" A lot of speed endurance can be in your head too as it is up to you how much of the pain you can withstand before slowing down. If a man with a sharp stick was chasing you, you would go faster for longer, therefore it's in the mind. That said, no matter how sharp the stick you will never run a marathon in 90 minutes." (Britton, 2013.)
Ok, so hold that thought. La vitesse means speed in french. Did you know that? Well if you didn't you do now. So....speed endurance. Well let's take as a starting point my experience of being a member of Runing Forever Taunton over the past year. When I first joined I ran with group 3 (the third fastest group); the first session I was hideously out of breath by the end of the run, but I tried every week to keep up with the people near the front and there came a time when I was able to do so more comfortably....in fact there came a time when it became maybe just a little too comfortable and so I ran with group 2. The first session I was hideously out of breath by the end of the run, but I tried every week to keep up with the people near the front and although it still felt fast there came a time when I could manage it, and so I thought what do I have to lose by attempting to run with group 1? I did, on Wednesday this week, and I was hideously out of breath by the end of the run, but I will keep trying and see if there comes a point when I am less so. Anyway, my point is that by putting myself in a situation where I gave myself no choice but to endure running faster than I was comfortable with in time it became less of a struggle. I remember in June 2011 I ran Torbay Half Marathon in 1 hour 45, and thought it was a pretty awesome time, which of course it was for me then, but now less than 2 years later I have run a half in 1 hour 36, which would have been inconceivable for me two years ago. Will I run 1 hour 27 in 2015? Well I guess that's largely up to me; am I willing to put the work in, and is it something I really want to achieve. Of course there will come a time when I reach my limit and will improve no further, but what is that limit?
Ok, so I think we can agree that Mr Britton is right; no matter how sharp the stick of anyone who happens to chase me, I will never run a marathon in 1 hour 30. But will anyone ever?.....naaaaaahhhhh, mate! Course they won't!!!! That's what your thinking isn't it? But how can you be absolutely certain? Let's see what it would take for someone to do this.......
Waayyyy back in 1908 the marathon world record was 2 hours, 55 minutes and 18 seconds. I have friends who've run quicker marathons than that by a distance, and are not quite elite marathon runners (very good, but not elite), but times have changed (in every sense of the word.) 2:55:18 equates to 6 minutes and 41 seconds per mile. I refuse to rule out the fact that one day even I might run a marathon this quick - you never know. If you'd asked American Johnny Hayes a few days later if he thought he could have run it a minute per mile quicker he'd probably have said something along the lines of "I'm terribly sorry old chap but I'm afraid not."
HOWEVER, that's exactly what fellow American Albert Michelsen did by 1925. He ran a time of 2:29:01, which was the first time anyone had been recorded to run a sub 2:30 marathon. That equates to 5.41 per mile, which is pretty damn quick. Very few people I know can run a 10k that fast, let alone a 10k plus another 20 miles. I'd imagine Mr Michelsen must have felt like he'd reached pretty close to the best he could ever hope to achieve with that run, but would he have believed that one day someone would run a marathon a minute per mile quicker? I'm not sure, he wasn't available for comment (not that I really tried that hard to locate him.....I mean, I don't mean to be rude but I'm guessing he must have been at least in his 20s in 1925, so that would make him over 100 if he was still alive today. He's probably not on facebook, so tracking him down would actually be quite hard.)
Anyway, it was nearly 30 years before someone broke the 2:20 barrier, but that's exactly what englishman Jim Peters did in 1953, with a stunning 2:18:40 in June of that year, followed by 2:18:34 four months later. That's 5.18 per mile. Incidentally, he'd run 2:20:42 a year earlier, and probably thought "Cor blimey, guvnor! If I can't shave off 43 seconds from somewhere then I might as well give up this running lark." In fact in 1954 he extracted the urine by breaking his record yet again and running 2:17:39, which is 5.15 per mile. Now, 1954 you may also be aware is the first time anyone was recorded to have run a sub 4 minute mile...just one, mind! Roger Bannister ran 3:59 for the mile, and before long a number of others saw his 3:59 and raised him....well, lowered I should say. But the marathon world record at this time involved someone running a minute and sixteen seconds slower per mile of the mile world record for 26.2 miles....with me so far? So I don't think we can dispute the fact that 2 hours, 17 minutes is a seriously quick marathon time by most peoples' standards, but there are several well known American ultrarunners who have run this and quicker for the distance in recent times. Mike Wardian's PB is I think 2:17, whilst Sage Canaday and Max King have run about 2:14, so quicker than the world record was in 1954, but as we will see later, they would still get their lunch money stolen and sand kicked in their faces by the kenyans. There are British marathoners who've run quicker than 2:14 (and American runners I hasten to add) but back in 1954 2:17 must have been considered an absolutely insane time.
