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December 30, 2019

One Quick Thing: U.S. Marathoning Decade Review

One Quick Thing: A randomly recurring publication showcasing a statistical representation in the wide world of athletics. Varying degrees of interpretation will be included, draw further conclusions at your own risk.

In this first installment, we will take a look at the American descending order list for the men’s and women’s marathon, depicted by year and in dot plot form:


There are several potential factors at play, such as proximity to an Olympic year, as well as the emergence or retirement of individual athletes (especially at the top end), in addition to, well, maybe even equipment choice.


Note that these charts were prepared with information available from the World Athletics website, and include “irregular” courses such as the Boston Marathon and the California International Marathon (which are not world record eligible). I also only included each athlete’s result once for each respective year, meaning, for example: if Des Linden ran two marathons in 2018, only her fastest result was included in the analysis.

One nugget of analysis that I’d be willing to glean is that recently, from 2016 onward, the “sub-elite” cohorts of 100th best and 200th best appear to be getting faster, while the 50th best and best times of each year haven’t consistently taken the same drastic dip.

Photo by Kevin Morris

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