Feats like Eliud Kipchoge’s historic sub-two hour marathon could become commonplace within the next decade as the world’s elite athletes continue to push the sport to new heights.
Former Olympian Greg Whyte, now Professor in Applied Sport and Exercise Science at Liverpool John Moores University, believes the pair of stunning new marks set this weekend will continue to be broken.
In addition to Kipchoge’s achievement in Vienna, which will not be ratified as an official world record as he was assisted by pace-makers, Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei broke Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old women’s marathon record in Chicago.
Whyte believes that what Kosgei’s feat in particular illustrates is that while world records will still be set, they will be done so less frequently and by increasingly smaller margins.
Whyte told the PA news agency: “If we go back to when Paul Radcliffe set her world record, no one believed a woman could run that fast – and now it’s been broken by a minute and a half.
“When you look at world records, we are still breaking them but the margin of what we’re breaking them by is reducing, and critically the period of time in between breaking them is increasing.
“(But) if you look at the four-minute mile, if you’d asked a scientist what would happen then they’d have said the same thing, and now the world mile record is 20 seconds below that.
“The caveat to the two-hour marathon is that is still hasn’t officially been broken as far as open-racing is concerned. But I would say that within five years we will see sub-two hours in an open race.”
Whyte, who designs ultra-challenges for celebrities on Sport Relief and Comic Relief, including Eddie Izzard’s 27 marathons in 27 days, emphasised the range of factors which are becoming increasingly crucial to world record attempts.
“You can dissect it down to barriers including psychological, physiological, environmental, nutritional and even sociological,” added Whyte.
“You have got a new wave of East African runners with incredible drive to perform because they know they have the potential to change lives, just not for themselves but for so many others.
“One of the greatest barriers is the psychological one. One of the reasons no one thought they could run below four minutes for a mile was because they thought if you did it, you would die.
“That sort of psychological dogma is real, and now that Kipchoge has gone and run a marathon in under two hours, he has shown the rest of his elite competitors it is possible, so we will see that mark eventually beaten.”
Radcliffe’s world record was far from the most enduring in the sport. Jarmila Kratochvilova’s record of one minute 53.28 seconds for the women’s 800 metres, which she set in 1983, still stands.
But it is those records with apparently unbreachable barriers – from the four-minute mile and the two-hour marathon to Adam Peaty’s quest to crack the 57-second barrier in the 100m breaststroke, which inevitably lure attention.
“We are continuing to push boundaries but we are only shaving off times and it is taking longer to get there,” added Whyte.
“It is true that we are starting to reach the limits, and the question is how much further we can go.”