Discover the Real Average Human Running Speed

Usain Bolt ran the 100-meter dash, reaching a speed of 27.8 mph at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. But, what’s the average human running speed?

To investigate this question, let’s first focus on Usain’s sprinting abilities.

Usain’s top speed was faster than the average car speed in some California cities. The following are car speeds in several California cities using Google Maps’ data:

  • Sacramento average driving speed: 31.5 mph
  • San Diego average driving speed: 31 mph
  • San Jose average driving speed: 28 mph
  • Los Angeles average driving speed: 26.8 mph
  • San Francisco average driving speed: 18 mph

The average car speed in these 5 cities calculates to 27.06 mph. Usain tops this speed by a hair.

Let’s now dig a little deeper into Usain’s speed.

Below is Usain’s average speed over each 10-meter segment in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. This is when Usain first broke the 100-meter world record with a time of 9.69 seconds.

You can see how Usain is clearing 27 mph for a good portion of the race!

Race Segments (meters)Speed (mph)
0 to 1012.09
10 to 2021.93
20 to 3024.58
30 to 4025.71
40 to 5026.32
50 to 6027.28
60 to 7027.28
70 to 8027.28
80 to 9026.95
90 to 10024.85
Average Speed24.43

Comparing Usain Bolt’s top speed to average human runners

Usain stands 6’5” tall and has many fast-twitch muscle fibers. A physical advantage that helped him become the world’s fastest man.

To point out though, his record speed only spanned a short distance. He can’t maintain this top speed for long periods.

Regardless, in his prime, he’d still outrun everyone today in the 100-meter race. Even with long-distance runs, he without a doubt could outrun most people.

Clearly, we can’t compare Usain to average human runners. So, let’s switch our focus to a more comparable demographic.

Usain Bolt in the 200 meter in olympics

Defining who to classify as a runner

Before we go any further, I need to define who I classify as a runner for our analysis. To do this, I’ve put together an imaginary scenario.

Imagine standing alone in a big city. Then someone snatches something from your hand as they run by you.

Can you then chase them down?

Consider this happens 10 times. Each of these 10 times a different person snatches something from your hand.

Some of the robbers run fast and some run slow. Think of the regular people who you see daily in a supermarket. People come in all shapes and sizes.

With this in mind, any of these people could be the robbers in our case study.

Now, from the 10 people who rob you, can you at least chase 9 of them down? Pretend you have on your running gear when you’re robbed.

In my analysis, all the classified runners I will assume can catch at least 9 of the 10 robbers.

How to gather data for calculating the average human running speed

Now that we’ve covered who I classify as a runner, let’s figure out where to pull our data from. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do I use all Olympic athletes?
  • Should I use the entire population, even people who’ve never trained to run?
  • Do I exclude people over the age of 50?

Before we answer these questions, we need to go over 4 prelim questions. This will help us calculate the average human running speed.

  1. What age range of people should be used?
  2. What human fitness levels should be considered?
  3. Which body types should be considered?
  4. Which distance should be assumed a human needs to run?

I’ll answer each of these 4 questions with my own best reasoning. Then, using my response I’ll gather data to make my calculation.

1. What age range of people should be used?

My age range begins in the late teen years. Both males and females hit puberty around this age.

Also, athletic performance begins to take off in these teen years. Around age 16, some kids already play pro sports with full-grown men and women.

Next, I’ll cap the age range at 80. If you continue to train I believe you can maintain a decent top speed up until this age.

You can see this in data from the World Masters Athletics in the below graph. The data is from a 2009 outdoor competition of top 100 meter sprinters in different age groups.

average human running speed 100 meter men women runners

As you see after the age of 80, your speed drops. You’ll begin to have all types of aches and pains as you approach the age of 100. Especially if you’ve been training all your life.

So data after age 80 are extreme values, also called outliers. For an accurate analysis, I either need to use median values or remove the outlier values.

I decided to remove the outlier values to not obscure my data.

2. What human fitness levels should be considered?

People who’ve made fitness a part of their lifestyle. They go to the gym a couple of times a week and watch their diets.

I want people who perform at their peak in their given age range.

Similarly, imagine if I wanted to know how many hours on average people play video games. I wouldn’t collect data from people who don’t play.

But, I’d collect data from a 15-year-old teenager and a 60-year-old man if they both play. I’d use them both as data points in my analysis.

3. Which body types should be considered?

I’m not going to limit our data to certain body types. Whether tall, short, low body fat, short torso, and so on.

