Two-hour mark tipped to fall, but not yet

Shanghai Daily - - SPORTS FEATURE - An­drew Both

Eliud Kip­choge moved tan­ta­liz­ingly close to the magic two-hour mark for the men’s marathon last year, but a for­mer world record holder and a sports sci­ence ex­pert both think it could take an­other decade or so for the bar­rier to fall.

Kip­choge’s record time of 2:01:39 set in Berlin last Septem­ber has ig­nited talk in the ath­let­ics world of whether the Kenyan, or per­haps some­one else, can dip un­der two hours sooner rather than later.

Derek Clay­ton is a mem­ber of the “later” camp.

“For the past 40 years I have been watch­ing with great in­ter­est the im­prove­ment as the time edges closer to the two-hour bar­rier,” Clay­ton said in an email.

The 76-year-old Aus­tralian knows his sub­ject.

Clay­ton set a world record in clock­ing 2:09:37 in Fukuoka, Ja­pan, in 1967, a time that a half cen­tury later would still have placed him sev­enth in Berlin last year.

He went even faster with 2:08:34 in An­twerp in 1969.

“In an ef­fort to see if it was pos­si­ble for it to be done in my life­time I have been plot­ting each world time since my 2:08,” Clay­ton said of the two-hour mark.

“It has been an amaz­ing con­stant down­ward trend, in­di­cat­ing a two-hour marathon around the year 2030, with 2025 the ab­so­lute ear­li­est.

“I have been fore­cast­ing (as a bit of fun as against any real sci­ence) the year 2030 for the past 20 years, and so far it seems I am still on course. Hope­fully I will still be around to see it!”

Clay­ton ran his times for the clas­sic 42.2-km race de­spite be­ing self-coached and work­ing a full-time job on top of a pun­ish­ing train­ing reg­i­men of roughly 250 kilo­me­ters a week.

It makes one won­der what he might have done had he run full-time, and en­joyed the ben­e­fits of modern shoes, a sci­en­tif­i­cally de­vised train­ing reg­i­men and a good sup­port sys­tem.

Kip­choge’s Berlin record came wear­ing Nike’s Va­por­fly shoes, which have a curved, car­bon-fi­bre plate em­bed­ded in a thick layer of light­weight foam.

In­de­pen­dent stud­ies have con­cluded that the shoes im­prove meta­bolic ef­fi­ciency by 4 per­cent, though that does not nec­es­sar­ily mean a run­ner will be 4 per­cent faster.

What­ever the specifics, it makes log­i­cal sense to con­clude that modern shoe tech­nol­ogy is of some as­sis­tance.

Michael Joyner, a doc­tor and re­searcher at the Mayo Clinic in Min­nesota, backs Clay­ton’s opin­ion that it will prob­a­bly take an­other decade or so for the twohour bar­rier to be breached.

He wrote a paper nearly 30 years ago pre­dict­ing that a sub two-hour time was fea­si­ble, and has ob­served noth­ing in the en­su­ing years to change his mind.

Much as he ad­mires Kip­choge, he thinks it is doubt­ful the reign­ing Olympic cham­pion will be the one to do so.

Kip­choge per­formed his Berlin barn­stormer de­spite run­ning solo for nearly half the race, and on a day that was warmer than the ideal dis­tance run­ning tem­per­a­ture.

It came some 16 months af­ter Kip­choge clocked 2:00:25 in an un­of­fi­cial Nike-or­ga­nized at­tempt on the Monza mo­tor race track.

Pace­mak­ers there dropped in and out and ran in a di­a­mond for­ma­tion to shield the Olympic cham­pion from the wind.

Pace­mak­ers, to be sure, are al­lowed in of­fi­cial races, but can­not drop in and out of the race.

But Kip­choge is now 34 and, while he is still im­prov­ing, it would be a big ask to ex­pect him at his age to take an­other 100 sec­onds off his per­sonal best, even if some­one was good enough to push him un­til the dy­ing stages.

“If he stays mo­ti­vated and avoids in­jury, no rea­son he can’t go an­other three or four years at a high level,” Joyner said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

“My guess is he prob­a­bly thinks he can get an­other 10 or 20 sec­onds.”

Joyner thinks there is a roughly 50 per­cent chance that some­body will break two hours by 2028.

A more likely can­di­date than Kip­choge is per­haps Ethiopian teenager Sele­mon Barega, who ran 12:43 in the 5,000m this year, a time bet­tered by only three oth­ers in his­tory.

Kip­choge ran 12:46 for the 5,000m in 2004 be­fore step­ping up to the marathon, where he has lost only once in 11 ca­reer starts.

Whether it is Kip­choge, Berega or some­one else, Joyner thinks a le­gal ver­sion of Kip­choge’s Monza’s run is the best bet to break two hours.

“If you got the right peo­ple, on the right course, on the right day with the right prize money scheme, it would re­ally help,” he said.

Joyner doubts that to­day’s run­ners have car­dio mea­sure­ments much if any higher than the greats of yes­ter­year.

“The en­gines of these elite ath­letes aren’t get­ting any big­ger,” he said. “All of these guys are turbo charged.”

So what will be the fi­nal piece of the puz­zle to push some­one across the sub two-hour line?

The shoes per­haps?

“I as­sume there will be a shoe arms race and that the ma­te­ri­als sci­ence folks will have a field day,” Joyner said.

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