Speculation about the two-hour marathon is in the news again. In the week leading up to the London and Boston Marathons, a very good documentary was aired on BBC Radio 4, made by my pal Chris Dennis. It is still available online on the BBC iplayer (*see below).
The 25min show was well constructed; interesting, coherent, informative, and amusing, the latter at the point where Chris – no mean club runner himself – jumps on a treadmill, attempts to run at 4min 35sec pace (sub-2hr speed), and lasts approximately ten seconds!
He interviewed a stellar cast, led by Haile G, Paula R, Sammy W, and former 10,000 metres world record holder Dave Bedford, race director of London. Bedford is the most ebullient in predicting a sub-two, in around 20 years. But apart from one or two dissenters – Wanjiru being the most prominent – the consensus seems to land at around 25 years’ time.
I think that is very optimistic.
While Bedford is as entertaining on a microphone as he was on a cross country course, when he claims that Radcliffe’s women’s world record of 2.15.25 is worth a men’s ‘1.57’, I’m inclined to wonder which particular proprietary brand was distracting him at the time.
And while he was world class at 5000 and 10,000 metres as well as on the country, his best marathon remains the first London (1981), to which he went directly from the night club he owned, and was memorably spotted on TV cameras at halfway, Tower Bridge, regurgitating (on his own admission) the curry he’d had in the early hours.
Haile G was interesting. He too thinks around 25 years, as he has said on numerous occasions. But he then talks about his world record of 2.03.59, saying, “It was not an easy race. The last part was very hard. I was at my maximum; that was the limit for Haile Gebrselassie, but not for others”.
What others, one is inclined to ask? This is the best long distance runner in history, saying he’s not up to it. And there is still four minutes to go.
Speaking of which, the radio programme inevitably (and erroneously, in my view) made comparisons with the four-minute Mile. But that was always going to happen. And it would have happened eight or nine years before Bannister, if Gunder Haegg and Arne Andersson – having brought the record down from 4.06.4 to 4.01.4 – had not been banned, for professionalism.
Professionalism? Sounds ridiculous now, doesn’t it? But it was ridiculous then.
But, back to the sub-two marathon. I’m glad the guys from Sports Scientists took up the cudgels, because they are always worth reading, and their view was – if I may reduce it to the elementary – not yet awhile. Indeed, Dr Ross Tucker thinks that 2.03 could take ten years or, as he puts it, “two generations of runner”. (**see link below)
Paula Radcliffe’s most interesting observation was that the amount of money on offer would make no difference. Of her world record, she says, “Money was no factor whatsoever”.
I can’t say I totally agree with Wanjiru, who seems to think it will never happen; but I rather liked his mantra – “Two oh two, possible – two hours, impossible!” All I will say is that it is going to take a lot longer than the 25 years or so that the majority of Chris Dennis’ interviewees speculated.
The most telling factor, and the clincher for me in thinking that even a quarter of a century is optimistic, is the time per mile/kilometre necessary to go sub-two. Geb’s current world record comes out at 4min 44sec per mile, or 2min 56sec per kilometre. A sub-two requires the aforementioned 4.35 per mile, or just over 2.50 per kilometre. That’s nine seconds per mile, or just under six seconds per kilometre. For 26M/42K!
Thanks again to Sports Scientists for the ‘splits’ from London on Sunday, which reveal that, at no point during his victory (2.04.40), even in the second half negative split, was Emmanuel Mutai running a single 5k section in 2.50.6/k (his best 5k was an average 2.52 – once!).
Yes, of course a sub-two is going to happen, eventually. But not, as Bedford says, in his lifetime, unless he lives for double the 20 more years he suggested.
* The sub-Two Hour Marathon – Sport’s Holy Grail: