How Fast is Fast?

How many miles per hour do they run? It’s crazy fast and they still haven’t broken the two hour mark.

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ryan hall, boston marathon training

How Fast is Fast for the Marathon World Record

Last weekend I was hanging out with my friend Andy Brown before the Feaster 5 race. We were of course talking about running. He casually mentioned that “those 2 hour plus a few minutes marathoners are running 13 miles per hour”.  I had never thought about it that way. He was right and it was really shocking to think about.

2:03 or even 2:10 is crazy fast. But when you put it in terms of miles per hour it sounds really crazy fast!

Eliud Kipchoge holds the world record of 2:01:39 finish at the 2018 Berlin marathon. 2:01:39 is mind blowing but thinking about his average pace of 4:38.4 is totally mind blowing. How many of us can run a single 8:00 mile? How few of us can run a 7:00 or 6:00 mile? Even one of them?

Anyone running under a 2:10 marathon is running sub 5:00 minute miles! Think about that for a minute. 26.1 miles divided by 130 minutes is approximately 4.98 minutes per miles.

Any runner will tell you that it’s nearly impossible to run exactly even splits. At Wold-Class level running there are also strategies that runners employ to outwit their competitors. These strategies include holding back sometimes and pushing at other times. 

This means that there are moments and perhaps entire miles that are run well below the average of 4:98 to achieve a 2:10 marathon finish.

2:10 sounds like the speed of light to most of us: utterly un-achievable. For anyone to approach that finish time requires immense talent, effort and dedication. Many world class runners pursue this pace just to remain contenders. 

Marathon World Records

In 1897 John McDermott won The Boston Marathon and set a World Record with a finish of 2:55:10. John didn’t run in the high tech gear that we do and there certainly wasn’t any Gatorade or electrolyte beverage along the way for him. 

Most of us will never break the three-hour barrier even with all of the modern gear and nutrition available to us. Besides hard work, it takes a lot of talent to run like that.

These days a 2:55 marathon time wouldn’t even get you into the Elite category. For the past 40+ years the Boston Marathon has been won in less than 2:20 and is trending towards 2:10. The current course record of 2:03.02 was set in 2011 by Geoffrey Mutai. That’s approximately 4.42 minutes miles.

Because of Boston’s unique course it is not counted as a world record setting course. There is too much elevation loss and it is a point to point race which I guess makes a big difference? I guess the world record folks never heard of Heart Break Hill.

Anyway, it’s my hometown race so it’s personal for me. I’ve run the race eight times and there isn’t much easy about it!

The current World Marathon Record is held by Eliud Kipchoge at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. His finish time was 2:01:39 for a pace of 4:38.4 minute miles.

To set a 2:00 world record a runner would need to run just over 13 miles per hour or a pace a 4 minutes and 34.6 seconds per mile. 

Eliud Kipchoge completed the Nike’s Breaking2 marathon in May 2017 with a finish time of 2:00:25. This finish time doesn’t count as a world record as it was run on a Formula One track and used other un-sanctioned, though legal, practices.  He needed 26 seconds or 1 second per mile to break the two-hour mark!

So a runner may cross the two-hour mark at a marathon under ideal conditions, but can it be done in “The wild” on a course such as Berlin, New York or even Boston?

There are so many variables in marathons run in “The wild” such as the course it self and weather. In 2018 The Boston Marathon had torrential rain, wind and was very cold. Yuki Kawauchi of Japan won that race with a time of 2:15:58. The race hadn’t been won with a time like that since 1973 when Jon Anderson of Oregon won with a time of 2:16:03.

Can the Two hour Mark be Broken?

Since 1988 the men’s world record has been whittled down from 2:06:50 by Belayneh Densamo in Rotterdam to 2:01:39 by Eliud Kipchoge in Berlin. Berlin is a fast, sanctioned course so the two-hour record may be broken there. 

Eliud would need to knock 3.8 seconds off of each mile to whittle his 2018 Berlin finish down to two hours. That would be a huge achievement. 

In 1954 the the 4 minute mile was broken by Roger Bannister at Oxford University. A 4 minute mile equates to running 15 mph! Only about 1,400 athletes have been able to meet or beat this pace since 1954. And in the 60+ years since then only 17 seconds have been whittled from Roger’s finish time. 

Elite marathon runners run under the 5:00 pace just to be in the top 10 finishers at most marathons. A 5:00 pace is 12 miles per hour. A 4:00 minute pace at a marathon would give a 1:45 finish! I don’t expect to see that in my lifetime or anyone else’s. I just don’t think the human body is capable of that pace for 26.1 miles. 

The pace to hit 2:00 even is 4:34.61. That is only 4 seconds per mile off of Eliud Kipchoge’s 2018 Berlin finish. But is the 2:00 marathon approaching the speed of light?

I’m not a physicist, but the idea is that as you approach the speed of light, the amount of energy to increase speed towards the speed of light increases exponentially. Just like it takes more gas to drive fast in your car.

Can a male marathon runner shave 4 seconds off of every mile for 26.1 miles? I’m pretty sure they will do it on a track under controlled conditions. 

On a World Classic course like Berlin or Tokyo I’m not sure that it can be done. Reaching the sub 2:05 finish is an amazing accomplishment for any human being. Four seconds may not sound like a lot of time, but as you approach the speed of light…

What do you think? It is possible for a male marathon runner to break the two-hour mark on the road?

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Run well my Friends!

Andy

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Author: OmniRunner

9X Boston Marathon finisher, 17X marathons total. Sharing my love for running and the fun adventures and lessons that come with it. Helping non-profits increase fundraising and new runners celebrate their First 5K.

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