What’s the Real Average Human Running Speed?

Usain Bolt ran the 100 meter dash, reaching a blazing speed of 27.8 mph at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009. 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 to capture car speeds from several large California cities, we’ll use Google Maps’ data. 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 calculated average car speed in these 5 cities is: 27.06 mph. Usain beats this speed by a hair. Amazing!

Usain Bolt 100 meter sprint speed every 10 meters

The Amazing Usain Bolt and Average Human Runners

Usain stands 6’5” and has many more fast twitch muscles than you and I. A tool he used to earn the title as the world’s fastest man.

To point out though, his record run only spanned a short distance. Meaning he can’t maintain his top speed for greater than 100 meters. But, he still would outrun most everyone today even with long distance runs I would bet.

I can’t compare to Usain. More than likely no one else on this planet can either.

To put it another way, each of us has a gift. Some people are great at memorizing, some at jumping high, and some at running at blinding speeds.

Usain Bolt in the 200 meter in olympics

Usain runs at blinding speeds. As a result, I’m going to focus on the average human running speed. This way we can all better relate.

Definition of Who a Runner Is

Before we go any further, I need to define who I classify as a runner for our study.

Imagine you’re standing alone in a big city. Then someone randomly comes and snatches something from your hand as they run by you. Can you quickly 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 will be fast and some will be slow. Think of the regular people who you see daily in a supermarket. 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 you’re a runner, I’m going to assume you can catch up to at least 9 of these robbers.

The Average Human Running Speed

Now that we’ve learned who I classify as a runner, we can continue.

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?

Clearly, a lot of questions exist that need answers. To answer our main question of finding the average human running speed though, we need to only focus on 4 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 calculation. Depending on the response to these questions, our calculated average human running speed will vary.

Keeping this 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 have started puberty already around this time.

Your athletic performance really begins to take shape in these years. Around the age of 16 you even already have kids playing pro sports. They compete with full grown men and women.

Next, I’ll cap the age range at around 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 of 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.

average human running speed 100 meter male runners

average human running speed 100 meter female runners

Clearly, after 80 you’ll begin to have all types of aches and pains. Especially if you’ve been training all your life.

Given these points, we would 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 our data, also called outliers, we need to be careful. I either need to use the median value or simply remove these outlier values.

In our case, I’m going to remove these outlier values. Our goal remains to calculate the average value from our data not get the median value.

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

I can’t see many 80 year old men chasing down 9 of 10 robbers.

Keep in mind, I’ve chosen to generalize here. 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.

However, 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 the list goes 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 mostly all have low body fat. However, 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 has 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.

All 100 meter runs under 10 seconds

The formula for speed circles around stride length times stride rate. The greater 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 more 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 less steps.

Also why a lion can easily hunt a giraffe. However, since many variables exist in both animal and human bodies that we don’t fully understand, we can’t generalize. Simply look at Usain Bolt standing at 6’5” and his competition who stand around 5’11”.

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

Usain Bolt height 6 feet 5 inches

Moving on, we want to capture data from runners from all levels. This includes both Olympic and high school level runners for example.

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 show the 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. However, similar to running for a gold medal over a short distance, running from a bear would push you to your limits.

Also, let us go back to who I define as a runner. If someone snatches something from your hand, you should be able to chase them down in 100 meters.

Above all, I want to capture extreme levels of speed when humans are nearing their peak, at their peak, or slightly declining from their peak.

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 speed of a human walking. 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 start gathering our data from various groups of people. I’ve chosen 14 groups of people that vary in speed yet run at top speeds at their given level.

As a result, we can capture the best of the best runners from various demographics.

Now, let us 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.

Yes, many other groups of people exist. I left out many.

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

At this point, adding more groups would only slightly change our average human running speed.

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.

We’ll 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 who I started our discussion with, the average human running speed pales in comparison. As expected, Usain Bolt would leave most of us in the dust. Even top athletes.

However, 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 it interesting to trace back where our top speed evolved from. In the wild, we would have used our top running speed much more often than how we use it today.

We would chase after animals to hunt, and run from predators who see us as food.

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

Now, humans can’t outrun many land animals. We evolved to use our brains instead to out smart animals.

But even when hunting with a spear, our ancestors still may have needed to chase an animal. The wounded animal would run in fear. Then our ancestors would chase the animal to throw the second spear.

