New Marathon Record: An Analysis & Next Steps
On Sunday September 28, 2014 the Kenyan runner Dennis Kimetto ran the marathon in 2 hours 2 minutes and 57 seconds breaking the record of 2:03:23 set last year on the same course. Starting in 2007 with Haile Gebrselassie’s 2:04:26 the record has been broken five times, all at Berlin.
What is Physiologically “Possible”?
Back in 1991, I created a predictive model of marathon performance based on well-established physiological variables. I then asked what would happen to the marathon world record if the same athlete had optimal values for all of the key variables associated with distance running success. The predicted time I came up with for such a superman was just under 1:58:00. The model, plus some speculation, was revisited in 2011 with my colleagues Alejandro Lucia and Jonatan Ruiz and we projected that someone might break 2 hours by sometime between about 2025 and the late 2030s. So, what seemed inconceivable to many in 1991 seems to be getting closer by the year.
What Might Happen Soon?
Many elite distance runners have marathon personal bests that are about 4.6 or 4.7 times their 10k personal bests (a marathon is ~42.2k). If you use this rule of thumb then the current world record for the 10k (26:17:53) works out to a predicted marathon time somewhere between just under 2:01and about 2:03:25. Similar values emerge using various point tables and race conversion calculators. So, the current record is perhaps still a bit on the “slow” side, and I would not be surprised if the record fell by another minute or so in the next few years.
How to Make it Happen Sooner
If I were a race promoter, shoe company, or billionaire interested in wanting to get the marathon record as fast as possible as soon as possible, here are three things I would do:
- A lot of the top runners decide where they are going to run and who they are going to run against based on financial considerations. You can only run so many fast marathons per year so it is important for top runners to make each one a pay day. To get more of the top people in the same race, I would offer purses to be split by all runners under specified split times at say the half-way point, 30k, 35k, and 40k. This sort of pay out structure would encourage the top people to work together, draft, and it would not penalize risk taking if someone went out too fast and then faded. I would start with split times based on 2:02:30 and work down as records fell.
- Develop a 5 or 8k loop that was flat and had an ideal surface and then stage a yearly “elites only” race on that course. Pick a part of the world and time of the year where weather conditions are likely to be ideal with low humidity and temperature about 10C (50F).
- Run the race in the late afternoon as the sun is setting. There is some anecdotal evidence that this might be an ideal time vs. the early morning.
2:02 or Bust
When colleagues, fans and members of the media ask me what I think might happen, I tell them that something under 2:02 is possible now and that once the record gets below 2:02 the fun will begin.
This entry was posted on Monday, September 29th, 2014 at 4:51 am and is filed under Current Events, Elite Sports Performance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.