Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

Consider a donation if you like what you see here!

Did you know?
We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Haile Gebrselassie 2:06:09 in Dubai

Fast for Geb in Dubai, but the record was never on

2:06:09 can never be deemed a disappointing performance - it's a time that ten years ago would have scared the world record, been comfortably in the top 10 of all time, and would signal a great effort.  It's testament to how the marathon has progressed, and to what Haile Gebrselassie has achieved in his running career, that when he achieves this time, it's met with some disappointment.

Gebrselassie spends most of his racing time hunting world records - I've said before what a pity this is and how great it would be to see him take on the likes of Lel, Wanjiru and Kebede, but he has been content, for the last five or so years, to race the clock in a couple of races a year.  His first attempt for the last few years has come in Dubai, where huge incentives, both upfront and for winning and breaking records, are a big draw.

And Dubai has been very fast for Gebrselassie - he has run 2:04:53 and 2:05:29 (2nd and 8th fastest ever at the time, respectively).  But 2010 has produced the slowest of his three Dubai Marathons, 2:06:09.

Dubai 2010 - close for a short time, then a gradual slide away

And the record was on for a short time only.  The graph below shows the kilometer splits, and then I've worked out the projected time at 5km intervals (based on the cumulative time, not the last 5km, note), shown in green where he sped up over the interval, red where the pace slowed.

Remember that the world record of 2:03:59 requires an average kilometer pace of 2:56.  Gebrselassie was close to it, but never below it, until 5km had been covered, and his 5km time of 14:54 was 3 seconds per kilometer off that required pace.  We've discussed before how incredibly precise the pacing has to be in order to succeed over 42.2 km - it is remarkable.  In previous Dubai races, Gebrselassie has gone out much too hard - in 2008, he was on course for about 2:02 after 15km, and then slowed considerably to run 2:04:53.

This time, if there was a pacing error, it was on the slower side of desired, because the early pace was just outside the target - Gebrselassie averaged 2:59 for the first 5km (14:54 split), 2:58 for the second 5km (10 km split of 29:42), but then began to slow progressively.  At halfway (1:02:51), his projected time was 2:05:42, which some would say meant the record was still on, but when you need to run the second half of a 2:04 marathon in 61:07, then the record is pretty much gone. That the pace was slowing after 10km is a sign that it was never going to happen today, and from that point onwards, only eternal optimism would have kept record hopes alive.

A race in the final kilometers?

The pace held steady at around 2:58/km from halfway to 35km, and then the pace really did slow down - a series of 3:05 or slower kilometer times and the projected time dropped outside 2:06.  It is very interesting to note that Gebrselassie's final kilometer was 2:36, an increase in pace which suggests that he took the foot off the gas in those earlier slow kilometers, because by then the record was clearly gone - it would have required something in the range of 2:50/km for the final 10km to challenge his mark.

Also of interest though, is that he "only" won by 24 seconds today, making this the closest marathon "race" he's run in a while.  He may have entered looking for a paced record, but he seems to have found himself in a tight battle at the end.

And, given a final kilometer of 2:36, the 24 second winning margin would have been largely, if not entirely, created in the final kilometer, which means that Gebrselassie was not alone at 40km, and definitely not at 30km.  It seems likely, then, that the presence of other runners in a group from 30km onwards, combined with Gebrselassie not feeling quite up to the world record (as shown by the relatively sluggish start, particularly from 10 to 20km), resulted in a tactical race which slowed the pace down in the latter kilometers.

I confess that I didn't see the race, it wasn't televised and SA internet is so poor that watching online doesn't happen at the best of times, so I don't know the circumstances in those middle kilometers.  The temperatures and wind certainly don't seem to have been too limiting - the temperature at the finish of the race was 18 degrees with no wind, though the humidity was up at 80%, which may have contributed to that progressive decline.

Nevertheless, it's a good, not great time, for an athlete who has inspired expectations of great every time he runs.  It really doesn't help that he only runs in time-trials (with the exception of Berlin last year, where Duncan Kibet might have, but didn't, provide some opposition), and that he talks up the chances every time he races.  Before this one, he spoke of perfect preparation, and the ability to run 2:03:30.  There's always the proviso that the conditions must be absolutely perfect, and so I suspect in the aftermath of this race, there'll be some problem with the conditions, perhaps that humidity.

We'll see, and update the post a little later, and maybe debate in the comments below!



Marcos Apene do Amaral said...

