Not everyone who starts a marathon will finish, and that’s perfectly fine. Many people who register will not even show up at all. But what percentage of people who sign up for a marathon does not finish? As I continue to explore the world of marathons and the probability of running one myself in the future, I was curious to know what the odds of not finishing actually are. As it turns out:
Based on the data I found, about 17.13% of runners who sign up for a marathon do not finish. I found one marathon where 34.18% of the registered participants did not finish, while in other marathons everyone who registered finished the race.
I found it very difficult to find a simple answer to this question. None of the marathon websites I looked at had a straightforward answer nor data.
Through my research, I got the impression that marathon organizers did not want to promote this data. That makes perfect sense. Highlighting the percent of people who do not finish a race might discourage interested runners, lead to fewer registrations, which ultimately means less money for the event organizers.
Nevertheless, I wanted to know, so I did some digging. This is what I was able to find…
I found some useful data on a website called It’s Your Race. It’s a nice website with many resources for people who organize running events of all sizes and distances. Those who use their services often post the results of their races, some of which are marathons.
I looked at the data for every marathon with published results. Of them all, there were 46 marathons that published data on the total number of participants as well as the total number of finishers.
I liked this data because it came from normal marathons that anyone can enter, not elite races like the Boston Marathon which attract high performing runners with lots of experience. The number of running participants per race ranged from 34 to 830. Therefore, this data might be more useful for beginner runners, like me.
Here is that data:
|Year||Name||Participate||Finish||Not Finish||Not Finish %|
|2019||Half Sauer Half Kraut||148||115||33||22.30%|
|2017||Half Sauer Half Kraut||120||93||27||22.50%|
|2016||Half Sauer Half Kraut||133||101||32||24.06%|
|2019||The Super Marathon||454||341||113||24.89%|
|2017||The Super Marathon||166||118||48||28.92%|
|2019||Swan Lake Marathon||35||35||0||0.00%|
|2018||Swan Lake Marathon||34||33||1||2.94%|
|2017||Swan Lake Marathon||40||36||4||10.00%|
|2016||Swan Lake Marathon||48||40||8||16.67%|
|2019||Race The Lake Marathon||53||42||11||20.75%|
|2018||Race The Lake Marathon||58||49||9||15.52%|
|2017||Race The Lake Marathon||59||50||9||15.25%|
|2015||Race The Lake Marathon||96||76||20||20.83%|
|2019||Cummins Falls Marathon||44||40||4||9.09%|
|2018||Fort Worth Marathon||330||280||50||15.15%|
|2017||Fort Worth Marathon||353||299||54||15.30%|
|2016||Fort Worth Marathon||345||287||58||16.81%|
|2015||Fort Worth Marathon||336||289||47||13.99%|
|2018||Outer Banks Marathon||536||427||109||20.34%|
|2017||Outer Banks Marathon||797||655||142||17.82%|
|2016||Outer Banks Marathon||830||680||150||18.07%|
|2018||7 Bridges Marathon||355||306||49||13.80%|
|2017||7 Bridges Marathon||437||353||84||19.22%|
|2016||7 Bridges Marathon||509||414||95||18.66%|
|2015||7 Bridges Marathon||689||587||102||14.80%|
|2018||Ely Marathon Weekend||97||88||9||9.28%|
|2017||Ely Marathon Weekend||95||79||16||16.84%|
|2016||Ely Marathon Weekend||73||67||6||8.22%|
|2015||Ely Marathon Weekend||86||77||9||10.47%|
|2018||Heart of America Marathon||123||123||0||0.00%|
|2018||Light at the End of the Tunnel||772||503||269||34.84%|
|2016||Light at the End of the Tunnel||608||591||17||2.80%|
|2018||Whitby International North||58||45||13||22.41%|
|2017||Emerald Isle Marathon||115||101||14||12.17%|
|2016||Emerald Isle Marathon||204||171||33||16.18%|
|2016||Monument Valley Marathon||48||39||9||18.75%|
|Totals||46 Marathons Analyzed||10564||8754||1810||17.13%|
As you can see, I was only able to get data for 46 marathons going back as far as 2014. Honestly, it is a small sample size, but it was the best I could do with considerable effort, and without paying considerable amounts of money to download marathon data which may-or-may-not have included the information I was looking for anyway.
If you happen to know a resource where I can gather this data for FREE, I would love to know. Leave a comment below to share that resource with the world.
Why Do People Not Finish a Marathon?
I have a lot of respect for marathon runners. I am inspired by your dedicated training and your focus on personal health and fitness. Even if you trained and did not finish, I salute you.
Not finishing a marathon is one of the bigger fears that new marathon runners face. It may feel like a massive disappointment, but it shouldn’t be. As you can see, many people who register do not finish. Based on what I found, about 17.13% of the participants don’t. If it happens to you, you are not alone.
Some of the more common reasons for not finishing a marathon include:
They can happen during training, during the race, or even as an unrelated accident. According to Runners World (https://www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a20780912/the-seven-most-common-running-injuries/), there are 7 common running injuries. They are listed here, and read the Runners World article to find out more information.
- Runner’s Knee
- Achilles Tendonitis
- Hamstring Issues
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Shin Splints
- Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)
- Stress Fracture
When you run, you sweat. If it is hot and sunny, you will sweat even more. If you do not stay sufficiently hydrated during the race you may experience symptoms of dehydration. I found these symptoms at Map My Race:
- dry eyes
- dry mouth
- muscle spasms
- you stop sweating
Dehydration can lead to “fainting, confusion and convulsion”. Unaddressed, dehydration can turn into something more serious like heat exhaustion, heat stroke, hypovolemic shock, and even death.
Running a marathon requires considerable amounts of energy. You will need to manage your nutrition before and during the race to help you finish. The Rockay website notes that runners often consume gels or sports beans, along with some water, every 4 to 5 miles. This helps to maintain blood sugar levels during the marathon.
Grit is an undeniable factor in helping people finish a marathon. You will need to overcome physical pain, psychological doubt, and emotional rollercoasters as you run. Those who are mentally tougher will have a better chance to finish. Those who are mentally weaker will be more tempted to give up before finishing.
What Happens If You Do Not Finish?
For those who are unable to finish the marathon for any reason, including time restrictions, a number of things can happen:
- You can stop at a checkpoint and end your race there.
- A sweep bus will drive by and pick you up, ending your race.
- In extreme situations, medical staff can assist ill runners at designated locations.
Not finishing a race is not the end of the world. It should not even be the end of your running career. A statistically significant number of people who participate in a race do not finish. Some do not even show up at all.
The very fact that you tried is an accomplishment in itself. Dust yourself off, get some water, rest and recover, learn from the experience, and try again!
What is the average marathon finishing time? According to Very Well Fit, the average finishing time for men in the USA is 4 hours and 22 minutes. For women running marathons in the USA, the average finishing time is 4 hours and 48 minutes.
How long do marathons stay open for runners? I did some research on this, too. I found out that the average marathon stays open for 6 hours, 52 minutes, and 9 seconds. Most races have a cut-off time of between 6 and 7 hours. Read the full article and learn more by clicking this link.