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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

1:59:59: The Sub-2 hour Marathon?

1:59:59...will we ever see a sub-2 hour marathon?

It's been just over a week now since Haile Gebrselassie ran himself into history (again) when he broke his own world record by running 2:03:59 in Berlin. More important, he also broke the 2:04 barrier, which gave even more impetus to the usual speculation that accompanies a world record. At the time, I wrote that we'd look at the future of the marathon once the dust had settled. I guess it's well and truly settled now, apologies for the delay, but here's our take on the question that has been a topic of some discussion in the last week or so - will man ever run a sub-2 hour marathon?

Barrier-breaking speculation

It's quite normal for (sometimes wild) speculation to accompany any world record - it happened last year as well, with Gebrselassie predicting a 2:02 in the near future. He tempered that enthusiasm this time around, saying that he felt like a 2:03:30 was possible. Dave Bedford, the race director of the London Marathon, was not quite so circumspect, and his words last weekend were: "Without doubt I will see a two-hour marathon in my lifetime. It might be towards the end of my life. It might be another 20 years. But, yes, it will definitely happen."

Dave Bedford, for the record, is 58 years old, and perhaps the best response to this I've seen is from the guys over at LetsRun, who wrote that he'll be wrong unless he plans to live to 138 years old!

That's the sentiment of most - they are saying that it's a long, long way off. For example, Glenn Latimer, who oversees distance running in the USA was quoted as saying that the sub-2 hour marathon is a "far-off dream", and that "If you look at what his splits were, averaging around 14 minutes 45 seconds for each five kilometres, they're amazing. You're talking something else altogether to go down significantly below this". So he reckons it's a little soon to be excited by a sub-2 hour performance just yet.

I thought I'd take a little more of an analytical look at the chances, borrowing a little from the history the event, and also the commercial aspects that might, in some respects, prevent many great athletes from breaking the record, thus slowing improvement. Then I'll scan "the lay of the land" to see just who might come through in our lifetimes (assuming that Dave Bedford does in fact reach about 90 years old) and do what Bannister did for the 4-minute mile. One must of course be mindful that people, including scientists, have often painted themselves into a corner with this kind of rationalization in speculation. But here's our take on the sub-2 hour dream!

Understanding where the current "golden era" comes from - looking back

The starting point in trying to predict the future is understanding the past. And there is no doubt that marathon running is in something of a golden era. Remember, in 1998, the world record stood at 2:06:50, by Belayneh Dinsamo of Ethiopia. That's only ten years ago, but the record was already 10 years old.

However, we then had a flurry of world records, first Ronaldo da Costa and then Khalid Khannouchi taking the record below 2:06, to 2:05:38, through their collective efforts in the late part of the 1990's.

All the while, the world was waiting in eager anticipation for the next generation to turn to the marathon, because great things were expected from them. That is, Paul Tergat, Haile Gebrselassie and Salah Hissou had been rewriting the record books on the track, over 10,000m, and when they eventually moved up to the marathon, the general perception among the running community was that we would be in for some major overhauls!

And so it proved. Hissou disappeared (anyone know what happened to him?), but Tergat and then Gebrselassie certainly delivered on the expectation, even if it did take them a few attempts before they got it right. Therefore, what we are seeing in the marathon today is very much a function of what we saw on the track over 5,000m and 10,000m in the 1990's.

Take a look, for example, at the following table. It shows the world record over 10,000m.

The 10,000m world record was lowered by an incredible 30 seconds over a four-year period thanks to the efforts of Gebrselassie, Tergat and Hissou. Who can forget their duels in two Olympic Games, and in particular, it was Tergat who drove one of the most spectacular periods ever seen on the track in his battles with Gebrselassie.

The point is that this kind of performance over 10,000m predicted what would eventually happen in the marathon, because we know that the best predictor of 10km time is peak treadmill running speed (measured in a lab-based test), and the best predictor of marathon performance is 10km performance (much better than VO2max or lactate thresholds or heart rate measures, for example).

