The current world record for the marathon in 2 hours, 2 minutes and 57 seconds set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in the 2014 Berlin Marathon. This raises the question of whether a marathon can be run under two hours. Although the current record seems tantalizingly close to the two hour mark, it translates into a distance of six-tenths of a mile in a race and that seems so formidable that some suspect that that barrier will never be broken.
An effort is now underway to try and break it under the most optimal conditions possible, which is near the Dead Sea in Israel. This is because it is a “quarter-mile below sea level at the Dead Sea, where the barometric pressure is high” and “there is about 5 percent more oxygen to breathe”.
While there has to be a theoretical limit to all athletic records, these artificially set barriers are unlikely to be it. After all, the four-minute mile was once thought to be unattainable and yet it was beaten by Roger Bannister in 1954.
I well remember Bob Beamon’s feat in the long jump at the 1968 Olympics when on his very first jump, he cleared a distance of 8.90 meters, beating the exiting record by an incredible 55cm. In an event where records are broken by tiny increments, this was unbelievable and people put it down to the high altitude and everything coming together in perfect harmony. It seemed unlikely that those conditions would ever be replicated and I for one thought that the record would be safe forever.
I was wrong. People kept inching closer and closer towards it and finally in 1991, nearly 23 years after Beamon’s feat, Mike Powell broke the record with a jump of 8.95 meters, which remains the world record even today, lasting even longer than Beamon’s.
So I think the two-hour barrier for the marathon will be broken and that the theoretical limit is less than two hours. It may be done in increments or some fortuitous set of conditions may come together, as in Beamon’s case, and the record broken unexpectedly.
According to the above article, “Michael Joyner, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, predicted in 1991 that it was possible to finish in 1:57:58. But numerous experts predicted that two hours would not be breached until 2028 or 2035 or even 2041.”