Today is the London Marathon. Aside from the amazing efforts of people to raise money for charity, and the tremendous physical effort to complete the course, we are unlikely to see a world record today. Why? With all the improvements in diet, technology and sports science, why aren’t we running sub-2 hour marathons?
This is a question the BBC tried to answer recently, and they did quite a good job, looking at the kinds of issues and conditions marathon runners face.
The marathon record progression is starting to look like a classic long-tail chart. Here it is:
One thing they could have done was compare it to the men’s 100m, which was also looking like it had stalled, until Usain Bolt came along:
So could someone do to the marathon what Usain Bolt did to the 100m record?
Given that the marathon IS so long, you would think there was more room for cutting swathes of time off the record, and that the 100m would be the small, incremental progression – and yet it hasn’t happened like that.
Perhaps this is because the optimal physical build of the marathon runner has been worked out for a long time now, whereas Bolt flew in the face of 100m conventional wisdom with his physique. You aren’t going to get a complete turnaround in marathon runners, as the distance is too long.
So have we reached the end of marathon records? Will 2 hours ever be beaten? I think it will, but not in 20 years as the BBC article suggested, but either very soon or not for 50 years. Records rarely stick to the charts.