5 Key Takeaways from the NYC Marathon

This year's New York City Marathon was certainly an exciting one - watching Shalane Flanagan cross the finish line as the first American female winner in 40 years was a moment many of us will remember for a long time. Check out a few interesting race finds from our friends at Running Shoes Guru. To take a look at the full infographic, click here.


Are we hitting peak marathon popularity?

The number of finishers of the NYC marathon has grown tremendously over the years. From humble beginnings of 55 total finishers in the inaugural event in 1970 to over 50,000 finishers in recent years. But the numbers have fluctuated and stayed relatively flat over the last 6 or 7 years. It seems that the growth trend may be slowing now that the marathon has become such a popular event. Perhaps it also signals that popularity in long-distance running is hitting a plateau?


Marathon finishers are slowing down

We've seen over the life of the NYC marathon that the top finishing times have consistently improved (by an average of 37 seconds per year for women and 26 seconds per year for men). But the mean finishing time has actually slowed down. Average finish times are now over 4 hours, 30 minutes. This likely stems from the increasing popularity over the years and participation by more casual runners and first-time marathoners.


Gender parity is within sight, but remains elusive

Zero women finished the first NYC marathon in 1970. Today, we have almost reached gender parity, with just over 40% of finishers being women. Yet, looking at the participation ratio over time still tells a story of a marathon that has been predominantly run by men. And, although we have come a long way toward equality, over the last several years, the percentage of women finishers has remained flat or declined. There's no clear trend that would indicate when women will meet or surpass the 50% mark. And even when they do, they will have a long way to go in order to ever catch up with the total number of men who have participated over the last 47 years.


Are older runners outperforming younger runners?

We analyzed the mean finish time among three key age groups (18-39, 40-49, 50+). Although all mean finish times collectively have gotten slower over time (see the above point), there has been movement in the relative speed between the two youngest groups. At this point, the mean finish time for runners aged 40-49 is almost indistinguishable from those who in the 18-39 group. This gap has closed in recent years, starting in the early 2000's.  

This could be a good sign. Perhaps more runners are sticking with it until later in life? Or perhaps improved medical care has allowed older runners to continue running at a quicker pace later into life? It could also indicate that younger runners are slowing more quickly, relative to than their older counterparts. (Yikes!)


U.S. vs. Kenya for dominance - Kenyans are outperforming every other country

The US and Kenya remain locked in a battle for supremacy at the NYC marathon. As of 2017, Kenyan runners have the lead with 24 total victories (14 men, 10 women) versus 23 for U.S. But, it's most impressive when you consider the relative number of finishers from each country. In total, there have only been 291 Kenyan finishers over 47 years, which means that they have dominated proportionally compared to runners from any other nation.

About the Author: Emily Bauer

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Emily is a running and travel enthusiast from with a passion for all things written. She is primarily powered by Earl Grey, yoga, and tofu.