SUB-2:00:00? DO THE MATH

Kubrick’s Obelisk

Every year or so, the talk of the 2-Hour Marathon rises like some Kubrickian obelisk heralding the coming of a new age.  Most recently, NYRR featured a Head to Head between English commentator Tim Hutchings and ex-USA Today scribe Dick Patrick – and, boy, don’t we miss his presence at the national rag?  In Dick’s heyday in the 1980s through the 2000’s, each of the American marathon majors in Boston, Chicago and New York City would receive a full-page sport’s section preview with course map, athlete bios, and pace charts in the Friday edition before the race.  This past October 5th USA Today printed not one word about the marathon in Chicago.  It’s another striking confirmation how a once vibrant sport has been sundered by flatulent fun-run and charity fund-raising spectacles.

In any case, the 2-Hour Marathon.  Dick thought it would happen in his lifetime.  Tim thought not.  I like numbers.  Let them tell the tale.

Since Johnny Hayes ran 2:55:18 at the 1908 London Olympic Games to win the gold medal, the marathon distance has been officially recognized at 26 miles, 385 yards, or 42.195 kilometers.  In the 104 years since, Mr. Hayes’ mark has been “officially” improved upon 37 separate times.  Performances like Alberto Salazar’s 2:08:13 from NYC 1981 and Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 from Boston 2011 have come up either short on re-measurement, or deemed ineligible for record purposes due to point-to-point course layout.

So let’s stick with the officially recognized 37 world record improvement down to today’s 2:03:38 set in Berlin 2011 by Kenya’s Patrick Makau. Continue reading