A similar thing was happening in the 5,000m event - Gebrselassie first broke the record in 1994, and over the next four years (up to 1998), it fell by an astonishing 18 seconds! It then took another 6 years to fall by 2 seconds, quite clearly showing that unless a new generation of incredible runners arrives, we're heading into a very flat part of the progression curve...

So given the explosion in 10,000m and 5,000m times of the mid-90's, the sudden drop of the marathon world record was on the cards.

Looking ahead - is it sustainable?

So what, you ask, is the point of all this? Well, there are some important points arising out of this observation.

First of all, the 10,000m record has stablised somewhat since 1998, and the peak of the Gebrselassie-Tergat era. Yes, Kenenisa Bekele has entered the fray and lowered it by a further 5 seconds, and so we are rightly excited at what he'll do when he turns to the marathon. However, other than him, the depth and quality of performances over 10,000m have not continued to improve. After knocking 30 seconds off the time in four years, we've only seen 5 seconds in the next 10. The 5,000m record, meanwhile, has dropped only 2 seconds in six years, and only thanks to one individual.

Therefore, applying the same process as above, the marathon record cannot be expected to continue falling at the same rate, with the possible exception of Bekele, and maybe one or two new runners, as yet undiscovered, in the next few years.

Secondly, and more important than this, you have to ask yourself the following question: If a 26:30 10,000m runner steps up to the marathon and is able to run 2:05:00, then what kind of shorter distance speed would it take for a runner to do a sub 2-hour marathon?

Hopefully, you'll recognize that breaking a 2-hour marathon does not simply happen in isolation - it is "linked" to other distances, in as much as performance over those shorter distances predicts what happens in a marathon. You cannot, for example, hope to run a 2:05 marathon unless you have a 10,000m capacity quite well below 27 minutes. It's impossible to extrapolate with precision, of course, but if you want to run a 2-hour marathon, then you have to be running something faster than 25:30 for 10,000m in my opinion!

So the next time you ask whether a sub-2 hour marathon is possible, think of the implications - a 25:30 10,000m time? And considering that in ten years, arguably the greatest distance runner ever on the track and country (Bekele) has dropped it by 5 seconds in ten years, then how long will we wait for a runner with that kind of speed?

More obvious, perhaps is the implication of a 2-hour marathon on half marathon times. Currently, the half marathon best stands at 58:33, by Sammy Wanjiru. In order to see a sub-2 hour marathon, that would need to drop to 56 minutes, at least. How likely is that? 20 years? I doubt it...

The next generation: Who can advnce the marathon? The pool is shallow...

So rather than get carried away with the explosion of marathon records in the last few years, one has to look at the pattern of transition from the track to the road and then ask whether it can be expected to continue. I feel that the answer is "No", because other than Kenenisa Bekele, there are currently few 10,000m runners who possess the speed and ability to move the event forward like Tergat and Gebrselassie have. Sileshi Sihine, eternal silver medallist behind Bekele, is a runner who should also be capable of a 2:05 time, but not the kind of progress that is required to go under 2:03, let alone 2 hours.

Another runner who may prove very successful in the marathon is Zersenay Tadese. 10,000m is probably too short for him, and he seems to be a runner more suited to the longer distances. He's already succeeded on the roads, breaking 59 minutes in the half marathon, and winning the Great North run in a course record in 2005. That kind of pattern suggests that he is capable of a brilliant marathon, and I dare say he's the one man of the current track generation who will challenge Bekele when they all run the marathon. I would hazard a guess that Tadese is capable of a 2:04, maybe even slightly quicker, while Bekele is a 2:03:30, or thereabouts. Quite who is going to run 3 minutes faster than this is anyone's guess, and that's why I feel this talk of a 2-hour marathon is very premature!