At this point, we’ll go over the top running speeds of various land animals and 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
Compared to average human: 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
Compared to average human: 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
Compared to average human: 18.23 mph

4) Wildbeest top speed: 50 mph
Usain Bolt top speed: 27.8 mph and 55.60% of a wildbeest’s top speed
Usain Bolt 100 meter average speed: 23.35 mph
Compared to average human: 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
Compared to average human: 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
Compared to average human: 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
Compared to average human: 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
Compared to average human: 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
Compared to average human: 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
Compared to average human: 18.23 mph

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

Clearly humans can’t compete with most large land animals. But that’s why we have such large and amazing brains.

However, moving into the future, we may have the best of both worlds. 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 a lion and bear more often in the wild to survive.

As a result, maybe the human population would never have grown large. Certainly our body structure today has limits compared to a cheetah for example.

When life and death for a human take center stage without a large brain, would we have evolved in a different way? Would everyone have grown to 6’5” with mostly fast twitch muscles?

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

In fact, the belief today is that humans could reach a speed of 40 mph. From a 2010 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, led by physiologist Peter Weyand, humans have the potential to reach a speed of 40 mph.

The human body can in fact handle this fast speed.

How to Improve Human Running Speed

As I have 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 us put numbers to all of this. An Olympic sprinter can push off the ground with one foot creating a total peak force of 1000 pounds. An average person would generate 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 a average runner.

This great force becomes even more important when a sprinter starts a race. They need to get their body from standstill to full speed as quick as possible.

generated force in sprint to reach full speed min

How to Make an Olympic Sprinter Even Faster

The sprinter’s force of pushing off the ground is difficult to increase in short burst sprints. This is because greater ground contact time allows for a greater generated force. However as we learned though, we want to keep ground contact time to a minimum in a sprint.

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

Keeping that in mind, improving how fast our muscle fibers can contract will magnify our forward force.

So, if our muscles can contract faster, we can further decrease the 0.08 seconds that each foot remains on the ground that we discussed. This will increase our overall outputted force in a race.

We can generate our peak force more times in a 100 meter distance since the time each foot remains on the ground decreases.

“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.

This explains how Usain Bolt standing at 6’5″ still beat many shorter sprinters. Yes, Usain’s larger body does require a lot of force to push him forward. Simple physics.

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 accelerate better than a taller sprinter if the force of both sprinters in each of their steps is equal.

Usain Bolt 100 meter sprint time every 10 meters

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. Clearly, Usain had less steps to produce great force because of his long strides.

However, Usain created amazing force with each step unlike any other sprinter. When you’re tall, you need to have the ability to generate amazing force to compensate for your height.

Usain may simply have much more fast twitch muscle fibers than other sprinters. This helps him generate his amazing force as I inferred from physiologist Peter Weyand’s studies.

Usain’s force then combined with his longer strides helped him secure the world record in the 100 meter dash.

Will Evolution Even Play a Role in Future Human Running Speed?

The future will open Pandora’s box. Whether good or bad, human gene editing will soon create the perfect athlete. This isn’t science fiction anymore.

Soon science will create the perfect body for running. Human evolution will become old news.

In the near future, we can place the below listed attributes into a human from inside of a lab. Life as we know it today will forever change.

  • More fast contracting muscle fibers to increase the forward running force.
  • Strong bones and tendons to handle the increased force.
  • Reconstructed hip for more ideal positioned strides.
  • Ability to better process oxygen.
  • Better muscle density to improve our 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 outdated when this happens.

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

Remember Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who made his prosthetic legs famous at the London Olympic games? His top speed measured in at 25 mph.

This tech seen on Oscar will only improve. His prosthetic legs already created a lot of controversy 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. In reality, we’ll become masters of our bodies.

The limit to our bionic bodies may one day only be money and ethical issues. No longer will our bodies have biological limits.

With our bodies today though, future world records in the 100 meter dash have limits because of our human physical limits.

100 meter world record future outlook-average-human-running-speed-increasing

However, future humans will not have any limits. We’ll become cyborgs. Think Terminator without all the doomsday killing.

So, I can see the day where a human competes with 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 the average human running speed to be: 18.23 mph. In short, given how we no longer require physical speed to survive, I think we have impressive speed.

Also, even though many animals can outrun us over short distances, we have the advantage in long distance runs.

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.

Moving into the future, soon we’ll combine our endurance ability with incredible short distance speeds.

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

All in all, formal races won’t have much meaning anymore. Future humans will become engineered from head to toe. If people think steroids are bad today, wait until we have genetically modified humans.

Regardless of what happens in sports, we live in exciting times and 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 be able to run on our two legs.

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

Author Bio: Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over a decade now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.


Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).


Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, and our history and future.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply