Vohra's View: Only a marathon effort will break two hours

Bikram Vohra 07:52 07/01/2016
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Record holder: Dennis Kimetto.

Would the knife edge of excitement be lost in sport if the endeavour of mankind (and women) could do no better? Are we now approaching that point where this is it, we do not have it in us, the limit has been reached.

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There will come an Olympiad in our times where no record will be broken. Let’s take the 100 metre sprint for the title of fastest man in the world. Will it ever reach nine seconds flat leave alone go below that?

And how long will it be before the 9.5 seconds mark is broken and will there come a man so fleet of foot that he makes Usain Bolt look slow? Nine tenths of a second to go for that goal which gives you an idea of how agonisingly tough it is to shave even a fraction of a fraction.

Against the backdrop of such sobering thoughts the one high profile record that might be in danger of being broken is the two-hour mark in the marathon.

With Dennis Kimetto clocking 2:2.57 at Berlin in 2014 you would think that it’s not a big deal to knock off 180 seconds from a harvest of a little over 7,200 seconds. Put in perspective it is pretty staggering and tantalisingly out of reach.

Pheidippides ran the original marathon to Sparta and back to Athens, a distance of 25 miles after the Battle of Marathon. This length was stretched to the odd distance of 26 miles and 365 yards in 1908 when at the London Olympics the organisers thought it fitting for the race to end opposite the Royal Boxthat being the distance from Windsor Castle where it began. That race was won by Johnny Hayes of the USA in two hours, 55 minutes and 18 seconds.

It is remarkable indeed that in this ultimate test of endurance 53 minutes have been reduced even if it took a century to achieve it. It was in 1921 that the distance set in London was made official for all marathons.

Today, with over 5000 marathons a year, 500 of them listed and thirty seen as the blue ribbon runs there are hundreds of thousands of amateurs and professionals bookended by a three-year-old and a hundred-year-old contestant.

The marathon is the one race that changes terrain by venue. Hence the timing is predicated to the ‘climb’ factor and even the wind. Even though we are so close to the two-hour mark experts believe it will be some time before it is cracked. Look at the pattern of the timings over the years.

In 1960 Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia clocked 2:12:12. In 55 years not much more than nine minutes have been cut which mathematically suggests at least another decade before the last three minutes are conquered. And the progress has slowed considerably.

In this century for example the differential from the 2002 Khalid Khannouchi run of 2:05:38 through Haile Gebrselassie’s 2008 run of 2:03:59 in 2008 until we got to Kenyan Wilson Kipsang’s record in 2011 also at Berlin when he hit 2:03:23 has shown less than a three-minute carving and that also without consistency.

Most top level runs are in the four to five minutes after the two-hour category. That said, Dennis did lop off 26 seconds from his compatriot three years later but it was such an incredible feat in the marathon world that it is still spoken about in hushed tones.

From that vantage the two-hour barrier looks formidable and it will require a miracle to break through it. Wonder how the Battle of Marathon 2,500 years ago would have turned out if Pheidippides could have got back to Athens an hour earlier.

“To Acropolis! Run, Pheidippides, one race more! The meed is thy due! Athens is saved, thank Pan, go shout!”

Truth be told …there is always one race more.

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