My two cents. As I agree and you've also predicted, it would be really tough to break the world record right on the first marathon of the year. Specially knowing that he wouldn't face any other threat than the clock itself. But I really still believe that he will do it and will strongly look for it in one of the late year marathons, hope Berlin again on a tougher and much more competitve field, where others can attempt and threat the clock just like he did when running 2h03'59''!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Marcos

Thanks for the email. I have to disagree on future prospects though - Geb won't run sub 2:05 again, is my prediction. I think it's over now, and in Berlin, the same thing will happen - he'll be close to the record, then gradually slip away and miss it, by at least 90 seconds. I think he's had a spectacular career, but he hasn't shown in his last 3 marathons the ability to get close to 2:04 again.

And if Berlin gets Wanjiru to race (I doubt Geb will allow this), then Wanjiru will win that race.

Time will tell!


djconnel said...

The record attempts are obviously proving quite lucrative for him, allowing him to transition into a career of business and investing, but to me "racing" is about the head-to-head, of beating the best with whatever the conditions and course provides. The perennial race against the clock is a bit like British time trialling or the tradition of US Triathlon in the cycling world, where there's the endless quest for fast courses and fast conditions. Unfortunately this quest tends to make every race much the same. May as well run a finely calibrated treadmill.

Seth said...

I suspect that the world record is out of Geb's grasp. While September 2008 does not feel like very long ago, his times not quite been there in the ensuing year and a half. The issue for him is that with the race he has chosen, he has so few opportunities to get it right each year (2?3 at the most?) that each time he misses it, he's already a lot older the next time he tries. Age is the key factor. He may surprise me and bust out an amazing time at Berlin, but his age becomes more of a limiting factor each time.

Marcos Apene do Amaral said...

Ross, Jonathan and djconnel, that assumption that race is facing your oponents head to head is pretty appreciated by me but I do believe that facing your own fears, threats and ultimately, the clock, is a challenge for only some of those heroes that we call athletes, like Geb did so many times!
Altough, as always, good to know that someone is getting ready to take that crown and beat all those, 'till now, historic marks! That's what's sport is all about! At least to me. And we should keep studying it to predict the max we can or, at least, keep the attention close to what really matters.
Sorry for the poor English, lack of practice leads to that restrict vocabulary and (I hope not) misunderstood gramar, cheers, Marcos
p.s-I won't forgive you if triathlon is not covered this year! So, take care!

Mike Russell said...

Great performance, but miles away from the record. I hope he makes a better run at it, but I don't think it is probable.

I would like to see him go head to head with Wanjiru because I think you could make a great case to why either would win. I think it would come do to the mental game in the end in a race between the two.

Unknown said...

Why does everyone think that Wanjiru is all that - yes, he's broken the 1/2 marathon record and won in a tough Beijing race. But can he really race Haile? I don't think so.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi All

I agree pretty much with everything dj and Seth have to say re Geb.

To respond to Abiy, the reason we think Wanjiru is "all that" is because he ran the greatest marathon ever seen - a 2:06 in the hot and humid conditions of Beijing,without pacemakers, doing pretty much all the work himself, and then followed it up with two more wins, the first against tough competition in a serious race in London. He was without doubt the number 1 marathon runner in the world last year.

But sure, some would not back Wanjiru. I'll say somethign else though - Martin Lel, Tsegaye Kebede, and Jaouad Gharib would all, in my opinion, beat Gebrselassie in an unpaced marathon race. Remember, Geb has never, never won a marathon RACE, only time trials with pacemakers who sometimes stay with him longer than expected (Berlin 2008, for example).

switzerblog said...

I also think Geb's time for records is past. I think he has some great runs still in him, but sub-2:04 requires such precision over so much time, increasingly you do need things to break your way. However, I will admit that I have been disappointed in Geb's response to his recent near-misses - it's always because of the rain, or humidity, or this or that. I've yet to hear him say "I just didn't have it today". Geb's human, and some days you just don't have it.

I love watching him, and every marathon he runs is an event - which is great for the sport! And he's certainly a wonderful spokesman and role model. If this is the biggest complaint we can come up with about the man, I'd say he's done okay with his time in the sport. :)

steve.d.runner said...

Geb said he had sore/stiff back. Not feeling well. He said he decided to race to win, not the WR.

Everything has to fall into place for a WR. Friday was not his day. That simple


Seth said...

