The Great Debate
For decades, scientists, athletes and observers have been debating if and when a human will run 26.2 miles in less than two hours. The debate has generated evidence to suggest that a sub two hour marathon is possible. But will it be in my lifetime?
Limits? What Limits?
One hour, 59 minuites and 40 seconds after starting his marathon, Kipchoge crossed the finish line… with one catch. This time will not go down in the official record books as the fastest marathon.
Because this was not a real marathon. The distance was real, but the event was carefully crafted. There was a pace car and there were 30 (or 41 depending on the source) pace runners who popped in and out of the course at specified intervals. The purpose of the runners was to create a draft, much like cyclists do for each other.
And the shoes? I don’t know what kind of shoes he was wearing, but reports say they were a special design of Nike’s Vaporfly Next.
So did he really break a limit?
Damn straight he broke a limit. Even if the conditions were totally fabricated, here are my reasons for respecting Kipchoge’s accomplishment:
- He tried this before in Italy under Nike’s Breaking2 program. Conditions were very similar. He failed… even though he ran the 26.2 miles in 2:00:25.
- The car was only a pace mechanism and the pacers only provided a wind block.
- Shoes, any shoes, are an advantage.
- Now that this has been done, other elite marathoners are likely to break down their own mental barriers. In fact age-groupers will think differently as well.
- What Kipchoge did is a step toward someone breaking two hours without all the aids.
Enter Alex Hutchinson
The theme of breaking a two hour marathon runs throughout Hutchinson’s book, Endure.
I first learned about Hutchinson’s book from a co-worker. A couple of months later, one of our readers mentioned the book which motivated me to get a copy. Thank you, Kieran.
Hutchinson argues that humans are not as limited in endurance sport as they think they are. He provides quite a bit of scientific, anecdotal and empirical evidence to suggest that the mind plays a large role in how far and how fast we can run, swim, cycle, walk, etc.
I am a student of science and the scientific method. I have read my share of biased crap promoted as good science from marketers and journalists alike. However, what Hutchinson did was quite good. There have been billions of dollars spent on this topic (my wild ass guess) by governments, universities, companies, and anyone who thinks they can benefit from running faster or farther. The amount of literature out there must be horrifically huge. Hutchinson must have carefully picked his supporting evidence, but I did not get a feeling of extreme bias or promotion of an agenda. I believe he genuinely wanted to investigate a subject and the message he delivered is that we can do more than train our muscles to be better athletes.
What Can We Do?
The real answer to that will have to come from the book or your coach. But a superficial answer is that we can believe in ourselves. Once Roger Banniser broke the 4 minute mile, others followed. It took one super athlete to break the barrier and break our ideas of what is possible.
Hutchinson covers many areas of study including muscle physiology, nutrition, environment among others. All have their contribution to a successful race or a DNF. His argument is that perhaps the most overlooked aspect of training is the mind. There’s plenty of research on the mind (e.g. central governor hypothesis), but what are athletes really doing about it?
Training My Mind
Something I read in Chrissie Wellington’s book, A Life Without
Limits has stuck with me for many years. She said something to the effect of,
“In order to endure boredom, you need to endure boredom.”
I believe she is absolutely right. However, any evidence I can provide for my agreement with her is completely anecdotal based on my experience. Since reading that i have added solo rides and swims to my training schedule. I believe it helps me maintain focus for longer periods of time. That focus (I believe) helped bring my 14:50+ IMAZ time down to a 13:28+ IMLP time. A faster time on a harder course.
Another example is my dream of qualifying for IRONMAN World Championship . For the past few years it has been a dream. Over the next several months that dream will be planned out and put into writing. From there it will be a 3 or 4 or 10 year journey. The point is that it won’t happen at all if my mind is not ready to take it from dream to plan to reality. This is how we humans work. We first think about something and if we find enough value in it we work our asses off to make it a reality.
THOUGHT yields RESULTS
Train the mind and the body will follow (as best it can. after all, there surely must be limits… or are there?)
My favorite podcaster is Bob Babbitt.
He interviews all the players in the endurance world: elite athletes, business owners, race directors, charities, challenged athletes, and more. Whenever he is with an athlete, he almost always asks what they were thinking or feeling either during a big decision point in their life or during a race. The answers they give don’t tell us how to train our minds, but those answers do tell us just how important the mind is when it comes to endurance sports like triathlon.
The real problem is that so much of the mental and emotional influences I’m talking about can not be rationalized. These mental limits are so deep in the subconscious that the only way to deal with them is through training: lots of tough training. But I know you’re up for it or you wouldn’t be reading a blog post about triathlon.
See you in Kona (in 10 or 15 years 😉)
Stay to the right, pass on the left and keep on smiling