are India (5:27:04), Philippines (5:18:57) and Japan (4:54:34). Indian women are 1 hour 8 minutes and 35 seconds slower on average than Icelandic women.
From 2009 to 2014 India, Germany and Finland was the nations improving the most.
- The purpose of this study was to compare recreational runners. Therefore elite runners were omitted hence including them would bias the results dramatically.
- We omitted results from nations with less than 100 results. Having less results from a nation would make the results insignificant.
- We omitted results from nations having less than 10 women and 10 men runners for each of the 6 years.
- We omitted results from marathon races for which we did not have results for all 6 years from 2009 to 2014. Including a race with results from only 5 of the 6 years, we bias the data dramatically.
- We omitted races that did not have gender given.
In this analysis, we looked at the following marathons from 2009 to 2014: Chicago, Marine, Boston, London, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Athens, Amsterdam, Budapest, Warszawa and Madrid. This gave us a total of 72 marathon races.
About the Researchers
Jens Jakob Andersen was the lead researcher. He used to be a competitive runner and statistician from Copenhagen Business School.
If mentioning this study, please refer directly to this page. Feel free to use tables and graphs.