Now, just 13 years later an Aussie Bloke named Derek Clayton broke the 2:10 barrier with a run of 2:09:36...but perhaps just as significantly, this was the first time anyone had run a marathon at sub 5 minutes per mile (4.57 per mile in this instance.) Clayton ran 2:08:33 two years later (4.54 per mile) and maybe at the time people were thinking "Wow, I bet it's only a matter of time before someone breaks the 2:05 barrier", well it did seem to be heading that way, but........
No! It was a whopping 34 years before this happened, when Paul Tergat of Kenya ran 2:04:55, which was getting quite silly at 4.46 per mile. However, this would be the point at which two interesting trends began. The next three times the record was broken over the next 8 years it would always be at Berlin Marathon, at which Tergat had broken the record himself, and each time it would be just a second per mile quicker than the last time. In recent years Berlin has been touted as the fastest, flattest city marathon in the world, and so I guess the top marathoners have saved their best efforts for Berlin. The great Ethiopian Haile Gebreselassie posted a 2:04:26 in 2007 (4.45 per mile) and then broke his own record in 2009 with 2:03:59 (4.44 per mile.) I remember watching Kenyan Patrick Makau break the world record on TV in 2011 with a time of 2:03:38, and I remember thinking that he didn't seem too knackered at the end, and was able to run back down the track with the kenyan flag at quite a velocity just moments after finishing, so maybe the record would be broken again not too long afterwards, but (although Geoffrey Mutai has run quicker at Boston, a course that is not recognised for world record purposes because it contains too much downhill, depsite also containing a pretty nasty bit of uphill) so far it has not been done.
So, this begs the question, for me at least, what would it take to run a sub 2 hour marathon. Well, it would take 4.35 per mile, that's what. Pretty insane, but then the current half-marathon world record, held by Eritrea's Zersenay Tadese, is 58 minutes and 23 seconds, which is 4.27 per mile. Not saying it could necessarily be him, but if it's within someone's capabilities to run 13.1 miles at 4.27 per mile, could they in theory find the endurance to run a marathon at 8 seconds per mile slower? Incidentally, if he could keep up his half-marathon world record pace for an entire marathon he would achieve a time of 1:56:35. Let's think about this for a minute, a sub 40 minute 10k requires a 6.30 per mile pace, so in order to achieve this you have to know that you're first of all capable of running one mile at that pace, and then you can build the endurance to keep up that pace for 6 and a bit miles, by being able to run faster than that and hold the pace for a while, so that holding a slightly slower pace for a little longer is manageable.
Ok, so here's where it get's silly. The current 10k world record is 26:18 (rounded up), which was set by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele back in 2005, which is 4.14 per mile. Just suppose someone could one day keep up that pace for an entire marathon, their time would be 1:50:55.....Ok, so still a long way of a sub 1:30. So just what WOULD it take?
How about Roger Bannister territory? What if someone could run 26.2 sub 4 minute miles in a row? In 1997 Daniel Koemen of Kenya ran two of the blighters in a row (i.e. 2 miles in under 8 minutes), so we know that's possible. Why couldn't someone one day find another 24.2 of them from somewhere? Just humour me.....Ok, so 26.2 miles at 3.59 per mile would be.......1:44:22. Nope! Not even close.
RIGHT!!! Let's bring out the big guns. As we already know, Roger Bannister's mark has been beaten. This has been done most convincingly by Moroccan Hicham El Gerrouj, who ran an astonishing 3.43 for a mile in 1999; a mark that still hasn't been beaten 14 years later. Ok, so surely if someone ran 26.2 of those in a row it would be sub 1.30....surely???? NOPE!! 1:37:23
So basically, to run a sub 1.30 marathon it would take someone running 26.2 miles faster than anyone has yet been known to run a mile ever, in a row. In fact it would be 3.26 per mile. Will this be done in my lifetime? I very much doubt it. Will this be done ever?....well, the way things are going life doesn't seem to be geared towards human beings trying to realise their potential in a natural sense; it's all about technology that makes everything easier, and does the hard work so we don't have to. Convenience is the key, and good, solid physical graft is something that is not especially encouraged. However, you just never know. Hundreds of years from now maybe, just maybe, things will change and human beings will get stronger and faster and someone will bring home the bacon. Maybe a descendant of Martin Bacon, who won this year's Thames Path 100. Well, just as likely as anyone else.
Anyway, you'll be pleased to know I'm not THAT strange; I've not worked out what would be the marathon time if Usain Bolt could keep up his world record 100 metre pace for a whole marathon. Come on, I'm not that insane.........
Ok, Ok. Well 9.58 seconds is an average of 22.35 miles per hour, which would work out to 2.34 per mile, which would be a marathon time of 1:07:15. Let's ave it!!!!! ; )
P.S.: - Do I think a sub 2 hour marathon will happen in my lifetime? I wouldn't bet against it.