The Ultimate Guide to the Fastest Marathon Time Ever: Unveiling the Progression of the Marathon World Record

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Introduction to the Marathon World Record

The marathon, a grueling 26.2-mile race, has captured the imagination of athletes and spectators alike for centuries. As the pinnacle of long-distance running, the marathon world record represents the absolute best time ever achieved by a human being. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating progression of the marathon world record, tracing its evolution from the first sub-2:20 marathon to the unthinkable sub-2 hour barrier.

The Breakthrough: The First Sub-2:20 Marathon

In the early years of marathon running, breaking the 2:20 mark seemed like an insurmountable challenge. However, in 1957, the legendary Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila shattered this barrier, completing the race in an astonishing time of 2:15:16. This groundbreaking achievement marked a turning point in marathon history and paved the way for future athletes to push the limits even further.

To put this accomplishment in perspective, let’s take a look at the progression of the marathon world record from 1957 to the present day:

1957Abebe Bikila2:15:16
1969Derek Clayton2:08:33
1984Carlos Lopes2:07:12
1999Ronaldo da Costa2:06:05
2003Paul Tergat2:04:55
2007Haile Gebrselassie2:04:26
2013Wilson Kipsang2:03:23
2014Dennis Kimetto2:02:57
2020Eliud Kipchoge2:01:39*

*Note: Eliud Kipchoge’s unofficial time of 1:59:40 achieved in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in 2019 is not recognized as an official world record due to its unique conditions.

Pushing the Limits: The Sub-2:10 Barrier

After Bikila’s groundbreaking feat, it took more than a decade for another athlete to break the 2:10 mark. Australian runner Derek Clayton achieved this milestone in 1969, setting a new world record of 2:08:33. This significant improvement highlighted the continuous pursuit of excellence in marathon running.

Breaking Barriers: The Sub-2:05 Quest

In the 1980s, the focus shifted towards breaking the sub-2:05 barrier. Portuguese athlete Carlos Lopes accomplished this feat in 1984, clocking in at 2:07:12. Lopes’ record not only showcased the immense talent of the world’s top marathoners but also ignited a new wave of ambition among athletes aiming for faster times.

The Elite Few: The Sub-2:04 Milestone

As the marathon gained popularity and athletes became more specialized, the sub-2:04 milestone emerged as the next target for ambitious runners. In 2003, Kenyan athlete Paul Tergat became the first person to break this barrier, crossing the finish line in 2:04:55. Tergat’s achievement demonstrated the relentless pursuit of greatness in the marathon world.

Chasing Perfection: The Sub-2:03 Challenge

The pursuit of the sub-2:03 marathon time intensified in the 2010s. Ethiopian runner Wilson Kipsang made history in 2013 by setting a new world record of 2:03:23. His remarkable feat showcased the continuous improvement in training techniques, nutrition, and race strategies, as athletes pushed the boundaries of human performance.

The Unthinkable: Breaking the Sub-2 Hour Barrier

In recent years, a new frontier has emerged in marathon running—the elusive sub-2 hour barrier. While not officially recognized as a world record, Eliud Kipchoge’s historic achievement in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge came close to this unimaginable feat. Running under controlled conditions, Kipchoge finished the marathon in an astounding time of 1:59:40, shattering perceptions of what is physically possible in the sport.


  1. What is the current men’s marathon world record?
    • The current men’s marathon world record is held by Eliud Kipchoge, with a time of 2:01:39 achieved in 2020.
  2. Who held the marathon world record before Eliud Kipchoge?
    • Dennis Kimetto held the marathon world record before Eliud Kipchoge, with a time of 2:02:57 set in 2014.
  3. What was the first sub-2:20 marathon time?
    • The first sub-2:20 marathon time was achieved by Abebe Bikila in 1957, with a time of 2:15:16.
  4. Who was the first athlete to break the sub-2:10 barrier?
    • Derek Clayton was the first athlete to break the sub-2:10 barrier, setting a world record time of 2:08:33 in 1969.
  5. Who was the first athlete to break the sub-2:05 barrier?
    • Carlos Lopes was the first athlete to break the sub-2:05 barrier, achieving a time of 2:07:12 in 1984.
  6. When did the sub-2:04 marathon record first occur?
    • The sub-2:04 marathon record first occurred in 2003, when Paul Tergat finished with a time of 2:04:55.
  7. Has anyone ever run a marathon in under 2 hours?
    • While not recognized as an official world record, Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon in under 2 hours, completing the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in 1:59:40 in 2019.

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