Some say it will never happen, but at SPIKES we like to think that a sub two-hour marathon is merely a matter of time. And with that, here are 13 reasons why @Statman_Jon reckons it might, just might, happen sooner than you think.
1. Steady progression
The world record has improved by almost five minutes in the past twenty years. It has little more than three minutes to go to dip under two hours.
2. Depth of quality
Just ten years ago, only two men had run faster than 2:05. There have now been 37 performances (33 of them on a legal course) faster than 2:05.
With so many athletes entering the world all-time top 30 each year, it shows the world record is vulnerable.
4. Fresh blood
When Haile Gebrselassie ran his first marathon in 2:06:35, it was the fastest debut in history. It’s now not even among the 20 fastest debuts because there are unheralded teenagers – with nowhere near the pedigree of Gebrselassie – running 2:04 on their debut.
5. Substitute for experience
Whether or not these new marathon talents are as young as they say they are is irrelevant. The fact that they are running so fast with such little international competitive experience is hugely promising.
6. Great strides
Wilson Kipsang improved on his marathon debut time by four minutes to set a world record 2:03:23. Previous record-holders – like Patrick Makau, Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat – all improved on their debut times by two or three minutes. If a 2:04 newcomer can make the same kind of improvement, we’re almost there.
7. Young guns
Many of the current top marathon runners are accomplished track runners making the transition to roads in the twilight of their career. If someone of the calibre of Gebrselassie, Bekele or Farah moved to the marathon at their absolute peak, who knows what might happen?
8. The Bolt factor
Before Usain Bolt made his breakthrough, few people thought it was possible for a man to run the 100m faster than 9.7, let alone 9.6. Bolt is a super-human freak of nature who has redefined sprinting, so why can’t a similar kind of one-off talent come along and revolutionise the marathon?
9. Paula’s approach
When Paula Radcliffe made her marathon debut in 2002, experienced commentators thought she’d made a huge mistake by going off too fast. She hadn’t, of course, and got quicker as the race went on. She ran 2:18:56 that day, and then one year later ran 2:15:25. What if the likes of Mo Farah or Kenenisa Bekele adopt the same gung-ho tactics?
10. Art of the possible
A sub-two-hour marathon seems almost impossible when you consider that only 86 men have ever run under 60 minutes for the half marathon. But Paula Radcliffe’s world record is equivalent to running each half in 67:42, a time that only six women had achieved at the time.
Technology and training methods are steadily improving all the time. People only really began to explore altitude training about 40 years ago. Hover-boards and jet-packs aside, just imagine what the men in white coats can do for our sport in the next 40.
12. Mind games
Anyone who has watched a Hollywood sports movie can tell you that when it comes to breaking new ground, mentality matters just as much as physicality. And this generation of marathon runners are fearless. Just look at the way both Wilson Kipsang and Tsegaye Mekonnen, immediately after setting awesome records, suggested almost dismissively that they are able to go even faster.
13. History lessons
Back in the 1950s, people thought it was impossible to run a sub-four-minute mile. Surely, one day, athletics fans will be saying to one another: “remember when people thought it was impossible to break two hours for the marathon?” That day could happen sooner than some think.
Main image caption: what the clock would look like if the marathon world record dipped below two hours.