The current number 1: Sammy Wanjiru. How commercial barriers may prove crucial in preventing record progress

Then of course, there is Sammy Wanjiru. At just 22, he is omitted from the earlier discussion of track runners, because he made the jump to the marathon without following the 'classic' path of focusing on track first. That's not to say he's not a great track runner - has a 10,000m PB of 26:41, run as a junior, and so I dare say he falls into the same caliber of speed-runner as Geb, Tergat and Bekele one day.

In my opinion, Wanjiru is the best marathon runner in the world today. In fact, I'd put his 2:06:32 Olympic win ahead of Gebrselassie's World Record on a list of all-time performances, firmly at number 1.

And if Wanjiru is able to run the right race, on the right day, with the right pacemakers, I think he's capable of the world record right now. For that matter, so is Martin Lel, also of Kenya. Remember, Lel outkicked Wanjiru to win London in 2:05:16, at the end of what became a tactical race over the last 7km, and he finished with a 60-second 400m sprint! So don't count Lel out just yet.

But Wanjiru seems to hold the aces, and I do think he's probably capable of a 2:03:40-ish time.

Having said that, the big dilemma for all marathon-record hopefuls is "Where do they run it?". The record is now so strong and difficult to break that it requires the very best conditions - perfect course, perfect pacemakers, and of course, perfect money. That happened in Berlin, and Gebrselassie seems to have found his other "perfect" course in Dubai, where he'll get a cool million dollars if he breaks the record again (he's running in Dubai on January 16).

But the requirement for money, pacemakers and perfect weather and course make it very difficult to break the record. Can you see Gebrselassie allowing his yearly "time-trial" in Berlin to become a race for the record with Wanjiru? I certainly can't. For three years, Geb has been Berlin, it's basically a huge marketing campaign for sponsors with Gebrselassie's time-trial the focal point of the race. Introducing challengers, particular with other sponsors, hardly seems smart. The cost would be prohibitive anyway.

And so rather than facing a physiological barrier, I think that one of the main barriers facing marathon running now is commercial - are there races out there with sufficient prize money to draw the top names, to pay the best pacemakers? And then of course, it can't be any race - it must be pancake-flat with no wind and perfect weather. That's a very difficult ask, and it means that maybe only a handful of races exist. If Wanjiru wants to win London (or any of the other big races, like World Champs), then he cuts his chances by half. So where then, will the record come? Forget physiology, the biggest barrier is logistics!

All things considered - don't hold your breath for a 2-hour time any time soon. I think it will be surprising if we see a 2:03:30 clocking in the next ten years, and maybe then it will be Bekele or Tadese. But it will take maybe five or six generations before we even get to 2:02, let alone 2 hours. But then this site will hopefully still be around (we'll find someone to take it over when we move on, our great great great grandchildren maybe!), and so if it happens, we'll eat our words!



Anonymous said...

To run a 1:59:59 Marathon you need a pace of 2:50 min/km. That's 6 seconds faster for every kilometer for 42,2 kilometers (on average). This may not seem much to the uninitiated but if you are a runner you can appreciate how incredibly difficult it is to achieve.

Remember that we are talking about the best of the best, the cream de la cream, the most gifted ones in the world, OK sorry I got carried away here.

After training and running a few Marathons myself I can tell you that a PR of 4 minutes is a daunting task even for a 3 hour plus Marathoner.

I have to agree that I will not be around to see a sub 2 Marathon unless I live to be 200 years old!


vikram said...


What exactly is the physiological limitation that limits speed ?

Is it limited by the Vo2 max of humans, is it that we are limited in efficiency, is biomechanics the cause or are there other multitude of reasons ?

If a human being had a Vo2 max of say 200 ml/kg/min, or say if a human being had an efficiency of over 50%, would they perhaps be candidates to break these records ?


Mark Boen said...

When the 5,000m World Record drops to ~12:15 and the 10,000, World Record drops to ~25:30, then we can start talking about a sub 2-hour marathon. Even then, the individual would need incredible genes and luck to avoid injuries and hope for the perfect day.

Who knows, perhaps this individual exists today. Unfortunately for us, he is probably playing another sport like soccer.

Anonymous said...

