So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Thoughts on the Two-Hour Marathon

Runners, especially recreational ones, focus a great deal on the achievement of personal best times. And it doesn't necessarily have to be races; our weekly or daily courses often fall under the same sort of scrutiny. Even if you're not thinking about it's likely your consumer-grade GPS receiver certainly is.

When it comes to most runs the improvements come quickly and often in great leaps, almost on the order of "tall building in a single bound" stature. But as time - or distance - progresses, the gains are smaller, more hard-won, and often more sweet. Especially if it's a "barrier" mark for mortals like the 40-minute 10K or qualifying for Boston.

Barrier performance times, in most cases, are built on society's shared mental model at that particular time. Many considered the four-minute mile to be impossible based on human physiology; the perception of perfection based on the seamless bond between the second-hand stopwatch in it's circuit around the watch face and the runner's progress on the track surface makes the four-minute mile even now a badge of honor for distance runners. The latest barrier to be discussed since Dennis Kimetto's lowering of the world best time for the marathon has been that of whether a sub-two-hour race is possible.

The two-hour marathon lacks that same romantic punch of the four-minute mile, though. The time doesn't match any aspect of the distance, whether it's spoken in imperial or metric (and for what it's worth, the marathon *is* a metric distance). But it wasn't too surprising to hear that two rival shoe manufacturers have initiated a project to prove in reality what has been theorized over the past ten years...

Is it possible for a human to run 26 miles, 385 yards (42.195 kilometers) in less than two hours?

For most all of us mortals, the two-hour marathon is the stuff of fantasy, kind of like our chances of flying to the moon. Perhaps even more fleeting, since it seems most anything can be accomplished with a lot of know-how, a lot of grit, or at least a whole lot of money and access to someone who's willing to let you try. The marathon still requires its participants (recent tales of Honolulu notwithstanding) to get out there and put one foot in front of the other; only so much performance enhancement can be purchased.

So what if we look at the advancement in human running performance as a mathematical calculation? Well, the difference between Kimetto's world best and two hours is a little under two and-a-half percent increase in performance. Going back to mortals like me - that's like starting with a 5K in seven-flat per mile (21:45) and dropping it to 21:14.

You would have to run 4:39 each mile for 26.21876 miles...just to stay with Kimetto's best. To break two hours you would have to run five seconds faster. For each mile. All 26 and a quarter of them.

So who are the chosen people for this sporting "moon shot?" Of the three athletes, two have personal bests in the single-digit range from a buck-fifty nine. One ran a PB a half-percentage point off the world best, during the same race it was made. But, world best increases over the past decade have been - like personal bests - hard-won, at about three-tenths of a percent on the average. Paul Tergat's 45-second chop being pretty much the outlier.

If I assume that all of the resources of this shoe company are brought to bear to *legally and ethically* prepare this troika to go under 120-minutes, I'll forecast based on single-race improvements of 0.6-percent.  That's using Paul Tergat's 2:04:55 performance difference over Khalid Khannouchi's 2:05:38 mark.

The slowest of the three runners, with a personal best of 2:10:41 (almost six percent slower than the world best) would have to run consistent personal bests for the next seventeen races.
The least experienced - in his sixth year of racing and having placed sixth at the 2010 CCC - is only nine races away from breaking two.
The fastest would have to consistently break his own world-best by 42-to-45 seconds during the next five races to go through the barrier.

A two-hour marathon is physiologically possible, but for it to be credible and ethical I believe it will take a decade, not a year. And I really don't think a shoe company is going to be the prime mover behind it when it happens.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"A two-hour marathon is physiologically possible..."

I think I agree with you but let's wait and see what surprise the nearest future holds.

Meanwhile, this is a great article. Thanks for sharing.