I just want to collect data from top runners from various age groups. At the Olympic level, the top runners almost all have low body fat. But, at the high school level, athletes may have higher than normal body fat.

Important to realize, the Olympics includes a small filtered pool of athletes. Whereas high school includes a much larger and diverse pool of athletes.

With this in mind, the higher you climb in any given sport, the more specific type of body will perform best. It all comes down to plain physics.

But I know, exceptions do exist. Before Usain Bolt, shorter sprinters had the edge in running fast.

Then Usain came along. Usain stands 6’5” tall while his competition on average is 5’11”.

Al 100 meter runs under 10 seconds

Why is height so important in calculating human speed? Let’s understand how speed is calculated:

It’s stride length multiplied by stride rate. The greater the number of strides you take in less time, the more you can take advantage of each of your steps.

Each step produces a force that propels you forward.

As a result, a shorter athlete would more times than not perform better than a taller athlete in a sprint.

A taller athlete takes longer strides. With longer strides comes fewer steps. Thus, less opportunity to generate greater force with each step.

Knowing this, many other variables exist that helped Usain run fast. I’ll later discuss Usain’s physical advantages in greater detail.

Usain Bolt height 6 feet 5 inches

In summary, I’m capturing data from runners at all levels as long as they meet all my criteria

4. Which distance should be assumed a human needs to run?

A 100-meter distance!

I chose a 100-meter distance because it’ll best show peak human athletic performance. A 100-meter sprint would match the speed you’d run with a bear chasing you in the wild.

Sure, in the wild you won’t have perfect conditions as you would running on a track. But, like running from a bear, running for a gold medal would push you to your limits.

In the Olympics, the 100-meter run best displays top running speeds.

Also, let’s go back to who I define as a runner. If someone snatches something from your hand, you need to be able to catch up to them in 100 meters.

In short, I want to capture data when humans reach their peak running speed.

You can only capture this extreme output from a human in a short burst over a short distance.

I want to calculate the average human running speed, not the average jogging speed.

Collected data on the average human running speed

Given my response to the 4 prelim questions, we can now review my gathered data from the various groups of runners. I’ve chosen 14 groups of runners who vary in speed yet run at top speeds in their demographic group.

Group #1: High school male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 10.23 seconds
  • Data from Athletic.net. 2019 national average of top 10 outdoor runs.

Group #2: High school female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 11.28 seconds
  • Data from Athletic.net. 2019 national average of top 10 outdoor runs.

Group #3: College male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 9.99 seconds
  • Data from Athletic.net. 2019 national average of top 10 outdoor runs.

Group #4: College female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 11.02 seconds
  • Data from Athletic.net. 2019 national average of top 10 outdoor runs.

Group #5: Olympic male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 9.76 seconds
  • Data from Wikipedia. All-time average of top 10 outdoor runs in the world.

Group #6: Olympic female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 10.70 seconds
  • Data from Wikipedia. All-time average of top 10 outdoor runs in the world.

Group #7: 40 to 49 male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 11.26 seconds
  • Data from XXIII 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Average of top 10 outdoor runs.

Group #8: 40 to 49 female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 12.77 seconds
  • Data from XXIII 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Average of top 10 outdoor runs.

Group #9: 50 to 59 male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 11.88 seconds
  • Data from XXIII 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Average of top 10 outdoor runs.

Group #10: 50 to 59 female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 13.44 seconds
  • Data from XXIII 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Average of top 10 outdoor final runs.

Group #11: 60 to 69 male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 12.76 seconds
  • Data from XXIII 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Average of top 10 outdoor final runs.

Group #12: 60 to 69 female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 14.70 seconds
  • Data from XXIII 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Average of top 10 outdoor final runs.

Group #13: 70 to 79 male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 14.34
  • Data from XXIII 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Average of top 10 outdoor final runs.

Group #14: 70 to 79 female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 17.61 seconds
  • Data from XXIII 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Average of top 10 outdoor final runs.

Important to realize, many other groups of runners exist. I wanted to focus on groups of runners I had a lot of data on.

So, I evenly selected data from all runners in our selected age range. I tried to represent all people who can run at high speeds in their given demographic, equally.

Plus, by adding more groups, the average human running speed would only slightly change.

Average human running speed calculated

I can now calculate the average human running speed.

Calculating the average of the data, the average human running speed is: 18.23 mph

Let’s further breakdown the data:

  • Average male running speed: 19.52 mph
  • Average female running speed: 17.12 mph

Compared to Usain Bolt’s speed of 27.8 mph, the average human running speed pales in comparison. As expected, Usain Bolt would leave most everyone in the dust.

But, even Usain Bolts’ speed doesn’t compare to many land animals in the wild.

Wild animal speeds compared to the average human running speed

I find human physical limits fascinating. Looking at our history, we can connect the dots on where our top speed evolved from.

In the wild, we’d use our top running speed more often than in society. We’d chase animals to hunt, and run from predators who wanted to eat us.

In today’s modern world though, running fast almost only matters in athletics. Whereas in the wild, running is a part of life and death.

This is why we evolved to use our brains to avoid predators. But even though our ancestors relied on their brains, we still had to run.

Imagine running after a wounded animal that you had hit with a spear. You’d need to chase it down to finish the kill.

As a result, the human body evolved to run at a decent speed.

But now, let’s compare the top running speed of some land animals to humans to see how we stack up.

AnimalAnimal's top speedUsain Bolt's top speedUsain Bolt's top relative to animal's top speed
Cheetah70 mph27.8 mph39.71%
Pronghorn Antelope61 mph27.8 mph45.57%
Lion50 mph27.8 mph55.60%
Wildebeest50 mph27.8 mph55.60%
Kangaroo44 mph27.8 mph63.18%
Coyote43 mph27.8 mph64.65%
Zebra40 mph27.8 mph69.50%
Hyena38 mph27.8 mph73.16%
Giraffe37 mph27.8 mph75.14%
Rhinoceros34 mph27.8 mph81.76%
African Elephant15.5 mph27.8 mph179.35%

Clearly, humans can’t compete with most large land animals in speed. But moving into the future, we may become the fastest and smartest species.

The science behind improving human running speed

If human brains didn’t evolve as much, could humans have run faster today? Maybe.

Without our smarts, we’d need to outrun predators more often to survive.

Maybe more people would be over 6’5” tall with many fast-twitch muscle fibers. Even more, maybe we’d have physical attributes we couldn’t even imagine today.

It’s believed humans could reach a top speed of 40 mph by applying greater force with each sprinting step. A 2010 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology came to this conclusion. Physiologist Peter Weyand stated:

 “Despite how large the running forces can be, we found that the limbs are capable of applying much greater ground forces than those present during top-speed forward running.”

Understanding how humans generate speed

As I mentioned earlier, the formula for speed circles around stride length times stride rate. This is how hard and fast a runner pushes off the ground with each sprinting step.

Let’s use some numbers to make sense of all this.

An Olympic sprinter can push off the ground with one foot creating a total peak force of 1000 pounds. While an average person generates 500 to 600 pounds of total peak force.

Also, an average person’s foot remains on the ground for 0.12 seconds when sprinting. An Olympic sprinter’s foot remains on the ground for only 0.08 seconds.

So, the Olympic sprinter will create the 1000 pounds of total peak force at more rapid intervals. This will propel the sprinter forward much faster than an average runner.

This greater generated force is even more important when a sprinter starts a race. A sprinter needs to go from standstill to full speed as quickly as possible.

generated force in sprint to reach full speed

How to make an Olympic sprinter even faster?

We need to increase the amount of force that a sprinter pushes off the ground. To do this, we need to increase the ground contact time. Then with each step, we can increase the generated force.

BUT, in short sprints, this becomes a challenge. As we learned, we need to keep ground contact time to a minimum in a sprint.

So to maximize speed, we need to output the most force with each step in the least amount of time.

One way to do this is to improve how fast muscle fibers contract and relax. This will magnify the forward running force. This is key, as we don’t want to increase ground contact time.

Thus, if muscles contract faster, the 0.08 seconds that each foot remains on the ground decreases. At the same time, a quicker contraction leads to greater generated force.

This will then increase the total outputted force in a 100-meter run. In other words, runners can generate their peak force in more instances in a 100-meter run.

This is why physiologist Peter Weyand believes we can reach a speed of 40 mph.

“If you just find a way to rev up those contractile fibers for the muscle, then everything else from human biology and gait would allow us to be that fast…”

This helps explains how Usain Bolt standing at 6’5″ tall still beat all the shorter sprinters. The combination of his stride length and fast-twitch muscle fibers gave him the edge. That’s what I believe.

Usain’s large body as it relates to his top speed

Usain’s large body needs a lot of force to push him forward.

In other words, Usain’s larger mass requires him to do more work than a shorter sprinter to reach top speed.

Thus, a short sprinter can reach top speed faster than a tall sprinter. BUT, only if the force of both sprinters in each of their steps remains equal.

Usain is unlike any other sprinter though.