It'll take 5-6 generations, or 100-150 years, just to get to 2:02? No way. I'm sure we'll see 2:02 in a generation.

- Adeel

Anonymous said...

From the Lore of Running by Dr Noakes:

The pronghorn antelope weighs in at 30 kg and has a V02 max of 300. It is able to run 10 km in less than 10 minutes averaging 65 km per hour!!!

Now if we cross antelope and human DNA we can produce a human capable of running a 1:30 hour Marathon easily. Just joking of course.


Anonymous said...

Call me a skeptic, but I think the drop in times recently has much to do with superior preparation, as cyclists call it. I think it will need a commensurate development in such preparation before the times drop further - simply, humans' ability to carry oxygen to their muscles will have to be increased somehow.

Dr. Stephen Seiler said...

If you are going to have a discussion of some barrier such as sub 2 hours for the marathon, the real focus needs to be on the physiological cost of such a run. Is the combination of sustained oxygen consumption and efficiency within the scope of the human genome? Refer to the classic marathon limits paper by Michael Joyner to put some science back into the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen

That's an interesting angle, yes, and I'm sure it would be a good way to look at the problem. Then again, when I read this article, I thought it was an excellent approach, and different to the classic physiological theory. And I like "different", especially when it is put in a way that is neither inaccurate (which would be a valid grounds for criticism) nor over-complex.

So while you make a good point, it seems to me that you've come here expecting a journal. Maybe you should look for one. I think this was an excellent piece, it's only you guys in your ivory towers who fail to recognize that the vast majority of the world's athletes don't care for technical discussions of VO2max and running economy - what they know best is performance, and that's what this piece was all about.

I think this is an excellent, novel way of discussing the question, because most runners who run 10km can relate to speed - how many do you know who can appreciate what a running economy of 180ml/kg/km means? But that's what YOU know, so you assume that this site (or journal, as you seem to treat it) should think the same way.

So Stephen, go back to your hallowed journals and write the piece yourself, this was an article about performace, so save your stupid sarcasm about "putting science back" for someone who's genuinely interested in it.

I've followed this site for the last 9 months, and it's funny to me to see how the scientific "fraternity" (a word used by Ross in a previous article - very appropriate) is now holding this site to a standard of scientific relevance that is higher than many journals seem to be!

Ross, Jonathan, you should be flattered. Keep up the excellent work - I know you will take flak for the "lack of science", but this site is world class. And those scientists just don't have the capacity to see beyond their noses. Is it any wonder a stereotype of scientists exists? You guys are changing that, keep it up!


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Allan, Stephen, everyone else

Well, thanks Allan, for saying that. You actually expressed a lot of what I think about the site on occasion (though I wouldn't have expressed it that way!).

I often wonder privately to myself where the site should head next. When we started (and I've made this point, and I think some people don't get it), our intention was to take our view of the world of sport, apply a scientific angle to it, and write news stories. We wanted to try to explain sports from a different angle, provide food for thought, stimulating material etc. I am always most fascinated by people who look at the world and see it differently - The Undercover Economist, Freakonomics, Logic of Life etc. are books that I enjoy most - they deal with the world of marketing and economics. This site, if I don't say so myself, is the Freakonomics of sports science (at least, a poor attempt at being it!)

I think we've done that, and I'm obviously very proud of it so far. However, when I go through the list of email addresses of people who've subscribed, I see many academic names or addresses, and so I'm fully aware that we have a readership in the scientific community. That is NOT, I must stress, our initial target market.

Remember, my training and current career is in sports management and marketing, and so forgive me for the marketing speak, but our "Positioning" stance here is that we are a site for athletes and sports enthusiasts. First you segment the market, then you target one or more of those segments, and then you craft the "brand" positioning in the minds of the "consumer". I've done all that as a deliberate effort for this site (marketing training again). And scientists are obviously a wonderful addition to our readership, but they are not the focus.

