What is fast while running?

It’s a tricky question, as the answer is relative to at least two dozen conditions: “What is fast while running?” A marathon runner might answer this with under 5 hours, while a sprinter completing a 100-meter sprint would say that anything under 12 seconds should be the benchmark. The concept of speed in running is multifaceted, with distances ranging from short sprints of 100 meters to 5K or 10K runs, and then all the way to a full marathon. Factors such as the experience of the runner and their physical condition also come into play. However, since this question is asked more often than you might think, we will delve into the world of running speed to provide some insights into what “fast” really means in various categories.

We are going into what determines speed for you while you are getting more and more experience while running and will share some figures set by elite runners in all facets of the sport. Let’s go:

RUNNING SPEEDS: The starting runners

So your background in sports, your current technique and running experience will define the speed you run. There is no explicit wrong or slow speed as you learn, evaluate and keep improving by following a training schedule and different types of workouts. Our app Run Trainer is a platform build for both the beginner and experienced runners.

For our female runners we see an average of 9 min  45 sec when they start and as they move to larger distances this goes down to 4 min.

For men this speed starts at 8 min 30 sec and then moves to 3 min 30 sec.

Why Experience and Technique matter a lot

When you look at the speed of elite runners, you tend to just focus on their times. It’s important to understand that it’s not just moving your legs as fast as you can. Behind the scenes, experience and technique of so much more will play a vital role in their performances.

  • Experience: Running, like many other sports, requires a deep understanding that can improve through years of practice. Experience teaches a runner about pacing, strategy, and how to tackle different race conditions. For instance, a seasoned runner knows the importance of conserving energy in the early stages to keep a much needed reserve for a final push.
  • Technique: Running efficiently can make a significant difference in performance. Proper running technique minimizes the risk of injury and ensures that energy isn’t wasted. Elements like foot strike, stride length, and arm movement all contribute to a runner’s speed and stamina. Professional runners often spend countless hours refining these techniques, making sure every step propels them forward with maximum efficiency.

By combining experience with great technique, runners optimize their performance, ensuring that their body’s strength and stamina are used to their full potential. Working on this combination is crucial for everyone, from amateur runners looking to improve their personal bests and those aiming to break world records. The biggest wins are often found in the nuances.

So if you are new to the world of running, the term “fast” is highly subjective. But understanding the benchmarks set by professional athletes can provide you both inspiration and perspective. Let’s explore the various speeds in running, from beginners to Olympic sprinters, while also considering the general pace differences between men and women.

RUNNING SPEEDS: The fastest marathon runners

Marathon running is the ultimate test of endurance, stamina, willpower and speed over a distance of 42.195 kilometers (26.2 miles). The records for the fastest marathon times are pretty breathtaking:

Men’s Marathon official World Record:

  • Runner: Kelvin Kitptum (Kenya)
  • Marathon: Chicago Marathon (2023)
  • Time: 2:00:35

Pace: running at 2:51 min/km (4:35 per mile)

Women’s Marathon World Record:

  • Runner: Tigist Assefa (Ethiopia)
  • Marathon: Berlin Marathon (2023)
  • Time: 2:11:53

Pace: running at 3:07 min/km (5:02 per mile)

The Influence of terrain on running pace

The environment in which you run can significantly dictate your pace. Running in urban areas with flat, paved roads or paths, such as those in cities or parks, generally allows for a faster pace. These terrains are even, devoid of major obstructions, and are the preferred choice for many races, from 5Ks to marathons. However, outside of an organized event the urban setting presents its own challenges, like navigating through traffic, watching out for pedestrians, and other typical city obstacles. This would be the best when chasing your best pace.

Venturing off the paved roads, trail running offers a unique blend of nature and challenge. Trails often traverse through forests, nature reserves, or parks and present uneven surfaces, tight turns, and obstacles like roots, rocks and loose gravel. As a result, even experienced runners find their pace considerably slower on trails compared to flat urban terrains. The connection with nature and the softer ground often makes it a favourite among those looking for a mix of challenge and tranquility, but do not compare times between these and urban surfaces. Although a bit more tricky, your pace should still be pretty good here.

