Is a Sub-2 Hour Marathon Possible?

To win a race, you have to beat everybody else who shows up. But to set a World Record, you need to beat everyone who has ever shown up. EVER.

That is exactly what Ethiopian Dennis Kimetto did on Sunday in Berlin, smashing the previous world record set by Wilson Kipsang on the same course one year earlier – Kimetto ran an incredible 2:02:57, 26 seconds faster than Kipsang.


Take a look at his splits….

Kimetto's World Record Breaking Splits.
Kimetto’s World Record Breaking Splits.

Second-placed runner Emmanuel Mutai was probably disappointed that Kimetto showed up, because he ran a 2:03:13, which is also faster than the previous World Record. This well and truly cements Berlin’s place as undoubtedly the fastest (IAAF approved) course in the world. The 7 fastest men in history over the marathon distance have all PB’d on the Berlin course.

Let’s also not forget about the previous ‘Worlds Best’ times. Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02) and Moses Mosop (2:03:06) on the 18th April 2011 in Boston. However, this course does not meet IAAf qualifications for world record eligibility, so Mutai’s time is not recognised as a world record.

Kimetto is the only person to ever run under 2 hours 3 minutes for the marathon, edging us ever-closer to that 2 hour mark.

But will we ever break it?

It is certainly true that we are getting faster.

Take a look at the graph below, showing how the Men’s marathon world record has progressed over the years…


While we are improving, to break the 2 hour mark, we still need to take nearly 3 minutes off the current World Record time.

I do not think that is going to happen anytime soon. But if all the stars align, it is a possibility of happening in my lifetime. Looking at the progression of the world record over the last 20-30 years, and considering it has taken 11 years to get the mark down by 2 minutes, I think it’s reasonable to predict we could be looking at a timeframe of around 20-25 years before we see a sub-2 hour marathon. It’s certainly not imminent, but I think it is eventually possible.

Finally, we have broken the 2:03 mark.

It took us 6 years to get here from the 2:04 mark.

5 years to get there from the 2:05 mark.

4 years to get there from the 2:06 mark.

Every minute we have to shave off is harder than the last, but with that current rate of progression, I predict that we will go under the 2 hour marathon mark in 2038. Probably in Berlin.

If it happens, I think it will be one of the most significant sporting moments in history. Much more significant than Roger Bannister’s sub-4 minute mile, which occurred in 1954. This was a time when running was mostly confined to England and America, and not the worldwide phenomenon that it is today.

It would take a perfect storm of raw talent, genes, training, pacing, strategy, weather and a myriad of other factors. You can’t put it into an equation. Anything is possible.




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