So now, we find ourselves in a difficult situation, because it seems that many scientists are reading this site and quite eager to flex their scientific muscle. I do chuckle at the fact that we've had some scathing emails (the one by Stephen is not one of them, I'm not offended at all by it, just to make that point) crticizing the approach we've adopted to many stories - these people either don't get our mission/vision, or they're trying hard to find holes in it.

I don't necessarily mind that, and Stephen is quite right - the angle of VO2 and running economy would be very interesting. However, in writing this piece, I had to make a call as to how I approached this problem - did I go to the physiological theory (which is interesting, I must agree), or do I go for a discussion-type topic that every runner around the world could relate to? I chose the latter, because it seemed to me the more novel way to approach the problem. The mere fact that a paper by Michael Joyner has already discussed the topic in a journal vindicates my decision, because this site is not a paraphrase of existing literatre - it's my opinion, my insight and I'm quite happy with this article. I don't know of anyone who's looked at this way, and considering that "this way" also speaks to every runner, it was the best way to look at it (in my opinion)

There are, and will be, other situations and stories where scientists will read our content and the hair on the back of their necks will stand up, and they will find holes and missing arguments and "scientifically invalid" statements, and that's fine by me. This is not a journal, it's a news website that I hope provides room for opinion and entertainment.

And I'm very grateful for every single person that reads this, and I love the stimulation it provides me to hear this kind of feedback. But what does frustrate me is that as you read this, regardless of your level of training, education or intelligence (three different things), you have to recognize that if I want to tackle a problem from a scientific basis, I'll do so in scientific journals - look at Pubmed and you'll see this to be true. I've only been a "scientist" for three years, remember, but look at my publication record. I'll fight the battle in the journals when I desire. This site is not an expression of that desire, it's a site for EVERYONE, and I'm not going to apologize for that any time soon!

Thanks again for everyone's comments, they are all welcome!


Ray said...

Dr. Stephen Seiler?

Occasionally I recommend this link:
as an example of everything most athletes need to know about physiology. Is that you? The graph really puts VO2max, LT, and Efficiency in perspective for me -- gee, I just hope it's still right, given some new radical ideas that VO2max and LT don't even exist.

Didn't you spend some time in Texas? Maybe you studied with Ed Coyle?


While you may have a point, aren't you being a bit harsh? It surprised me anyway.


Sorry I stole the topic for a short moment. It was hard for me to visualize the magnitude of 4 minutes of a marathon time (particularly with my current times), but shaving 1 minute off the current 10K world record time really brings it home.

Anonymous said...

Ditto on the five or six generations to see 2:02. Couldn't the argument be made that Wanjiru's Olympic performance would have been 2:02:XX if run in ideal conditions with a more even pace (i.e., without the surges)?

And the guy's only 22 -- and he professes to "only" putting in 120 miles a week or so. What happens when he is at his marathoning peak at 28 and putting in 160 miles a week? Obviously a sub-2:00 effort seems a bit farfetched, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him throwing in times in the law 2:01s.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi again

Thanks for the comments.

Regarding the 2:02 in five generations, bear in mind that i'm talking about the 2:02 BARRIER, which means we need another TWO minutes off the world record, not just one - your assumption that 2:02 means 2:02:xx differs from mine - I'm saying that the 2:02 barrier won't go for five generations.

And I do believe that. Wanjiru's time in Beijing is difficult to translate, but I do think it's like a 2:03:30, as I said in the post. Then what? Maybe he runs 2:03:10, maybe 2:03:20. But to suggest that he'll take a minute off the time is to suggest that he'll do what Geb has done to a MORE DIFFICULT record. Don't see it happening. Then there is the factor that he might not run Berlin anytime soon - Wanjiru will run London and probably worlds or a marathon in Japan. Can the record go there? I don't know.

But after Wanjiru, Bekele's next, maybe (he's actually older than Wanjiru, a scary thought!), and I can't see him taking it down by another 90 seconds. Because effectively, we're saying that a 2:02 means TWO minutes off this time. Given that this requires a 26-min 10km time, and the fact that the 10km time has only fallen by 5 seconds in 10 years, that's going to take incredibly long.

