Ron Marinucci May Column

Ron Marinucci May Column

Provided by Ron Marinucci

I am certainly no speed demon on my bicycle; I’m far more of a recreational cyclist content to burn a few extra calories while taking in the scenery. If I pedal a mile in five minutes or less, (12 miles per hour), it’s probably because I am going downhill (and a steep hill at that) and have the wind at my back.

Yet in recent months word is out that there are several serious attempts afoot to run a sub-two-hour marathon. In light of my bicycle times, I find this very intriguing and downright daunting. Breaking down such a marathon attempt, running a 1:59:59 marathon requires averaging, yes averaging, 4:35 a mile for the entire 26.2 miles. Like I noted, I rarely reach that speed on my bike for even short spurts, let alone for the marathon distance.

Just consider what this means. How many 14:15-minute 5K runners do you know? Well, imagine them running eight of those races, back-to-back-to back……at that 14:15 pace. A time of 4:35 would win many, if not most, high school miles/1600 meters. The world half-marathon record is 58:23, set by Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea in 2010. Double not only the time, but the distance. Yes, the prospect of a sub-two-hour marathon is daunting, both physiologically and psychologically.

Consider, too, our own Crim 10 Mile Race. The record on the Crim course is held by the Kenyan Joseph Kamau. He ran it in 45:43. Continuing at that pace for another 16.2 miles would break the two-hour barrier, but just barely. Over the history of the race, only one other Crim 10 Mile time would come close.

My own Crim experiences lead me to skepticism. Running the ten mile with my blind buddy Michael Holmes, we started with the wheelchair racers, half an hour before the rest of the pack. Between miles six and seven the lead runners passed us, silently, like whispers. Even Michael, with his heightened sense of sound, didn’t realize they were there already. How can anyone, at such a distance, run that fast for that long?

The current world marathon record of 2:02:57 was established by Dennis Kimetto, another runner from Kenya, in 2014. Several others have run in the low 2:03s.

For runners, breaking two hours in the marathon is likely akin to the efforts of more than sixty years ago to break the four-minute barrier for the mile. That was first accomplished by Roger Bannister in 1954. Challenging such barriers, in running at least, are symbolic of extending the limits of what is humanly possible—again both physically and physiologically. In a way, I guess, it is like the challenge of NASA putting a man on the moon, once considered humanly impossible. “C’mon! We can’t put a man on the moon!”

In 1991, Michael Joyner, an anaesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, calculated that the fastest a human could possibly run a marathon was 1:57:58. That included both physiological and psychological limitations. Another scientist predicted breaking the two-hour barrier wouldn’t come until 2075. I don’t know of more recent or other serious estimates.

Right now there are several organized efforts to train runners to break the two-hour barrier. Nike and Adidas are among them, although much of their plans are not really publicly known.

Certainly many factors must be considered in attempting such an audacious endeavor. Of course, the right runners must be chosen. The pool of runners capable of such a time is very miniscule. And there are other factors, too.

The weather must be perfect, temperature and humidity, as must the place/course. And there are certain qualifications for the course that must be met in order to qualify for a world record/best. Indeed, are those involved even concerned with meeting standards of the ruling bodies for world records/best? Are they merely interested in the time? What about pacing?

No doubt the science of running and exercise will assist more in this than it did in the mile efforts of Bannister, John Landy, Wes Santee, and others. Benefits will be reaped in areas such as nutrition, fluid intake during the race, shoe technology, and general training principles.

Can it be done, that is, running a marathon in less than two hours? I have my doubts; the numbers are so very daunting. But I’ll bet a lot of skeptics were around on Bannister’s big day at the track in Oxford, England. And what about Neil Armstrong’s walk on July 20, 1969?