How Fast Do Olympians Run Marathons? A centuries' worth of advancement in the fields exercise-related science, diet and training help explain the drastic improvement of world-class marathon runners and how fast they are able to run at the Olympic Games.
The first OIympic marathon contested at the standard distance was in London in 1908. There, New York City native Johnny Hayes was the winner in 2:55:19. His pace was 6:41 per mile and he trotted along at a speed of 8.9 miles per hour. If Johnny had run the exact same time in 2008 he would have placed 69th in the women's marathon, beating just one competitor. In the men's race, he would have finished more than 14 minutes behind the last Olympian finisher.
In 2008, Kenyan superstar Sammy Wanjiru–widely considered one of the best current distance runners in the world–won the Beijing Games race in an Olympic record of 2:06:32. Not only did Wanjiru shave three minutes from the previous Olympic record, he covered the 26 mile, 385-yard distance at a pace of 4:50 per mile. That also comes out to about 12.4 miles per hour. Few Olympians can run marathons at that level.
Romanian Constantina Dita won the women's marathon at the 2008 Olympics by completing the race in 2:26:44, an average of 5:36 per mile. Her average speed computes to 10.7 miles per hour, a blistering pace for women Olympians who run marathons.
The very top marathoners are chasing a barrier that some still believe is unattainable: two hours. That pace is an elusive goal for Olympians who run marathons. The world record for the distance is slightly faster than 2:04, but Wanjiru and a few others are pushing boundaries and challenging the notion of what is possible. Wanjiru holds the record for the half marathon, at 58 minutes, 33 seconds.