Q&A #14

The IAAF world record for men is 2:03:38, set by Patrick Makau of Kenya on September 25, 2011 at the Berlin Marathon.

On 18 April 2011 at the Boston Marathon, Geoffrey Mutai ran the fastest marathon ever in a time of 2 hours 3 minutes 2 seconds (4:42 per mile pace), though this time will not be recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations as a world record since the Boston course does not meet the criteria to be eligible for the mark.

The IAAF world record for women is currently 2:15:25, set by Paula Radcliffe of the United Kingdom on April 13, 2003 at the London Marathon.

In 2011 the IAAF disallowed this record because both men and women ran this race, after much controversy they reinstated this record.  


Marathon races were first held in 1896, but the distance was not standardized by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) until 1921. The actual distance for pre-1921 races frequently varied slightly from the present figure of 42.195 km (26 miles 385 yards). In qualifying races for the 1896 Summer Olympics,Greek runners Kharilaos Vasilakos (3:18:00) and Ioannis Lavrentis (3:11:27) won the first two modern marathons. On April 10, 1896, Spiridon Louis of Greece wonthe first Olympic marathon in Athens, Greece in a time of 2:58:50  however, the distance for the event was reported to be only 40,000 meters. Three months later, British runner Len Hurst won the inaugural Paris to Conflans Marathon (also around 40 km) in a time of 2:31:30.[17] In 1900, Hurst would better his time on the same course with a 2:26:28 performance. Later, Shizo Kanakuri of Japan was reported to have set a world record of 2:32:45 in a November 1911 domestic qualification race for the 1912 Summer Olympics, but this performance was also run over a distance of approximately 40 km. The first marathon over the now official distance was won by American Johnny Hayes at the 1908 Summer Olympics.

It is possible that Stamata Revithi, who ran the 1896 Olympic course a day after Louis, is the first woman to run the modern marathon. The IAAF credits Violet Piercy's 1926 performance as the first woman to race what is now the standard marathon distance; however, other sources report that the 1918 performance of Marie-Louise Ledru in the Tour de Paris set the initial mark for women. Other "unofficial" performances have also been reported to be world bests or world records over time. Although her performance is not recognized by the IAAF, Adrienne Beames from Australia is frequently credited as the first woman to break the 3-hour barrier in the marathon.

In the 1953 Boston Marathon, the top three male finishers were thought to have broken the standing world record, but Keizo Yamada's mark of 2:18:51 is now considered to have been set on a short course. The Boston Athletic Association does not report Yamada's performance as a world best. On October 25, 1981, American Alberto Salazar and New Zealander Allison Roe set apparent world bests at the New York City Marathon (2:08:13 and 2:25:29); however, these marks were invalidated when the course was later found to have been nearly 150 meters short. Although the IAAF's progression notes three performances set on the same course in 1978, 1979, and 1980 by Norwegian Grete Waitz, the Association of Road Racing Statisticians considers the New York City course suspect for those performances, too.

On April 18, 2011, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya ran the fastest marathon ever in a time of 2:03:02, albeit on the Boston course, which does not meet the criteria for record attempts.

Eight world records have been set at the Polytechnic Marathon (1909, 1913, 1952–54, 1963–65).[37] World records have been broken at all five World Marathon Majorson numerous occasions; seven times at the Berlin Marathon, three times at the Boston Marathon, and four times each at the ChicagoLondon, and New York City Marathons.

2h03:38Patrick Makau Kenya25 September 2011Berlin
2h03:42Wilson Kipsang Kenya30 October 2011Frankfurt
2h03:59Haile Gebrselassie Ethiopia28 September 2008Berlin
2h04:27Duncan Kibet Kenya5 April 2009Rotterdam
2h04:27James Kwambai Kenya5 April 2009Rotterdam
2h04:40Emmanuel Mutai Kenya17 April 2011London
2h04:55Paul Tergat Kenya28 September 2003Berlin
2h04:55Geoffrey Mutai Kenya11 April 2010Rotterdam
2h04:56Sammy Korir Kenya28 September 2003Berlin
2h05:04Abel Kirui Kenya5 April 2009Rotterdam

2h15:25Paula Radcliffe United Kingdom13 April 2003London
2h18:20Liliya Shobukhova Russia9 October 2011Chicago
2h18:47Catherine Ndereba Kenya7 October 2001Chicago
2h19:12Mizuki Noguchi Japan25 September 2005Berlin
2h19:19Mary Keitany Kenya17 April 2011London
2h19:19Irina Mikitenko Germany28 September 2008Berlin
2h19:36Deena Kastor United States23 April 2006London
2h19:39Sun Yingjie China19 October 2003Beijing
2h19:41Yoko Shibui Japan26 September 2004Berlin
2h19:44Florence Kiplagat Kenya25 September 2011Berlin

The International Association of Athletics Federations has decided to letPaula Radcliffe keep her marathon world record from 2003, after previously saying it would reduce one of athletics' outstanding performances to a world best because she set the mark in a race with men.

The IAAF council member Helmut Digel said that the governing body will keep the mark in the books despite an August decision to recognise only records achieved in all-women races from now on.

"The record will stay. Nobody will cancel the record of Paula. That is sure," Digel said after an IAAF meeting in Monaco. "Her record will never be diminished."

The rule change is still set to come into effect next year, but Digel said Radcliffe's existing record will now be allowed to stand. The change had led to several calls for Radcliffe's record to be kept since the plans were announced at this past summer's world championships in Daegu, South Korea.

Digel said the IAAF was taken aback by the vehemence of the protests, and that the rule was not meant to diminish previous performances. "It was not against old records at all," he said. "We realise that these performances were excellent performances."

Radcliffe ran a time of 2hr 15min 25sec at the London marathon in 2003, a stunning performance which is still 1:53 faster than the second-best time in history, which Radcliffe also holds. The second-fastest runner of all time is Kenya's Catherine Ndereba, who was 3:22 slower in 2001.

The issue for the IAAF is that Radcliffe ran the London race with male pacemakers, which the governing body says makes for an unfair edge compared to all-women races. Now, the IAAF is expected to work out a system where the records in mixed races could stand side-by-side with records in all-women races. "The terminology has not been decided yet," Digel said.

Many in running agree that women run marathons faster when paced by men, since keeping up with men can provide a target to aim for. Running in a group of men can also be less tiring if they shield the athlete from the wind.