The Two Hour Marathon

A week or so ago I listened to a podcast from Runners Connect titled “Will a Sub-Two-Hour Marathon Ever Happen? An Interview With Dr. Philip Mafetone About His New Book ‘1:59′” and came away with some interesting thoughts. Mafetone talks a lot about various techniques for running faster from lighter shoes to strides and so forth. While I wouldn’t really argue with him in these matters, I’m not sure these are relevant to elite marathon runners. Why would I say that? Because they already know everything he is saying. There is almost certainly nothing that is currently known to physicians and scientists about shoes, stride technique, clothing, or anything else that is not also known to elite marathon runners and their coaches. So what do I think will make the difference? Intent. The intent of the runner from the starting line to the end to break the two hour mark in the race. Consider the following:

4:34.5 (four minutes, thirty-four and one half seconds) is the pace per mile needed to run 1:59:59 overall in the marathon.

4:41.5 is the pace run during Dennis Kimetto’s World Record setting run in the 2014 Berlin Marathon.

Also consider that the Berlin Marathon was run in a group to the halfway point when the runners began to separate from each other. I believe that there is not a physical reason that runners have not yet broken two hours in the marathon. Based on Kimetto’s pace in Berlin, he’d have to take 7 seconds off his pace per mile over the course of the entire marathon which I do not think is unreasonable for a runner of the elite level. Factoring into my belief is that his second half was faster than his first half. He also ran 5k at the 30-35k mark in a pace faster than 4:34. Again, I do not believe it would be impossible for him to take 7 seconds off his pace per mile.

No changes in training or shoes or clothing, at this point, is likely to cause the sub-two hour marathon. These techniques have been well established by folks far more intelligent than I. It will simply come down to a runner toeing the start line with the sole intent of running below two hours.

In many ways, I think this can apply to every marathon runner if he or she puts in the proper training. The difference between 4:02 and 3:59 is largely mental. The runner simply has to set a race plan and keep to it. I often found this to be the case with golf as well. The difference, often times, between 75 and 70 was in the mind. I either got overly conservative or overly aggressive and it hurt my round. The race is just the same. Tell yourself that you are going to run 9 minute miles through the entire race and keep to that.

I did not stick to my plan a couple weeks ago when I ran the Joe Kleinerman 10k in Central Park. I wanted to run the first 4 miles in a 10 minute pace and then pick up the pace for the last two miles to run a sub-60 minute 10k. However, I ran the first half mile at a 9:30 pace, decided that felt good, and kept that pace. This hurt in the last two miles because I simply had nothing else to give and ended up roughly maintaining that pace for the final two miles. As strange as it sounds, I think I could have run a bit faster than I did had I maintained a slower pace for the beginning stretch. Strategy and intent at the key to running any specific pace in a race, in my opinion.


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