One of my first articles was on the speed and distance of horses. Now I’ve decided to write about the same topic as it relates to men and armies.
A healthy adult, who is used to walking, can walk an average of 20-30 miles a day. Many trained walkers finish the 26.2 mile Portland Marathon in around seven hours…without taking breaks. If the walker does take breaks 20 miles a day is reasonable, while a steady walker with no breaks could cover 30 miles a day. Historically, the Western pioneers, where many people walked along with the wagons, normally covered around 20 miles a day.
The official average of a human’s walking speed is 3.1 mph. Now, obviously, there are variations to this speed if someone is old, young, or sick. Or if they haven’t walked very much. According to one account, a beginner can walk six miles in two hours fairly easily while ten or more miles will likely cause some blisters.
Figuring out running speeds is a bit trickier. People (and note that I’m talking about healthy trained adults) can sprint at 15.9 mph which equals 100 meters in 13-14 seconds. Now, seeing the Olympic qualifying time in 2012 was 10.18 seconds for 100 meters in the case of men (11.29 for women) the average person may or may not be able to run that quickly or for that long.
A moderately fit man should be able to run a mile in nine minutes. Two or three minutes can be cut off for a trained man and the record of a mile hovers under four minutes.
For distance running, I was finally forced to look up marathons for information (everything else seemed to be about health and fitness). In any case, the average finishing time for a 26.2 mile marathon in the USA is four hours, nineteen minutes for men and four hours, forty-four minutes for women. This equals a 9.5-10.5 mph speed kept up for the better part of a day. Elite marathon runners can finish the race in a little over two hours, but this is not a common case.
If a runner is needed in a story (or if it is the main character running) it’s not unusual for them to travel faster than the average person, so here are a few running records to give you something to base your times on. Remember, however, that the speeds listed below are on smooth tracks…not cross-country as most runners in a book will probably be.
Mile: 3 minutes, 43 seconds
5000 meters: 12 minutes, 37 seconds
10,000 meters: 26 minutes, 18 seconds
Half a Marathon: 58 minutes, 23 seconds
Marathon: 2 hours, 3 minutes, 59 seconds
Records that might be a bit more applicable include cross country times of 1 hour, 11 minutes for half a marathon.
And finally, army speeds. 15-18 miles a day seem to be about the average speed (with the army traveling around seven hours a day). 5-10 miles a day could be reasonable for a peasant army while a fully mounted army could travel around 30 miles a day. Forced marches, obviously, could would move the army faster for a day or two, perhaps doubling the average speed.