Discover the Real Average Human Running Speed

Usain Bolt ran the 100-meter dash, reaching a blazing speed of 27.8 mph at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. A speed far greater than the average human running speed.

He even ran faster than the average car speed in some California cities. Car speeds in cities may not seem fast, but go stand next to a street.

Watch cars zoom by you. You’ll think differently then.

As an illustration, we’ll look over Google Maps’ data. This will show us car speeds from several large California cities. I chose California cities only because I live in this great state.

  • 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 beats this speed by a hair. Amazing!

Usain Bolt 100 meter sprint speed every 10 meters

Usain Bolt Compared to Average Human Runners

Usain stands 6’5” tall. He has more fast-twitch muscle fibers than you and I. By and large, how he got the title as the world’s fastest man.

To point out though, his record run only spanned a short distance. In a small segment of the short 100-meter run, he reached his top speed.

That said, he can’t maintain this top speed.

But, in his prime, he still would outrun everyone today in the 100-meter race. Even with long-distance runs, he could outrun most people I would bet.

Further, I’ve exercised all my life and I can’t compare to Usain in any fashion. More than likely no one else on this planet can either.

To put it another way, each of us has a gift in life. Some people have a great memory, some can jump high, and some can run at blinding fast speeds.

Usain Bolt in the 200 meter in olympics

Usain runs at blinding fast speeds. For this reason, I’m going to focus on the average human running speed. This way we can all better relate.

Defining a Runner

Before we go any further, I need to define who I classify as a runner for our analysis. Let’s discuss an example.

Imagine standing alone in a big city. Then someone comes and 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 these robbers can 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 fit in as the robbers in our case study here.

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

If I classify you as a runner, I’m going to assume you can catch up to at least 9 of these robbers.

How to Gather Data for Calculating the Average Human Running Speed

Now that we’ve gone over who I classify as a runner, we can continue. We’ll begin our search for runners.

To point out, many variables exist in coming up with the average human running speed. It comes down to what pool of people we choose to gather data from.

  • Do I use all Olympic athletes?
  • Should I use the entire population, even people who have never trained to run?
  • Do I exclude people over 40?

A lot of questions exist that need answers. But, we can narrow our search since I’m only focusing on finding the average human running speed. To do so, we need to answer 4 prelim questions:

  • What age range of people should we use?
  • What human fitness levels should we consider?
  • Which body types should we consider?
  • Which distance should we assume a human needs to run?

These questions all become important in our future calculation. Our calculated average human running speed will vary depending on these responses.

Keep in mind, I’ll answer each of these 4 questions with my own best reasoning.

Then, we’ll use my responses to gather our data to make our calculation.

What age range of people should we use?

The age range I selected begins in the later teen years. Both males and females hit puberty around this age.

So, your athletic performance begins to take off in those teen years. Keep in mind, around the age of 16 we even have kids already playing pro sports. They compete 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.

We can see this in data from the World Masters Athletics in the below graphs. The data comes from a 2009 outdoor competition. This data includes times from the top 100 meter sprinters in different age groups.

To clarify the graph, “M55” represents 55-year-old male runners. On the same token, “W70” represents 70-year-old female runners. So on and so forth.

Also, on the y-axis, we have the time in seconds shown.

average human running speed 100 meter men women runners

Keep in mind, after the age of 80, you’ll begin to have all types of aches and pains. Especially if you’ve been training all your life.

So, we’d see too large of a drop in speed from the age group above 80. As a result, our calculated average human running speed would drop quite a bit.

When extreme values exist in data, also called outliers, we need to be careful. I either need to use the median value or remove these outlier values.

In our case, I’m going to remove these outlier values. To that end, our goal remains to calculate the average value of our data. Not find the median value.

Also, we need to go back to who I defined as a human runner. An 80-year-old man wouldn’t fit my definition.

I can’t see many 80-year-old men chasing down 9 of 10 robbers. In any case, I understand I’m generalizing and exceptions always exist.

What human fitness levels should we consider?

People who’ve made fitness a part of their lifestyle. They go to the gym a couple of times a week at least. Also, people who watch their diet.

I want people who perform at their peak performance 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 50-year-old man if they both play. I would use them both as data points.

Which body types should we consider?

To begin with, I’m not going to limit our data to a certain body type. Whether tall, short, low body fat, short torso, and so on. It doesn’t matter.

I want to only 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, the athletes may have higher than normal body fat.

The Olympics includes a smaller and more 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, a more specific type of body will perform best. Comes down to plain physics.

Again, exceptions do exist. Before Usain Bolt, shorter sprinters had the edge in fast running speeds.

Al 100 meter runs under 10 seconds

Calculating speed: 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.

So, less opportunity to generate more force with each step.

For this reason, a lion can easily hunt a giraffe. But, many unknown variables still exist in both animal and human bodies.

For this reason, we can’t generalize. Look no further than Usain Bolt. He stands 6’5” tall while his competition on average stands around 5’11”.

I’ll discuss how height relates to speed in more detail later.

Usain Bolt height 6 feet 5 inches

Now to restate, I’m capturing data from runners at all levels. This includes both Olympic and high school level runners. As long as the runners remain in our age range, we can use the data.

So, I can’t consider only a specific body. As long as the runners can perform at a high level in their age group, they’ll fit into this study.

This will help us calculate the average running speed of humans as a whole who fit my definition as runners.

Which distance should we assume a human needs to run?

A 100-meter distance.

I chose a 100-meter distance because it’ll best show peak human athletic performance. The speed from a 100-meter sprint would match the speed you’d run with a bear chasing after 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 should catch up to them in 100 meters.

Above all, I want to capture data when humans reach their peak running speed. Or, slightly declining from their peak running speed.

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

We want the average human running speed, not the average walking speed. Or, average jogging speed.

To sum up, the 100-meter run will best capture this elite speed in my selected age range.

Collected Data on the Average Human Running Speed

Given my response to the 4 questions, we can now review the 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 given levels.

As a result, we can capture the best of the best runners from various demographics who fit our parameters.

Now, let’s go over the data from these various runners.

Group #1: High school male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 10.23 seconds
  • Data from Athletic.net. Averaged the time of the top 10 outdoor runs in the nation in 2019.

Group #2: High school female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 11.28 seconds
  • Data from Athletic.net. Averaged the time of the top 10 outdoor runs in the nation in 2019.

Group #3: College male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 9.99 seconds
  • Data from Athletic.net. Averaged the time of the top 10 outdoor runs in the nation in 2019.

Group #4: College female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 11.02 seconds
  • Data from Athletic.net. Averaged the time of the top 10 outdoor runs in the nation in 2019.

Group #5: Olympic male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 9.76 seconds
  • Data from Wikipedia. Averaged the all-time top 10 outdoor runs in the world.

Group #6: Olympic female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 10.70 seconds
  • Data from Wikipedia. Averaged the all-time 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. Averaged the time of the top 10 outdoor final runners.

Group #8: 40 to 49 female sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 12.77 seconds
  • Data from XXIII 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Averaged the time of the top 10 outdoor final runners.

Group #9: 50 to 59 male sprinters

  • 100-meter time: 11.88 seconds
  • Data from XXIII 2018 World Masters Athletics Championships in Malaga. Averaged the time of the top 10 outdoor final runners.

Group #10: 50 to 59 female sprinters

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

Group #11: 60 to 69 male sprinters

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

Group #12: 60 to 69 female sprinters

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

Group #13: 70 to 79 male sprinters

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

Group #14: 70 to 79 female sprinters

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

Important to note, that many other groups of runners exist. I could only choose so many.

I wanted to focus on the groups of people I found most relevant to the analysis. Also, I chose groups that I had a lot of data for.

Now, by adding more groups, the average human running speed only slightly changes.

So, capturing the outer end data points and several middle data points will suffice. These data points all fall in our approximate age range of 15 to 80 too.

I also wanted to remain consistent with the number of my selected data points. I didn’t want to select running speeds from the top of the speed range only. Or, select running speeds from the bottom of the speed range only.

I evenly selected data from all runners in our selected age range. I represented all humans who can run at high speeds in their given demographic, equally.

Average Human Running Speed Calculated

Looking over our selected group of data, the average human running speed varies quite a lot.

But, we can now calculate the average human running speed.

The calculated average human running speed: 18.23 mph

Also, to further breakdown the data:

  • The average male running speed: 19.52 mph
  • The 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 of us in the dust. Even top athletes.

But, even Usain Bolts’ speed doesn’t compare well to many land animals in the wild. I’m talking about animals that would prey on us and who we’d hunt if today’s society didn’t exist.

Wild Animal Speeds Compared to the Average Human Running Speed

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

In the wild, we would use our top running speed more often than in society today. We would chase animals to hunt, and run from predators who need their next meal.

In today’s world, running fast almost only matters in athletics. But in the wild running becomes a part of life and death.

That said, humans can’t outrun many land animals. In short, we evolved to use our brains not our bodies to avoid predators.

But, even when hunting with spears, our ancestors still had to chase animals. A wounded scared animal hit by a spear would still run. Our ancestors would then need to chase the animal to finish the kill.

As a result, the human body evolved to run well. With this in mind, let’s go over the top running speeds of various land animals. We’ll compare them to humans to see how we stack up.

1) Cheetah top speed: 70 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 39.71% of a cheetah’s top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

2) Pronghorn Antelope top speed: 61 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 45.57% of a pronghorn antelope’s top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

3) Lion top speed: 50 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 55.60% of a lion’s top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

4) Wildebeest top speed: 50 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 55.60% of a wildebeest’s top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

5) Kangaroo top speed: 44 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 63.18% of a kangaroo’s top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

6) Coyote top speed: 43 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 64.65% of a cheetah’s top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

7) Zebra top speed: 40 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 69.50% of zebra
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

8) Hyena top speed: 38 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 73.16% of a hyena’s top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

9) Giraffe top speed: 37 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 75.14% of a giraffe’s top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

10) Rhinoceros top speed: 34 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 81.76% of a rhinoceros’ top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

11) African Elephant top speed: 15.5 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 179.35% of an African elephant’s top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Average human running speed: 18.23 mph

All in all, humans can’t compete with most large land animals in speed. For this reason, we have large and amazing brains.

But, moving into the future, we may have the best of both worlds. In other words, amazing brains with superhuman speeds.

The Science Behind Improving Human Running Speed

If human brains didn’t evolve to what we have today, could humans run faster now? Without our smarts, we’d probably need to outrun lions and bears more often, to survive.

As a result, maybe the human population would never have grown in the billions. Certainly, we can’t compare to a cheetah, body structure-wise. So, more humans would become prey.

Also, if humans became a main dish for animals, would we have evolved differently? Would everyone have grown to 6’5” tall with many fast-twitch muscle fibers?

Or, maybe we would have evolved with attributes we can’t even imagine today.

In fact, today we believe that humans could reach a top speed of 40 mph. A 2010 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology came to this conclusion. Physiologist Peter Weyand, stated humans have the potential to reach a speed of 40 mph.

Fascinating, how the human body can possibly handle this fast speed.

Understanding How Humans Generate Speed

As I’ve noted, the formula for speed circles around stride length times stride rate. This ties into how hard and fast a runner pushes off the ground with each 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 running. An Olympic sprinter’s foot remains on the ground for only 0.08 seconds when running.

As a result, 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 great force becomes even more important when a sprinter starts a race. A sprinter needs to get their body 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 force that a sprinter pushes off the ground. To do this, we need greater 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.

In a sprint, we need to output the most force with each step in the least amount of time to break world records.

That said, improving how fast muscle fibers contract will magnify the forward force. This will help since we can’t increase ground contact time.

So, if muscles contract faster, the 0.08 seconds that each foot remains on the ground decreases. This will then increase the overall outputted force in a race.

As a result, runners can generate their peak force in more instances in a 100-meter run. The time each foot remains on the ground decreases giving the runner added forward force.

“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,” said physiologist Peter Weyand.

Here Peter Weyand highlights how we can one day maybe reach a top speed of 40 mph.

This explains how Usain Bolt standing at 6’5″ tall still beat all the shorter sprinters. Equally important, doing so with less ground contact time.

Usain’s Larger Body Related to His Speed

Furthermore, Usain’s large body does need 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 full speed.

A shorter sprinter can speed up better than a taller sprinter. But, only if the force of both sprinters in each of their steps remains equal.

Usain Bolt 100 meter sprint time every 10 meters

Generating Force in the Fewest Steps

As we can tell with animals, sprinting comes down to who can produce 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 produce great force because of his long strides.

But, Usain created amazing force with each step, unlike any other sprinter.

In summary, tall runners need to generate amazing force with each step. This will compensate for their added height.

Usain may simply have more fast-twitch muscle fibers than other sprinters. This helps him generate unworldly force with each step. Similar to what physiologist Peter Weyand’s studies show.

So, Usain’s incredible force with each step gave him an advantage. Then, combine this force with his long strides and he became unbeatable.

It allowed him to break the world record in the 100-meter dash.

Will Evolution Even Play a Role in the Future Running Speed of Humans?

The future will open Pandora’s box. Whether good or bad, human gene editing will soon create the perfect athlete. Science fiction never seemed so close.

Soon science will create the perfect human body for running. Human evolution will take a back seat

Soon, we can select the below-listed attributes for a human from inside of a lab. Life, as we know it today, will forever change.

  • Faster contracting muscle fibers to increase the forward running force
  • Strong bones and tendons to handle the increased 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

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

We’re bipedal. We run on two legs versus the fastest land animals that run using four legs. These other animals have a huge advantage over us.

cheetah running full speed in Africa

Future of Evolution and Technology

Moving into the future with the merging of biology and tech, we may one day beat a cheetah in a race. Human biological evolution will become a thing of the past.

No longer will we need to wait tens of thousands of years to see small changes in the human body. We’ll instantly improve our bodies through tech.

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

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

This tech seen on Oscar will only improve. His prosthetic legs already created a lot of controversies then.

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

Once technology eclipses evolution, we may 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.

100-Meter World Record Limit

Today, human bodies have physical limits. So, future world records in the 100-meter dash will have limits too without new tech.

But, the limit 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 will not have 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. We’d become both the smartest and fastest species on planet Earth.

Humans Becoming the Fastest and Smartest Species on Earth

Yes, many animals run a lot faster than us. But, we have superior brains. We can’t win in all body and mind categories.

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.

Some animals can outrun us over short distances. But, we have the advantage of long-distance running.

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

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

Future 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 superhumans.

Steroids will become an afterthought. Wait until genetically modified and bionic humans come.

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. 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. We leveled up a car.

With this in mind, we’ll level up the human body with today’s and tomorrow’s tech as well. 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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