Below are 10-meter segment splits from one of Usain’s top races. He ran the 100-meter race in a blistering 9.69 seconds at the Beijing Olympics.

Race Segments (meters)Time (seconds)
0 to 101.85
10 to 201.02
20 to 300.91
30 to 400.87
40 to 500.85
50 to 600.82
60 to 700.82
70 to 800.82
80 to 900.83
90 to 1000.9
Total Time9.69

What’s fascinating about the splits is how from 50 to 90 meters, Usain maintains his top speed. This perfectly showcases his speed endurance.

What’s more, the 0.9 seconds in the 90 to 100-meter segment, was when Usain thumped his chest. So he could have maintained his top speed in this last stretch of the race too.

Before this race, the fastest 10-meter segment in a 100-meter race was 0.83 seconds.

But it doesn’t end there. Only a year later, Usain topped himself with the new world record time of 9.58 seconds that we discussed earlier.

Generating greater force in the fewest steps

Sprinting comes down to who can generate the most force in the shortest time.

Now, Usain Bolt did run the 100 meters in 9.58 seconds in 41 steps and his competition averaged 45 steps. Without a doubt, Usain had fewer steps to generate peak force because of his long strides.

But, Usain created greater force with each step compared to his competition to beat them out.

This means Usain may have more fast-twitch muscle fibers than his competition.

Will evolution play a role in the running speed of future humans?

Whether good or bad, human gene editing will soon create the perfect athlete.

Human evolution will take a back seat. No longer will we need to wait tens of thousands of years to see small changes in the human body.

Soon, we can select the following attributes for a human from inside of a lab:

  • Faster contracting muscle fibers to increase the forward running force
  • Stronger bones and tendons to handle the increased running force
  • A reconstructed hip for more ideal positioned strides
  • Ability to better process oxygen
  • Better muscle density to improve the body’s power to weight ratio

Human speed would certainly improve with these changes. But, we’d still get smoked by a cheetah.

We’re bipedal.

In other words, we run on two legs versus the fastest land animals that run using four legs. Thus, certain animals have a huge advantage over us.

cheetah running full speed in Africa

The future of evolution and technology

Moving into the future with the merging of biology and tech, we may even one day beat a cheetah in a race. Outside of gene editing, we may be able to instantly upgrade our bodies through tech.

Remember Oscar Pistorius? The South African sprinter from the London Olympic Games.

He made prosthetic legs famous. His top speed measured at 25 mph.

This tech used by Oscar will only improve too. His prosthetic legs already created a lot of controversies then.

Now think ahead 50 years from today. New tech will merge with humans in a way we can’t even imagine.

We may even have the ability to choose our top speed. For instance like your iPhone, where you can easily upgrade it yourself. We’ll become masters of our bodies.

Will 100-meter world records even matter in the future?

Today, human bodies have physical limits. So, future speed records will have limits too without new tech.

But, the future limits to our bionic bodies may one day only come down to money and ethical issues. At this point, will world records even hold any meaning?

100 meter world record future outlook average human running speed increasing

A day will come where future humans won’t have real speed limits. We’ll become cyborgs. Think Terminator without all the doomsday killing.

So, I can see the day where a human runs alongside a cheetah on a track and wins. That’d be a sight to see!

Humans becoming the fastest and smartest species on Earth

Yes, many land animals run a lot faster than us. But, we have superior brains.

Without a doubt, each species has a strength. It’s an evolutionary trade-off.

We calculated an 18.23 mph average human running speed. In short, given how we no longer need physical speed to survive, I think we have impressive speed.

Even more, we have the advantage of long-distance running over most animals.

As hunter-gatherers, humans had to cover a lot of ground to stay alive to hunt and forage. As a result, we built up great endurance thanks to evolution.

One day though, great human endurance will combine with incredible short-distance speeds.

This is when humans will become engineered from head to toe. Most all types of engineering in some way will lead us to this future. We’ll transform from flesh and blood to bionic super-humans.

When that day comes, fast speed will only become another thrill pursuit. Like bungee jumping or skydiving.

Regardless of what happens in sports, we live in exciting times today. An even more exciting future awaits us.

As a species, we broke the sound barrier on land in 1997. Sitting inside of a superhero-looking car with jet engines, we hit a speed of 763 mph.

With this in mind, we’ll level up the human body as well. Steroids will become an afterthought too.

Then who knows the limits in how fast we’ll one day run on two legs.

Do you think the average human running speed compares decently to other animals? How much faster do you think humans can run through advanced technology?

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