Jonathan and Ross,

I would also add Deriba Merga to your list of marathoners who could take Geb in a true race. I think he has untapped potential, but he could waste it by racing too often.

I think a lot of Geb's appeal is his showmanship. He jumps at press conferences to measure up to Bolt, he stars as himself in a movie: the other marathoners just do not have the same larger-than-life personality. However, ability is a different matter. It would be nice to see Geb gracefully retire, rather than continue to make outlandish claims about his ability that he cannot back up.

Anonymous said...

Ruben Romero said.... Gebrselassie registered 2h 06' 09", not enough to break his own world record. For the American College of Sports Medicine, the ideal temperature to run a marathon is 11 °C. Higher temperatures prevent the adequate dissipation of the heat generated while running, which accumulates in the body of the athlete elevating his body temperature, one of the main causes of fatigue. Statistical data show that by each 3 °C degrees the athmospheric temperature surpass 11 °C, a reduction of 1% in the speed of the athlete should be expected. Geb did run at 18°C Friday. How fast could he have run if temperature had been 11°C? could it had been under 2h 03' 59"?

Guillermo said...

I can honestly say I am a bit disappointed with this post from a blog that specializes in "exercise performance." When I hear exercise performance, I think world records, or "the best." Names that come to mind are Bolt, Bekele, Gebrselassie, etc. Running is a sport that can compare people between different time points, years, decades, even generations. This is why WR's exist and can be broken. That is what keeps most people interested, excited, or wanting to compete. That is how we learn and can further advance our understanding of human physiology and performance.

People go to extremes to keep track of their statistics, records WR, or PB, whether indoors, outdoors, track, cc, or road, and even between courses, certifications, elevation gain/loss. In all reality though, we all care about the "fastest time" for whatever sport or reason. A WR is more likely to make a bigger impact on the sport in general, giving more publicity, hope, and setting the bar higher for everyone rather than simply winning a race (think Bolt). Races are won everyday, WR are not broken everyday.

A race is within yourself as well, to beat your own times, otherwise, why even do it? Would fans be on the edge of their seats watching Bekele walk across the finish line after having jogged the last lap because of his ridiculous lead when he could have broken another WR - probably not. Yes, we all enjoyed watching Bolt let off at Bejing 100m final and still winning, but only because it left a sense of wondering, oh, and he got a WR. While Geb seems to run these races alone, he is doing what the other 99.9% of he population does when they run, trying to beat their own time, while winning in the process. I would rather run a race that I get last place in with a PB time, than to win a race with a time that I am not satisfied with. Otherwise, lets just get rid of the clock altogether and just race for first place.

We should have all the greatest marathoners of all time race/time trial against each other, on any normal course, in any weather, on any day, and see who is the fastest. Oh, wait, Geb has already won that race, and he's trying to win it again. Hopefully others will try to follow, continue bringing the marathon time down, and it will seem like less of a time trial. I mean, anyone can do this, he is not cheating the system by any means.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

I don't think the temperature would have made too much difference. And those ACSM guidelines are a joke. You only need to look at Sammy Wanjiru's Beijing performance to see that. Wanjiru ran 2:06:36 there, in temperatures that were at least 29 degrees (and that's conservative).

So if you take the ACSM suggestion and improve Wanjiru's time by 1% for every 3 degrees above 11, then Wanjiru would have run 5% faster. His time would have been 2:00:16.

So there's definitely something wrong with that picture...

The reason the top guys break this trend is because they're highly efficient, so heat production is reduced, and they have the capacity to lose enough heat to the environment. They also train in warmer temperatures (typically higher than 20 degrees) and so are adapted, whereas those stats don't take that into account.

So no, I don't think Geb would have run 2:03:59 on a cooler day. I doubt he had much more than 30 seconds improvement, regardless of the weather.

Then to Guillermo:

We have to be clear here - you disagree with the conclusion in the post, the suggestion that Gebrselassie should race more and not time-trial.

Yet you come here and moralize about your disappointment in the post and by extension, the site. The bottom line is that you disagree, but then you confuse that disagreement with some higher purpose about the post or the site. I'm all for people disagreeing and you've made some really good points in your post about beating oneself. But you lost me when you used your disagreement in opinion to somehow criticize the whole site.


Guillermo said...


I just want to start by being clear that I never said that I am disappointed by the site, criticized the site, or anything negative about the site. I really enjoy this site, and being a science geek myself, I am happy to see that such a site exists, and I have read basically every post on this blog. I am speaking only about this post.