So I stand by that - 2:03 (the barrier) will probably take us to the generation after Bekele (that's two), and after that, I think it will slow down a lot...


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Everyone,

We are always very pleased when our posts elicit such passionate responses and comments from readers. After all, one of our aims is to stimulate debate about the topics we post on here.

But please, guys, let's leave out the personal attacks and focus on the content. As Ross said, everyone's comments are welcome here, regardless of one's chosen profession or location or race or nationality, or even where they did their professional training. Even though the scientific community is not our target audience, those individuals are more than welcome to comment here so long as they, too, keep it civil and focus not on the person but on the argument and the data.

Every visitor to this site has something to contribute--a novel perspective, additional knowledge, or expert knowledge, or a number of other things.

Thanks again for posting, and please keep the debate going!

Kind Regards,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response. I pretty much agree with you about everything except Wanjiru. I still think he is sui generis. Extrapolating from his 10k time is a fool's errand -- the kid hasn't seriously raced the distance since he was 19. And if he could throw down a 26:40 then (and obliterate the juniors record by a margin reminiscent of what you think would be needed to run a 2:02 equivalent now), I wouldn't be shocked to see sub-26:00 if he concentrated on that distance. I mean, a lot of kids are still growing at that age. Put slightly differently, how could you not expect a 19 year-old to improve 40-50 seconds in a 10k over the ten year period leading up to his prime?

I'd prefer to look at what he can do now to project out. I agree that a 2:06:30 in Beijing's humidity translates to roughly a 2:03:30 in ideal conditions. But here's the thing: He did that setting the pace most of the way, throwing in suicidal surges every 3-4 miles. You don't have to look far to see the costs of that. His splits were essentially 1:02:30/1:04. That's a pretty significant positive split in this day and age for a marathon (compare with HG's very slightly negative split in his WR performance last week). My guess is that he probably could have done at least 1:03/1:03 with a pacesetter setting an even pace -- and then you're looking at (roughly) a converted 2:03 flat.

And I guess here's my point: HG lowered his marathon time 2:36 from the age of 29 to the age of 35. Even given that it's much harder to cut time from a 2:06:35 than it is from a 2:03:00, I still think it is more than feasible to expect a 22 year-old drop his time 1:30 from age 22 to age 30 (or whatever his prime is). And that's why Wanjiru is incomparable (or at least unprojectable). We've seen how 10k runners can improve when they move to the marathon, usually in their late 20s. We've never seen what a best-in-the-world marathoner can do as he approaches his physical peak.

Lorenzo Coopman said...

Hi Ross,
I think this is the price you pay of becoming a bigger site (more readers). When I follow some discussions on the board of let's run or so, there are lot's of threats that are polluted with vicious talk. It's sad , but don't let the spoilers win , this is a great site, understandable info backed by scientific info.
Has Bekele ever talked about running a marathon ? I certainly didn't hear about it , the best gamble (for 2h02minXXs) at present is Sammy Warinju, he's hot and hungry !

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Lorenzo

THanks for that, much appreciated! Yes, it's the price we pay. When I read the Seiler comment about "more science in your analysis", it struck me as so arrogant and academically superior that I almost wrote a rude reply...! Luckily someone else picked it up for us. It's funny how intelligent guys miss the point sometimes...!

As for Bekele, I haven't heard anything either. He hasn't even run a half marathon yet, which is odd. He's now got 2 Olympic golds at 10000m, plus the 5000m, and so he's at the same place Geb was when he turned to the roads for the first time. That was 2002, if I remember correctly. So we'd be looking at 2010 if he follows the same path. It's been 4 years since he broke the 10,000m world record, and he's won everything else, it must be time now to consider a change.

Maybe Great North Run or one of the big half marathons next year, and Berlin in 2010 when Gebrselassie is no longer in world record form? Who knows...? Funny to think that he'll be the "new" guy in the marathon world when Wanjiru is actually much younger but will be much more experienced by then!


