Athletics: Experts divided over chances of sub-two hour marathon

Wed May 3, 2017 6:54am EDT
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By Andrew Both

(Reuters) - Nike's "Breaking-2" attempt in Italy this weekend might not produce a sub-two hour marathon, but it will probably lead to a world best time, three exercise physiology experts have told Reuters.

Assuming conditions are conducive to fast running - cool and not too windy - all three predict a time inside Dennis Kimetto's 2014 world record of two hours, two minutes, 57 seconds when Kenyan Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa and Eritrea's Zersenay Tadese take to the Monza motor racing track, aided by a group of "in and out" pacemakers.

But shaving three minutes off the world record, albeit in a run that would not stand due to the in-out pacemakers, is a tall order, no matter what the conditions. It would mean bringing down Kimetto’s average pace of four minutes, 41 seconds per mile, to 4:34, or the equivalent of nearly two seconds for every 400 meters.

An improvement of seven seconds per mile might not sound much to an average weekend jogger, but it is an extraordinary challenge for elite runners already at the limit.

"This is physiologically possible, the athletes attempting it, the pacing scheme, the shoes and the course should all make a difference," Michael Joyner, an expert in human performance at the Mayo Clinic, told Reuters.

"However, a 2.5 percent jump in a distance running record is very big by historical standards and the weather is the wild card."

Joyner thinks there is a roughly 50 percent chance one of the runners will better 2:01:30.

"That time would represent a great accomplishment and really reset the whole conversation," said Joyner, who wrote a paper back in 1991 predicting that a sub two-hour marathon was feasible. The world record at the time was 2:06:50.   Continued...

FILE PHOTO: Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (L) of Eritrea leads the men's pack next to Hosea Rotich of Kenya and Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia as they cross the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge during the 2016 New York City Marathon in New York City, U.S. November 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo