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New Study Gives Insight Into Marathon Performance Across Nations

How do participation rates—and times—vary across nations? recently analyzed nearly 2.2 million marathon results to take a closer look at participants from a country-by-country basis. Their findings were wide-ranging, and very interesting.

In all, the study looked at results from 2009 to 2014 at 12 marathons: Chicago, Marine Corps, Boston, London, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Athens, Amsterdam, Budapest, Warszawa and Rock ‘n’ Roll Madrid.

Here’s what they found:

Fastest Marathon Nations

The data determined the world’s average finish in a marathon is 4:21:21, broken down to a 4:13:23 average for men and 4:42:33 average for women.

Broken down further, RunRepeat was able to determine which countries ran the fastest average marathon between 2009 and 2014. Spain and Portugal were the only two to dip below four hours, with Spainish marathoners averaging a 3:55:35 finish and Portugese at 3:59:04 (more on these two countries later). The U.S. ranked 39th out of 47 nations studied with an average finish of 4:29:31. No other nation in North or South America was slower.

Gender Breakdown

Women make up 45.1 percent of marathon runners in the U.S., making the U.S. the most gender-equal marathon nation on Earth. Coming in a close second was Canada (44.4 percent female) with New Zealand (43.9 percent) in third. No other country topped 40 percent.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Spain’s marathon participants are only 6.4 percent female, with Portugal (8.13 percent female) also male-dominated. Greece (9.8 percent) is the only other country with less than 10 percent female participation.

Another interesting catch: The fastest men’s marathoners on the planet are in Iceland, with an average time of 3:52:01. The fastest women? Also Iceland, at 4:18:29. Iceland has about a 36 percent female participation ratio.

Growing Popularity

From 2009 to 2014, marathon participant globally increased 13.25 percent. Breaking it down further, Europe had a 10.3 percent increase, the U.S. had a 13.92 percent increase, and Asia had a remarkable 92.43 percent increase in participation since 2009. That’s led by Russia (300 percent increase), China (259 percent) and the Philippines (211 percent).

Some countries saw marathon participation decline, including Italy (23.1 percent decline), Finland (29.4 percent) and Switzerland (32.5 percent)

Where’s Africa?

The study omits elite athletes in order to do a comparison of recreational runners only without skewing the data. They also omitted results for nations with less than 100 results, and from nations having less than 10 women and 10 men runners for each of those six years.

With that in mind, most of Africa was left out of the study, despite nations like Kenya and Ethiopia producing some of the best long-distance runners in the world. It’s an interesting quirk that lead researcher Jens Jakob Andersen definitely noticed.

“Many see Africa as the marathon continent, but they only dominate in the elite scene,” Andersen told the New York Times. “In recreational running, it is not a popular sport.”

RELATED: Study: Women Are Better a Marathon Pacing Than Men