My argument is that we as spectators, or athletes should value or at least respect Geb's performances, whether they are with or without pacesetters, and regardless of the course. Throwing out names of people that can "win in a race against him" such as Wanjiru, Lel, etc., or saying that he has never won a marathon "race" is in a way making his achievements as a marathoner seem less important to the sport. This goes along the lines of saying "X" has never won a marathon against real competition. As you said, he always races the clock, and others, as does everyone else. I just don't think we can hold his race choices against him. In general, he has beaten everyone as a marathoner, and is doing good for the sport by hoping for WR's every time he runs.

Anonymous said...

honestly I had to say that I had to read what Guilhermo said again and I don't think he came that far as to say he expressed disapointment about the site. He seemed very polite saying his opinion that WR matters (something that I have to agree) and that was all (just for the matter, I'm not Guilhermo neither I know him). You don't have to be bothered. It's just another oppinion.

Anonymous said...

I have another opinion.

If I had someone come to me and say that they disagreed with my OPINION, then fine. But if they come along and say that their problem is ME, then it's another issue. It's like you don't go to your colleague and say that he is poor, but rather that his report/task was done poorly. Difference in object.

So to me, it's totally justified, because Guillermo very clearly attacks the site. You don't throw out the inverted commas ("exercise performance") and even raise the issue about a blog that specialises in "exercise performance".

Maybe it's a cultural thing, but there's a difference between saying I disagree with this opinion, versus bringing up the post. I bet it's cultural...


Anonymous said...

maybe you are right, although I think you have to give the benefit of doubt to anyone on first time offend. As I said, I don't know Guilhermo and frankly if he had attacked the site then he deserved the treatment Ross gave to him.
One of the things that make me feel very well about this website is its content and the high level of knowlege and discussion both the autors and the participants express on every post (by the way: Ross and Jonathan your book is just amazing!).
Another reason why I fell very welcome here is because people almost always express with classy even when strongly desagreeing with others. The autors certainly contributes to this. I think we should maintain this spirit. Just a thought.

CESAR O. said...

Excuse for my English and congratulations for your marvelous site!!!!.
Welll my opinions is that Geb problably reached his maximum potential at the distance but caution he is not finished yet he can run more marathon between the 2 04 30 and 2 05 30 range i am sure and his competitors specially Wanjiru canot comparer whit Gebre yet , if you compare the sub par performanaces of Wanjiru in non marathon races the last 3 years you will found tha he is not very sure winner in every event that he parcitipate, well you can say about his great performances in th olimpics and london but i dout that he would prevail in the future!!!. I thinhk that Bekele, tadesse and Merga are better prospects for getting the marathon record in the years to come!!!.
My prediction is that Geb will run 3 more marathons between 2 04 and 2 06 and he will run the olympic marathon inthe the medals in the 2 06 range and after that retiring whit all the glory he deserves!!!!
Cesar O.

djconnel said...

An issue with pacemakers is we need to consider what the effect is of drafting when running.

For example, consider a runner approximately 1.7 meters tall and 40 cm wide with a Cd of 0.8 running a 2:03 marathon pace with an air density of 1.2 kg/m³. Then that's 61 watts dissipated to wind. Suppose the runner can sustain 6 W / kg at 57 kg = 342 watts (I don't know how much power runners generate). Wind resistance is then 18% of this total.

In cycling, drafting saves 30% of wind resistance power if done well. Suppose in running it saves only 10% of the wind resistance power. I don't know why it would be that much less; I'm just being conservative. This is the fraction of WIND resistance, not total power; the latter is naturally smaller in running because less of the power goes into wind resistance.

Then this is 6.1 watts saved: 1.8% of total power. With 18% of the power going into wind resistance, this reduces speed by 1.3% (this takes some calculus) assuming speed is proportional to power in the absence of wind resistance. This is 2.6 minutes times the fraction of the race behind the pacer time saved for a 2:03 marathon.

If we want a time trial, make it a time trial, and get rid of the pacers. Otherwise I disagree with Guillermo: I want to win the race. The stopwatch is of secondary importance. Too many sources of variability.

Cogito Argentum said...

2:06'09"...ahhh...it seems like yesterday when I opened the newspaper...Dinsamo run what?

Tablet PC accessories said...

Very interesting article. I would like to say whenever you watch a race the most exciting and happening moments are the race in last few kilometres as you said. It's real thrill of race. I mean everything is at extreme.