Most participants do not run a marathon to win. More important for most runners is their personal finish time and their placement within their specific gender and age group, though some runners just want to finish.
Strategies for completing a marathon include running the whole distance and a run-walk strategy. An intermediate approach is to run from water stop to water stop, and walk through the water stop area to ensure the fluids are consumed instead of spilled.
In 2005, the average marathon time in the U.S. was 4 hours 32 minutes 8 seconds for men, 5 hours 6 minutes 8 seconds for women.
The marathon is a long-distance foot race with an official distance of 42.195 kilometres (26 miles 385 yards), that is usually run as a road race. The event is named after the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens. The historical accuracy of this legend is in doubt, contradicted by accounts given by Herodotus, in particular.
The marathon was one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921. More than 800 marathons are contested throughout the world each year, with the vast majority of competitors being recreational athletes. Larger marathons can have tens of thousands of participants.
The world record time for men over the distance is 2 hours 3 minutes and 59 seconds, set in the Berlin Marathon by Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia on September 28, 2008, an improvement of 21 minutes and 40 seconds since 1947 (see Marathon world record progression). The men’s world record represents an average pace of under 2:57 per kilometre (4:44 per mile), average speed of over 20.4 km/h (12.6 mph). The world record for women was set by Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain in the London Marathon on April 13, 2003, in 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. This time was set using male pacesetters; the fastest time by a woman without using a male pacesetter (“woman-only”) was also set by Paula Radcliffe, again during the London Marathon, with a time of 2 hours 17 minutes and 42 seconds, on April 17, 2005.