Science, Tech, Math › Social Sciences How Fast Can Humans Run? Share Flipboard Email Print Adam Hester / Getty Images Science, Tech, Math Psychology Sociology Archaeology Economics Environment Ergonomics Maritime by K. Kris Hirst K. Kris Hirst is an archaeologist with 30 years of field experience. She is the author of The Archaeologist's Book of Quotations and her work has appeared in Science and Archaeology. Updated November 21, 2019 How fast can humans run? The fastest person clocked on our planet today is the Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt, who ran the 100-meter sprint at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing in a world record of 9.58 seconds, which works out to be about 37.6 kilometers per hour or 23.4 miles per hour. For a brief period during that sprint, Bolt reached an astounding 12.3 meters per second (27.51 mph or 44.28 kph).nd (27.51 mph or 44.28 kph). As a physical activity, running is qualitatively different from walking. In running, a person's legs flex and the muscles are forcibly stretched and then contracted during acceleration. The potential gravitational energy and the kinetic energy available in a person's body changes as the center of mass in the body changes. That is thought to be because of the alternating release and absorption of energy in the muscles. Elite Runners Scholars believe that the fastest runners, the elite sprinters, are those who run economically, meaning that they use a low amount of energy per unit of distance run. The ability to do that is influenced by muscle fiber distribution, age, sex, and other anthropometric factors. The fastest of the elite runners are young men. The possible velocity of a runner is also influenced by biomechanical variables, somewhat controversially attributed to the cycle of the runner's gait. Factors thought to influence a person's velocity are shorter ground contact times, lower stride frequencies, longer swing times, greater stride angles, and longer strides. In particular, sprint runners maximize their acceleration and maximum sprinting velocities by applying greater mass-specific ground forces, specifically horizontal ankle velocity, contact time, and step rate. Long-Distance Runners When considering velocity, sports researchers also look at long-distance runners, those who race distances between 5 and 42 km (3 and 26 mi). The fastest of these runners use considerable plantar pressure (the amount of pressure the foot puts on the ground) as well as changes in biomechanical parameters, movement of the legs as measured over time and space. The fastest group in marathon running (like that of sprinters) is men aged between 25 and 29. Those men have an average velocity between 170 and 176 meters per minute, based on marathons run in Chicago and New York between 2012 and 2016. Because the New York City marathon runs in waves (that is to say, there are four groups of runners who begin the race at about 30-minute intervals) statistics are available for runner velocities at 5 km segments throughout the race. Lin and colleagues used that data to provide support to the notion one factor of speed is competition; runners increase speed and change positions more frequently at the end of the race. The Upper Limits So how fast could humans run? In comparison to other animals, humans are very slow; the fastest animal on record is the cheetah at 70 mph (112 kph); even Usain Bolt can only attain a fraction of that. Recent research on the most elite runners have led sports medicine specialists Peter Weyand and colleagues to suggest in press reports that the upper limit might reach 35 to 40 mph: but no scholar has been willing to put a number on that in a peer-reviewed publication to date. Statistics According to Rankings.com, the fastest three male and three female sprinters in the world today are: Usain Bolt (Jamaica), 9.58 seconds, set at the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing, 10.44 meters per secondTyson Gay (United States) 9.69, during the 2008 Olympic Trials, 10.32 m/sAsafa Powell (Jamaica) 9.72, heats at the 2007 IAAF Rieti Grand Prix 10.29 m/sFlorence Joyner Griffith (US) 10.49, 1988 Olympics in Seoul, 9.53 m/sCarmelita Jeter (US) 10.64, Shanghai Golden Grand Prix, 2009, 9.40 m/sMarion Jones (US), 10.65, IAFF World Cup, 1998, 9.39 m/s The three fastest marathon runners, male and female, are, according to Runners World: Dennis Kimetto (Kenya), 2:02:57, Berlin Marathon 2014Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia), 2:03:03, Berlin 2016Elud Kipchoge (Kenya), 2:03:05, London 2016Paula Radcliffe (Great Britain), 2:15:25, London, 2003Mary Keitany (Kenya) 2:17:01, London, 2017Tirunesh Dibaba (Ethiopia) 2:17:56, London, 2017 Fastest Humans on Earth Runner Mi Per Hour Km Per Hour Usain Bolt 23.350 37.578 Tyson Gay 23.085 37.152 Asafa Powell 23.014 37.037 Florence Joyner Griffith 21.324 34.318 Carmelita Jeter 21.024 33.835 Marion Jones 21.004 33.803 Dennis Kimetto 12.795 20.591 Kenenisa Bekele 12.784 20.575 Elud Kipchoge 12.781 20.569 Paula Radcliffe 11.617 18.696 Mary Keitany 11.481 18.477 Tirunesh Dibaba 11.405 18.355 Sources Lin Z, and Meng F. 2018. Empirical analysis on the runners’ velocity distribution in city marathons. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications 490(Supplement C):533-541.Lipfert SW, Günther M, Renjewski D, Grimmer S, and Seyfarth A. 2012. A model-experiment comparison of system dynamics for human walking and running. Journal of Theoretical Biology 292(Supplement C):11-17.Nikolaidis PT, Onywera VO, and Knechtle B. 2017. Running Performance, Nationality, Sex, and Age in the 10-km, Half-Marathon, Marathon, and the 100-km Ultramarathon IAAF 1999–2015. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 31(8):2189-2207.Rabita G, Dorel S, Slawinski J, Sàez-de-Villarreal E, Couturier A, Samozino P, and Morin JB. 2015. Sprint mechanics in world-class athletes: a new insight into the limits of human locomotion. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 25(5):583-594.Santos-Concejero J, Tam N, Coetzee DR, Oliván J, Noakes TD, and Tucker R. 2017. Are gait characteristics and ground reaction forces related to energy cost of running in elite Kenyan runners? Journal of Sports Sciences 35(6):531-538.Weyand PG, Sandell RF, Prime DNL, and Bundle MW. 2010. The biological limits to running speed are imposed from the ground up. Journal of Applied Physiology 108(4):950-961. Continue Reading How Fast Can a Cheetah Run? How Fast Can Greyhounds Run? What Velocity Means and How to Calculate It Why is Wind Speed Measured in Knots? Sharks Are Fast—But Some Are Faster Than Others A common physics problem: analyzing free-falling bodies How Fast Could Dinosaurs Run? What Is the Record Highest Wind Speed, and How Fast Was It? Joan Benoit: First Woman to Win Olympic Gold Medal in the Marathon Tiger Beetles: The Fastest Bugs on Six Legs Here's How the Concept of Speed Actually Defined in Physics The Fastest Animals on the Planet The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles 10 Facts on the Geography of Beijing China What Is Power in Physics? 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