23 Oct

Two Hour Marathon Now In Sight?

Wilson Kipsang

This month's Berlin Marathon took us one step closer to running's last great holy grail. Kenyan Wilson Kipsang's new world record of 2:03:23 leaves us a mere 203 seconds from the first ever sub 2 hour marathon.

That's just under eight seconds per mile. Of course, talk is cheap. And, whilst I remain convinced that the barrier will one day be broken, there are plenty of sceptics who regard the mark as beyond man.

Glenn Latimer, chief executive of World Marathon Majors, who oversee the most prestigious city races has been quoted: "Not in my lifetime, perhaps never. The four-minute mile was a phoney barrier, nowhere close to a man's limits. The two-hour marathon is."

True, it is unlikely to be broken anytime soon. We are highly unlikely to see rapid changes such as from 1950-1960 when a full ten minutes was lopped off the record. Kipsang's recent world record snipped 15 seconds off the previous best set by his fellow countryman Patrick Makau on the same Berlin course two years prior. Progress is gradual but significant. The world record 10 years ago was set by Paul Tergat in 2:04:55, so that's 90 seconds progress in ten years.

Should similar progress be made over the next 20-30 years, the sub 2 hour mark will be within sight. It would take a quantum leap for the current generation of elite athletes to make the breakthrough, but who's to say a super athlete of the future could not?

Usain Bolt has redefined the parameters of what is humanely possible in the sprints. Perhaps marathon running will have its own Bolt-esque advancement?

Humans are evolving, sports science is ever improving. Even in the modern day, I would argue that the perfect combination of talent and training have not yet been matched to produce the perfect marathon running concoction.

Is Mo Farah's current standing as the world's foremost distance runner down to him possessing the greatest raw talent? Most would agree he is considerably talented and had an extraordinary work ethic. But is it not more likely that he is the world's best prepared endurance runner that gives him the extra edge. Thanks to UK Athletics and the Nike Oregon Project, he has access to world class coaching and sports science support which is the envy of his East African rivals.

Kenya and Ethiopia's greatest athletes emerge from a straightforward and unsophisticated pyramid model. Their domestic scene is brutal and uncompromising and the best rise to the top on pure talent. They join the European circuit as thousands fall by the wayside. It is a numbers game. It is survival of the fittest, pure and simple. Imagine though, if more structured talent development programmes, the best coaching and cutting edge sports science were more readily accessible for the countries that produce the greatest volume of talented runners.

Imagine too if the main goal of such programmes was to create a sub 2 hour marathon runner right from a young athlete's formative years? Then we would be making serious strides towards the holy grail. The athlete that achieves the mark will find themselves elevated to Bannister-type status. It would be fabulous to think a British athlete can be the trailblazer, however unlikely.

While he has distanced himself from claims that he would one day break the barrier, Mo Farah has acknowledged that the mark is 'do-able'. When though, is anyone's guess. The 2043 London Marathon perhaps? Mo Farah junior?