Ello said...

Sammy Wanjiru is the future of marathons. I believe that the peak marathon age should not be any different than the other track distances; therefore the best times should be run between age 25-28 I would think. So Sammy is most likely to deliver in the near future. He will sqeeze out a 203:10 before he is done.

Nicholas said...

Good post!

My sentiments exactly. One thing I like to add. Putting aside all practical considerations, if we had a perfect course, perfect weather, perfect pacemakers, and perfect money for ALL the best marathoners, including Bekele, physically, 2:02:45 to 2:03:15 is possible.

This is based on
1.The disparity between 10K road times and 10K track times (45 seconds).
2. The closeness of the half marathon world record and the 10K world best, which is 58:35 (27:45 10K pace) and 27:01, respectively.

So, putting it all together, if someone were in shape to do a 26:15 on the track, and IN THAT CONDITION, were to run the perfect 10K road race in a similar time, that translates to a 57:30 half marathon.

And with mileage on 57:30 speed, a 2:02:45 or thereabouts is possible.

But that is still a whole kilometre slower than a 2 hour marathon.

So where does that leave us? I think that for a 2 hour marathon to be possible, we'll need a super rare genetic freak, or to put it another way, a Usain Bolt of endurance running to come along. As great as Bekele is, he is the Michael Johnson of distance running: dominant, consistent, and the fastest we've seen, but not way OUT THERE like Bolt is.

And we can't predict when nature will throw up a specimen like that.

hobokengolf said...

None of this is 'very' scientific. Claiming otherwise is hogwash.

My claims only have basis in statistics (and the fact that I've myself run 10 marathons and over 50 half marathons) - so I won't claim it as science BUT:

I believe that a perfectly conditioned marathon runner can run a marathon at approximately 92% of his or her 10k pace. Using that formula alone 26:18
translates to a 2:00:36!

So while we aren't there YET - I don't think we're as far off as you'd lead your readers to believe.

I believe, like Haile Gebrselassie has said before that 2:02 is alredy a possiblity (for him) and while we won't see <2:00 in five or even ten years, we may see it in twenty or thirty.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Hobokengolf

Maybe you should become a coach, because your belief that guys should be running at 92% means that not a single 10km runner has managed to get it right.

Amazing that a guy like Haile Gebrselassie, with his 26:22 is "only" running 2:03:59. Yet your calculation would predict a time of 2:01.

That means he is under-performing by almost 3 minutes. Amazing. And the same can be said for Tergat, Khannouchi and just about every other marathon runner.

Perhaps your calculation is wrong?

Seems a good chance to me.

My post may be hogwash to some, but I think it's pretty sound and based on stats and physiology. To "believe" 92% is possible, perhaps these athletes need a coach to help them run like they should!


Ello said...

If a long distance runner came around with the same caliber of genetic 'freakiness' that currently allows Usain Bolt to run a 9.58 in a field where the best of the best of the best can only run 9.7x, we might be able to expect a marathon time of ~2:02:19. Sub 2 hours wont be possible even if Sammy Wanjiru says he can do it in the next 5 years.

Veryan Allen said...

40 years ago Derek Clayton ran 2:08 without the pacemakers, financial incentives or sports science of today. Roughly 4 minutes off the world record in 4 decades of marathons. So the next 4 minutes?

While the probability of Wanjiru or Bekele clocking a 2:02 in the next few years looks good, I suspect the first person doing 1:59 has yet to be born. Hope I'm wrong.

Why doesn't Sammy Wanjiru do more speed work on 5,000/10,000 track? He'd have shot at doing a Zatopek in London 2012.

ChristianRunner said...

One thing that few people look at is mental toughness. Scientists and elite athletes agree that mental toughness is very important in a race. It can be the difference between 1st and 10th, and the difference between 2:03 to 1:59.

We should continue to look for the best ways to improve the mentality of the athletes. The very best will be able to release every last ounce of physical and mental energy that they have.