What percentage of people have run a marathon?

I know, it’s a badly formulated question since I don’t specify all the variables. I guess based on the US population, over the past 20-30 years? It could be as simple as how many people entered organized marathons. But I know people enter marathons all over the world, so I’m not sure how to collect the numbers.

Any ideas how track down these numbers?

seems like there were 460k US marathon runners in 2009, and there has been an exponential growth in the number of marathon runners.

very, very small # it seems

This may be better suited to The Game Room than GQ.

General Questions Moderator

Cool site. The number was greater than I expected – 0.15% of the US population.

The site mentions 464k people finished (in US marathons). I think this counts non-US runners and runners that compete in more than one marathon. Is there a significant portion of marathon runners that do more than one marathon event per year?

I’m interested in seeing if you can ferret this out. A lot of runners do compete in more than one marathon per year, but I’m not sure it is enough to qualify as “a significant portion.” Tends to be the more elite/hardcore runners. I’d WAG at least 1%, but nowhere close to 10%.

Are you assuming that all people who finished ran the whole thing? Or is that not part of your assumption/question?

I’m sure there is a significant portion that do two or more marathons each year. But there’s also a huge group of people that have run marathons in the past, but didn’t in 2009 (they ran one marathon as a goal, but didn’t keep it up; they’ve retired; they were injured all year, etc.). As a non-educated WAG, I’d say the second group is larger than the first, so I suspect more than half a million people in the U.S. have run a marathon at least once in their lives (I’d go with between 1/2 and one million at a WAG).

Actually, wouldn’t this make the overall number even greater?
I’ve run 1 marathon - in 2004 - and have no intention of running another.

I’d wager if you grouped people who have run marathons by the number of marathons they have run, the folk with 1 under their belt would be by far the largest. Followed by those with 2 (so they can say they ran marathonS!)

Good point, I forgot about that aspect of the OP. Of course, it makes it more difficult to identify the percentage since you then have to account for all of the people alive in the US over that time period.

Also considering that the number of runners has exploded in recent years, it is quite possible that the number of casual, one-time runners has also exploded.

In this link it shows the number of finishing runners based on running time. It may be possible to estimate the number of repeat runners based on performance, but I think you would need someone with more insight into marathons than I have. For example, in 2005 less than 10% of runners finished in under 3:30:00. If this is a good cut-off for a ‘serious’ runner, then you might be able to estimate based on that, but I am not very comfortable with that methodology.

I found this message board question “How many marathons do you run a year?” . It is not a scientific measurement, but I was surprised at the number of runners that do 3-5 per year. However to contrast, many of the marathon events listed do not even make Rumor’s link up-thread. This implies two things: 1) The number of runners that do 2 or more ‘major’ events (i.e. listed in the link above) is very small, 2) There may be a lot of minor events (less than 1000 runners) not accounted for in the link above and the total number of runners could be significantly higher than 464k.

This site puts the number at 0.5% of the population; no indication where they got their data, but it seems about right.

I consider myself to be an avid runner, yet I’ve only run three marathons since I started running at age 21, thirty years ago. Have run many, many half marathons, 10-milers, 10-K’s, and odd distances. Most people who have run a marathon are like me. There are two reasons:

  • Marathons are hard;
  • Training for marathons is very time-consuming.

I run about 2 - 3 times a week, with the longest distance being 5 - 7 miles. This takes less than an hour. To get in shape for a half-marathon, I just have to extend my long runs for a few weeks before the event. Recovery time is just a couple days, especially with the right gear, nutrition, and post-race routine.

To run a marathon, though, I need to start ramping up about 3-4 months in advance. I need to get in one long run every 2-3 weeks, anywhere from 15-20 miles (should be more). The long run pretty much shoots that weekend day; tough to give up when you’re married with kids. The marathon itself is much more punishing to your body; in my last one last October, I killed both big toenails, and took about a week to get my physique back. It’s a terrific feeling, but it’s a big chunk out of your life, when you can get nearly the same sense of accomplishment from a half. Running is fun, but I don’t want to do it all the time.

I’ll bet the proportion of people who average a marathon per year are less than 0.1%. God bless 'em!


Wow, I asked this question right before I ran my first (and only, so far) marathon. But I have my first ultramarathon coming up next month. :smiley:

Excellent! I ran my first marathon at age 26 (so I ran my age :-)), then didn’t do another until I was 48. Ran that one with my older brother – his first, at 49! Since then (four years ago) he has run about seven more, plus one ultramarathon: a 33 mile trail run in Catoctin Park in Maryland which took 8 hours.

Percentages for ultramarathoners are probably even harder to come by, but I’ll bet it’s under 0.05%. That’s getting close to Romney territory :-).


Company I follow on FB this morning posted “Any idot can run, it takes a special kind of idiot to run a marathon.”

I wanna be a special kind of idiot, dammit!

My sport is your sport’s punishment.

And toenails are for sissies :smiley: