Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Could a marathon ever be run in under two hours?

(Courtesy of Chantal and the BBC)


As thousands prepare for the London Marathon, the world's best face perhaps the most awe-inspiring barrier in sporting endeavour - the sub two-hour marathon. But can anyone break it, asks Chris Dennis.

A marathon of 26.2 miles (42.2km) in 120 minutes - the very thought takes my breath away.

Expert opinion on whether it is possible is intriguingly divided.

For some it is the next great sporting barrier to be broken, for others it will always remain beyond the limit of endurance. Could it happen at the 2012 Olympics?

The current world record holder, Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, who ran the 2008 Berlin Marathon in 2:03:59, has no doubt it could be done, but not in the next few years, ruling out the next Games.

The 38-year-old tells me: "No question. The first sub two-hour marathon will need 20 to 25 years, but it will definitely happen."

Britain's top woman runner and world women's record holder Paula Radcliffe agrees.

"Records are there to be broken and people are going to be shooting for it, but someone is going to have to run really hard to beat this one. That's the kind of mindset it will take."

Even the thought that it could be broken within a generation causes excitement.

"I'm 60. If I've got my figures right, I'll live at least 20 years, so I believe in the next 20 years we will see the first sub two-hour marathon," London Marathon race director Dave Bedford says.

But the reigning Olympic men's champion, 24-year-old Kenyan Sammy Wanjiru, who ran the distance in 2:06:32 in Beijing, believes it is beyond his own abilities.

"For me it's impossible to run two hours, but two hours two minutes, it's possible. Maybe the new generation... you could get strong people. But in this generation, you cannot talk about two hours."

Another sceptic is Glenn Latimer, one of the leading authorities on marathon running in the US. He doesn't believe it can happen in his lifetime. "Maybe that's because I'm old, but I don't see it happening in a long, long time.

"You watch these great athletes up close, an athlete as great as Haile Gebrselassie... and you could see the strain, he looks magnificent through 20, 21, 22 miles and then it starts, and then the body starts to break itself down and maintaining pace is hard enough," he said.

They both believe the record will come down to two hours and two minutes, at which point it will plateau.

Then again, 60 years ago people were saying the same thing about the four-minute mile, before Roger Bannister came along.

The science of endurance running is highly complex, but physiologically, there are three main factors which determine how quickly someone can run:

- their maximal rate of oxygen consumption, known as VO2 max
- their running efficiency - how quickly they can cover the ground
- their endurance capability - what percentage of their VO2 max they can sustain

Opinion among sports scientists varies on exactly where the limit of human endeavour lies. For some, Haile Gebrselassie's current record is already pretty close, for others, there is still a way to go.

Looking at the progression of the marathon world record is fascinating.

Reducing it from 2:16 to 2:12 took seven years, 2:12 to 2:08 took 19 years, and cutting it from 2:08 to the current mark of 2:03:59 took 24 years.

By analysing actual performances and extrapolating, Francois Peronnet, a professor at the University of Montreal, calculates that the first sub two-hour marathon will be run in the year 2028.

Whenever it happens, it would mean running each mile at a four minute 35 second pace. By comparison, a decent club runner might run at a seven-minute mile pace, and a casual runner at nine or 10 minutes.

I have experienced first-hand what it would feel like to run at sub two-hour marathon pace. For just a fraction of the marathon distance.

Hooked up to a state of the art treadmill at the English Institute for Sport at Loughborough University, Leicestershire, under the guidance of two of the country's top physiologists, I ran at a 4:35 pace for 10 seconds.

It was tough - and the thought of doing it over 26.2 miles for up to 120 minutes was simply mind-boggling.

'Perfect mix'

Where most experts agree is that the first sub two-hour marathon will need several factors to come together on one day in the perfect mix.

"If on the day of competition you miss one thing, you miss everything," Gebrselassie says.

First, it will need an elite athlete in tip-top condition, probably one from east Africa.

Second, it will need to be on a fast, flat course such as Berlin, London or Rotterdam. Berlin is known as one of the quickest and has produced four world records in the last 10 years.

Third, perfect weather conditions. No wind and temperatures of around 10-15C.

Fourth, decent pace-makers to lead the race and take the elite round at the right speed.

Finally, money.

As the marathon gets closer to the magic mark, race directors will dangle huge financial carrots to incentivise runners to break it. The first person to dip under two hours will run into the record books a very rich person.

Radcliffe knows what it feels like to experience a perfect mix. Back in London in 2003 she blew the women's world record (which she had set the year previously) out of the water by setting a new mark of 2:15:25.

"The fact that you feel like everything was flowing. It wasn't forced. Nothing hurt. You're not even thinking - you're just running. It's just second nature, you've trained so hard for it and race day feels easier than the training that you've done," she explains, describing the feeling of being "in the zone".

By common consent in running circles, the first two-hour marathon will be run by someone from Ethiopia, Eritrea or Kenya. But why?

I spent a few days in Ethiopia with some of the country's top runners and coaches.

Ethiopia may be one of the poorest countries in the world, but it has a formidable track record.

The likes of Abebe Bikila, Mamo Wolde, Miruts Yifter, Kenenisa Bekele, and the man they call the Little Emperor, Haile Gebrselassie, have all rolled off the country's running conveyor belt over the years.

Most of them started running soon after they could walk. Those born in the countryside, such as Gebrselassie, would run 10km (6.2 miles) or more to school and back every day. There was no other way of getting there.

Add to that the altitude (capital Addis Ababa is 2500m (8202ft) above sea level), a simple diet of mainly organic food, good weather and an extraordinary work ethic, and you see why the country's runners are so successful.

Training with Ethiopia's elite youth runners proved they had the determination and dedication needed For Ethiopia's elite athletes life is almost monastic - run, eat, sleep. Then run, eat, sleep. There is very little time for anything else.

I was lucky enough to join one group for a training session at sunrise on the outskirts of Addis. Just one 5km (3.1 mile) loop at moderate pace left me gulping for air, but for the elite runners, that was merely a warm-up.

I also met youngsters from Ethiopia's next generation of marathon runners - could one of them be the next Haile Gebrselassie and possibly the world's first sub two-hour marathon runner?

Their dedication and self-discipline are both humbling and awe-inspiring. Many of them feel it is their national duty to maintain Ethiopia's position as the top distance-running country in the world.

If in 20 years the marathon record is reset at 1:59:59, do not be surprised if it is done by an Ethiopian.

Simon Says: -
Of course 2 hours will be broken but it will take a freak of nature along the lines of a Lance Armstrong in cycling, or a male Paula Radcliffe or Chrissie Wellington.

I doubt it will be me! Haha

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Where I am, warts and all - Kick me up the A$$

OK, let's get this straight, after reading this I want, no messages of support, disbelief or generally well meaning comments. Only kicks up the A$$ will be accepted.

Large doses of reality, firm kicks up the backside and anything along the lines of reminding me that I'd promised myself that I'd turn up at Ironman China with no regrets, down to race weight (not just near to it) and fully fit knowing that nothing would stop me qualifying for the Ironman World Championships, are all gratefully welcomed.

Yes, I came out of a huge slump from the end of last year, I've got my MOJO back but to be frank, it's not fully back and I've got motivational problems.

Yes I qualified for the Xterra Worlds, yes I've qualified for the 70.3 Half Ironman Worlds but I've qualified for those before and to be honest it's easy to qualify for these compared to Ironman.

No disrespect meant to anyone else but I've raced Xterra twice and qualified twice and I've raced 70.3 twice and qualified twice. I've raced Ironman 17 times, came close only once and have never qualified. I cannot adequately express the magnitude of difficulty it is in qualifying for Ironman (for me at least).

However, I have been close enough to know what it takes. I know the depth of misery that I must go to in training, week in, week out, for months on end. The level of fitness and endurance necessary to compete rather than complete, is unprecedented.

I know that the swim cannot be written off as unimportant, especially when missing qualification by a handful of minutes in 2010. I know that the race always comes down to the run and usually the second half of the run.

I know that if I have a chance then I will have to be at the absolute top of my game, nothing left behind, weight, fitness and mind will all have to be the best they have ever been to succeed. Anything less and I will not qualify, I have bluffed good results in many races but you don't bluff your way onto an Ironman podium.

So what's the problem? Mmm! Where to begin? First of all, just to let you know, this post isn't to inform, entertain or educate but it is a last desperate attempt to get myself ready for Ironman China. Only I can put things right and time is almost up.

Is anything on track? Oh yeah baby, the bike - duh! Not a difficult one, I love the training and I love the pain on the bike, I don't feel it's a damaging pain like the run or an unpleasant uncoordinated feeling like the swim, it's kind of pleasant, fulfilling and soothing in a way.

On the bike I understand what I have to do, how hard to push, how to pace and what to expect. I'm not at optimum Ironman biking endurance yet but another half a dozen 180+k rides will have that bagged.

So what are the problem areas?

Swim, Run, Weight, Mind.

The truth is that the MIND is the big problem, I'm still suffering from last year's burnout and although things were back on track I've hit some bumps in the road, I shan't list them, I knew they'd turn up and I promised myself I'd work them out. Fortunately I'm not sick so that's a bump dodged so far.

But there is precious little time left. I feel that this post will be do or die. Today will be a shed water, it will be the day I realised I blew it for China or the day I gave myself a fighting chance. Naturally I'm betting on the latter, hey, that's why I'm writing it.

So to document the stuff that can be affected assuming I can fix my mind. Weight, I'm over 73kg again and NEED to be 67kg. Please don't argue, I need to be 67kg to be competitive, not only for the extra speed that better "power/weight" ratios bring but more importantly to help to keep my core temperature down.

I sweat at a rate of 3 ltr/hr at full bore and as far as I understand the body can only ingest 1.5 ltr/hr of fluid. You don't need to be a mathematician to work that out over 10 hours. Lower body fat will put less stress on my system and more specifically lessen the insulation.

This is probably by far the biggest issue I have. Losing 6kg more while in this last phase of training is going to be a difficult ask especially while avoiding injury and sickness.

My second biggest issue is my run. I just haven't done enough, I can knock out a fast 10k or a reasonable 21k but to run a consistent Ironman marathon comes only with hundreds of kilometres of training and lots of long runs. I have an Achilles injury on my left foot and a long standing ankle tendon injury on my right foot. Running scares me at the moment because of my lack of training and consequently I find excuses not to do it. THIS MUST CHANGE.

Last year at IMMY, for the first time ever in an Ironman I was actually LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING ONTO THE RUN. I knew I was ready and I knew my run was going to be awesome. Dehydration slowed me down in the end but I still ran under 4 hours which was a huge breakthrough for me. I need to get that confidence back. Time is not on my side.

Lastly is the swim. In fact this is the one thing that I have done the least of in recent weeks. I started off the year doing almost 80k in just four weeks but since then I've lost the motivation. I just can't get in the pool in the mornings. THIS MUST CHANGE.

I've always said to people who fall off the wagon, (whatever wagon it might be, booze, fitness, smoking etc), never mind, don't mope, don't beat yourself up too much (a little self beating-up is good) but most importantly "Don't get back on the wagon at the beginning off the month or even on Monday morning. GET BACK ON THE WAGON NOW! Consequently, less damage is done, there is more likelihood for you to get back too it and you're far more likely to stick to it long term"

So don't feel sorry for me but equally don't think I'm worrying about nothing (PFG's [Previous Fat Guys] like me were fat for a reason, lack of discipline, self esteem/lack of belief, focus, consistency or they just loved being lazy). Do feel free to kick me up the A$$, in fact please kick me up the A$$, I need it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


(Courtesy of Ian)

Man who wants pretty nurse, must be patient.

Passionate kiss, like spider web, leads to undoing of fly.

Better to be pissed off than pissed on. Lady who goes camping must beware of evil intent.

Squirrel who runs up woman’s' leg will not find nuts.

Man who leaps off cliff jumps to conclusion.

Man who runs in front of car gets tired, man who runs behind car gets exhausted.

Man who eats many prunes get good run for money.

War does not determine who is right, it determines who is left.

Man who fight with wife all day get no piece at night.

It takes many nails to build a crib, but only one screw to fill it.

Man who drives like hell is bound to get there.

Man who stands on toilet is high on pot.

Man who live in glass house should change clothes in basement.

Man who fish in other man's well often catch crabs.

Finally CONFUCIUS SAY. . .

"A lion will not cheat on his wife, but a Tiger Wood!"