Putting Yesterday’s Amazing Marathon World Record in Perspective

Eliud Kipchoge is a 33-year old Kenyan long distance runner, and the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the marathon.

Yesterday, Kipchoge set the world record for the marathon at the Berlin Marathon in a time of 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds (2:01:39). The previous record was 2:02:57; Kipchoge’s time represents the biggest drop in the world record time in over 50 years.

It’s a phenomenal record, but I think many people don’t really appreciate how fast the time is.

To set the record, Kipchoge averaged 4:38 per mile, or a little less than 70 seconds around a typical outdoor track.

Now I’m not a competitive runner, but I have run a few 10Ks and a marathon, and did a decent amount of training for those races. In the midst of my training for the marathon, I decided to see how fast I could run a mile. My time was 5:30, and I had to call it a day after such an effort.

A couple weeks later I wanted to see how fast I could run just one lap. After a little bit of warming up, I took off at full speed for just one lap. My time? 72 seconds. And it took me several minutes to recover from the effort.

Kipchoge covered the equivalent of about 105 laps around a track, at a slightly faster pace than I could manage to run one lap at full speed.

I’ve often watched these marathon runners on TV and thought:

  1. they don’t look like they are going that fast, and
  2. I could hang with them for a little bit of the race

Well as it turns out I wouldn’t even be able to stay with Kipchoge for a quarter mile, even if I was running at my top speed.

Humbling indeed, and it makes the record even more impressive when I think of it in these terms.

So congratulations to Eliud on the world record. I also wish you the best in your quest to be the first person to break the two-hour barrier.

And if you need someone to help set the pace in your next marathon, don’t bother looking in my direction…

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