May 6, 1954 three university students toed the line at Iffley Road Track. Two of the runners, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, were to pace their teammate who was running to be the first runner to race a mile in under four minutes. Roger Bannister did by running a 3:59.4 mile on the cinder track. Another history by man was made that day in Oxford, England.
Tomorrow, May 28, 2019 another history may be made by man on the streets of London, England in the London Marathon. Eliud Kipchoge, who set a new marathon record last fall in Berlin, Germany with his dazzling time of 2:01:39, may go, like Bannister, where no man has even been. Kipchoge may well time under 2 hours for a 26.2-mile race. And he may not be alone because at least two competitors will race the streets of London with him: Mo Farah and Shura Kitata plan to match the strides of Kipchoge and either could beat him in the 2-hour quest.
The arena has had many performances and records: Beamon’s long jump in Mexico City; Gable’s un-scored on six matches in Munich; Ripken’s streak; and others. The run against the two-hour barrier has been relentless, and if Kipcoge or Farah or Kitata do not break it tomorrow, it will be shattered before long. However, what does it mean in the terms of ordinary time to race a marathon in under 2 hours?
Imagine an ordinary high school track where four laps of the 440-yard track equals a mile. The math here is simple, even for me: If I run four laps under 60 seconds each, I run the mile under four minutes, a feat like Bannister’s. Although the men’s mile record is far below that now, every serious runner would like to accomplish that. Now, what Kipcoge did last fall in Berlin was to average 69.19 seconds for each 440-yard lap of his race of 26.2 miles for the record of 2:01:39 or 13.1 miles per hour or 4:38.4 minutes per mile average.
Every race outcome depends on the runner and his/her training and mental attitude. It also is subject to, like Bannister, other runners and weather. Like Bannister, Kipcoge will have plenty of competition, and I image Farah and Kitata will share, along with some others, the work of being a front-runner. However, somewhere in the last miles, one runner will “break” the others with a surge well below the 4:34 mile average needed to break the 2-hour wall.
A friend once described the marathon as a 20-mile warm-up before a 10 km race (the last 6.2 miles). The “wall” at or around twenty miles is well-known by any racer of the marathon. If the wall is encountered, the last 10km is a long misery. If I were able, I would like to be with Kipcoge and the others at the North Dock and West India Quay area of London. There, if able, I would run with them at around a 4:30 pace for the mile between 19 and 20 of the race. Then, as the turn is made for the final 6.2 miles along the straight run to the finish, runners would either go with the leaders or sink into a top-ten place. Someone along that stretch will, like Salazar in New York, throw in a surge of speed well below the average of 69 seconds per lap, and win, perhaps breaking the 2-hour barrier.
Every event in sports requires mental and emotional strength and faith. Kipchoge is well known for his belief in the power of the mind and how it controls him as he races for such a distance at such a speed. Perhaps just past the West India Quay, his strong mind will take over for his body, and he will surge past 13.1 miles per hour and enter a place reserved for ones like Bannister.