Today came the news that Brigid Kosgei had smashed the women’s marathon record that had stood for 16 years by a massive 81 seconds, with a new time of 2:14:04. What I found interesting in the report was this little item.
Some will also point out that Kosgei was wearing the Nike Next% training shoes, which have been estimated to give between 60-90 seconds of performance benefit over other shoes.
In a post back in 2016, I wondered about what the possible theoretical limit was for athletic performances that are based on speed. Since a time of zero is impossible, there must be some non-zero time beyond which the human body just cannot do any better. I speculated that the record for the men’s marathon, which was then 2 hours, 2 minutes and 57 seconds set by Dennis Kimetto in the 2014 Berlin Marathon, would eventually be less that two hours, and quoted Michael Joyner, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, who predicted in 1991 that it would be possible to get to a time of 1:57:58, and other experts who also predicted that getting under two hours would happen but would take until at least 2028.
In 2018, Eliot Kipchoge broke Kimetto’s recod by a whopping 78 seconds, with a new record time of 2:01:39 and yesterday he became the first person to do it under two hours with a time of 1:59:40.2. But this will not be a world record because he did it under special conditions with pacers and electronic means to help speed him along. So the official marathon record remains his old one and still over two hours.
Kipchoge, who said he trained four and a half months for this race, was supported by 36 pacemakers who accompanied him in alternating groups, one of the reasons the IAAF will not ratify the time as a world record.
The groups were helped by a pace car with a laser beam, projecting the ideal position on the road.
It seems quite extraordinary that a new shoe design such as Kosgei wore could provide such a boost. But despite improvements in shoe technology and training and running techniques and carefully selected conditions and aids, there will have to be some limit that cannot be broken. But we may never know when we have reached it.