Watching the races in London last Sunday I couldn’t help contrast forms, because in the marathon more so than the track (until you get to the kick at the end) the question of form is also the matter of fuel management, especially on the quivering edge of world record pace. As Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba wrote on her Facebook account afterward: “Even though my training went very well, I misjudged the pace, and did not have the strength to finish.”
She didn’t misjudge the pace, she misjudged the conditions for the pace. Maybe if the day had dawned overcast at 43F (6C) with calm winds, talk of a world record would have been very much in order. But it was 59F (15C) at the start! And rising, going on to become the hottest day in London Marathon history.
Paula Radcliffe‘s 2003 world record 2:15:25 stood some 2:31 faster than Tirunesh had ever run (2:17:56 finishing second to Mary Keitany’s 2:17:01 last year, the second-fastest time in history). What did she think the odds were going out significantly faster than Paula Radcliffe had in 2003 in those conditions? I know that modern runners have out-trained the distance, at least on a benign day, but can they be so dismissive of the distance and the records that they think basic physiological norms no longer apply?
You could see right away that Mary Keitainy had a tighter, more efficient form than Tirunesh, both above and below the waist. She also showed less core rotation per stride. That difference in per-stride energy expenditure adds up. The fact that Mary staggered home at all in fifth place in 2:24:27 after falling off world record pace before 30K was a testament to her fitness and form. The fact that Tirunesh didn’t get past 30K after falling off Mary’s pace at 15K makes its own point. Continue reading