And then there are mountainous or steep terrains, introducing significant elevation changes, posing a completely different kind of challenge. Uphill sections will drastically reduce a runner’s pace, demanding a lot more from their muscles and cardiovascular system. On the flip side, what goes up must go down and the downhill sections, and while potentially faster, require careful control to prevent missteps and injuries. These elevated terrains will be extremely demanding and will present an excellent workout, engaging various muscle groups and building endurance. Your pace will be lower and your energy after the run as well.

Lastly, there’s the allure (and sometimes luxury) of beach running. The soft, sandy beaches, especially the loose sections away from the water, can be deceptively challenging. Every step on the sand sinks and shifts your feet into the surface, providing resistance and dramatically slowing down a runner’s pace. While it’s more demanding, the sandy surface is gentler on the joints. You might not want to look at your pace here compared to a road or trail, but the scenic views of the ocean could very well make the effort a worthwhile one.

As runners, adapting to these varied terrains not only tests our endurance, but also our agility and technique. Whether it’s shortening strides on a trail or leaning into an incline on a hilly path, each environment molds us, making us versatile and resilient. So, while the terrain might dictate pace, it also enriches our running experience, teaching us to embrace every challenge it presents and making us faster as we pick up more and more experience.

RUNNING SPEEDS: Elite Sprinters

Sprinting events like the Olympics are pure displays of excellent speed. The 100m is often considered the ‘blue ribbon event’, determining the world’s fastest man and woman. Here’s how fast some elite sprinters are:

Men’s 100m World Record:

  • Runner: Usain Bolt
  • Country: Jamaica
  • Time: 9.58 seconds
  • Pace: Equivalent to running at 37.58 km/h (23.35 mph)

Women’s 100m World Record:

  • Runner: Florence Grififth-Joyner
  • Country: United States
  • Time: 10.49 seconds
  • Pace: Equivalent to running at 34.32 km/h (21.34 mph)

Finding Your Pace and Setting Goals

On your running journey, it’s essential to focus on personal milestones instead of comparing directly with professional runners or even people around you. Here’s how to improve your pace and set reasonable goals to improve:

  • Set your Baseline: Embark on a comfortable run and keep an eye on your running time. Don’t push too hard; identify a sustainable pace that you can hold for quite some time.
  • Set Incremental Goals: For instance, if your initial KM takes 7 minutes, aim for 6:45 in the upcoming weeks.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pushing boundaries is vital, but recognizing when to rest is just as crucial. Recovery is the key to steady improvement.

Seek Guidance: Joining a local running community or seeking a coach’s expertise can be beneficial. They can provide insights into improving technique and personalized training strategies.


Dreaming of running a marathon as a professional is inspiring, but eventually we want to be focusing on ourselves. Running a 5K or even 10K can be a great achievement if you’re new to running. And some runners don’t run above 15K simply because they want to improve their speed on other distances instead of running slower to finish a half marathon. If we look at the majority of runners worldwide, a 5K run is the ‘standard’ and first step you want to be training for.

For longer sprint distances like the 5K and 10K:

Men’s 5K World Record:

  • Runner: Joshua Cheptegei
  • Country: Uganda
  • Time: 12:35.36
  • Pace: Approximately 4:03 per mile or 2:31 per kilometer

Women’s 5K World Record:

  • Runner: Letesenbet Gidey
  • Country: Ethiopia
  • Time: 14:06.62
  • Pace: Approximately 4:32 per mile or 2:49 per kilometer

Men’s 10K World Record:

  • Runner: Joshua Cheptegei
  • Country: Uganda
  • Time: 26:11.00
  • Pace: Approximately 4:12 per mile or 2:37 per kilometer

Women’s 10K World Record:

  • Runner: Letesenbet Gidey
  • Country: Ethiopia
  • Time: 29:01.03
  • Pace: Approximately 4:40 per mile or 2:54 per kilometer

Embrace Your Journey

Remember, while these records showcase incredible human speed, “fast” is a relative term. What might be fast for one person could be different for another. Whether you’re aiming for a world record or just trying to improve your personal best, every step taken is a step towards your goals. Celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small, and keep running!

Written by Run Trainer.

Run Trainer is je persoonlijke hardloop coaching app. Begin met hardlopen of verbeter je snelheid. Met de ingebouwde 5K, 10K, 15K of halve marathon training schema's ben je snel en eenvoudig onderweg. Luister tijdens het hardlopen naar je favoriete muziek en wordt tussendoor gecoacht. Ben je al meer gevorderd? Dan kun je zelfs je eigen schema's in de app programmeren.