Tag Archives: Dr Michael Joyner

What happens when the likes of Eliud Kipchoge defy the ‘impossible’

I know. I was stunned, too. Eliud Kipchoge did what? He ran the Berlin marathon in 2 hours 1 min 39 seconds? How is that even possible?

I mean in an athletics world where records tend to be broken by hundredths of a second, if at all – and occasionally a second or two for the longer distances – the Kenyan took 1 minute 18 seconds off the old mark.

The feat, of course, begs the question. Might it be possible, after all, for a human to run the marathon in under two hours? If so, the superbly configured Kipchoge – he appears to be mostly legs, topped by a massive set of heart and lungs, and an always grinning countenance – is humanity’s best hope to get there. If he can it would be a combination of the four-minute mile meets the moon landing – an iconic “impossible” record broken, if everything falls into place.

For it was Kipchoge who, in a promo for Nike last year, got close to the barrier in artificial conditions which included having runners subbing in and out of the race to pace him on a flat oval track and people on mopeds passing on high energy drinks. On that occasion, he did it in just 25 seconds over two hours.

“It is not rocket science to break this barrier,” he said at the time. “You simply have to believe in it. And you need a great team that believes in it and in you, the perfect shoes, and to be stronger than any runner before. Then everything is possible.”

(I know, I suspect that line owes more to the Nike marketing department than him, but can’t resist including it anyway, because of the rocket science/ moon landing angle and, more importantly, because it will give the vicious critics of Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign the absolute irrits – but that’s just a bonus!)

But could he get below two hours in a normal marathon? Dr Michael Joyner of Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic wrote a paper 27 years ago suggesting that it was theoretically possible for a man to run the marathon in one hour 58 minutes and so has taken huge interest in Kipchoge’s latest feat.

“[Breaking the two-hour barrier] is now a significant step closer,” Dr Joyner told The Guardian on Monday. “We might see something like a Tiger Woods effect – when he arrived on the golfing scene he was a quantum leap forward, yet eventually there was a catch-up.”

Exactly. For what it’s worth, this is the angle that particularly interests me.

See, about 64 years ago, our own John Landy was in Finland’s former capital of Turku, preparing for a race when a local asked him had he heard the news? “No. What news?” John replied. “Roger Bannister has broken the four-minute mile. He’s done three minutes 59.4 seconds.”

Landy was stunned. “I was amazed, really,” he told me when I interviewed him a couple of decades ago. “I just couldn’t quite believe that Bannister had managed to lop as much as two seconds off the record in just the one race … Back then the four-minute mile was almost like a barrier, a limit, which we thought exceedingly difficult to break. If the record of four minutes, one second was going to be lowered, we thought it would only go down by a 10th of a second or so at a time.”

But Bannister’s feat changed everything. “A lot of people seem to think I must have been devastated that Bannister had broken the four-minute barrier before me, but I wasn’t. I was just astonished that he’d lopped so much off the previous record, and I guess … because I thought I was just as good a runner as he was … it gave me a bit of a hurry-up to run a time like that myself, it made me think I really had better pull something out of the hat.”

At his next race, therefore, which was in Turku just a few weeks later, Landy ran like the wind, and when he crossed the tape, lots of excited Finnish officials and athletes were crowding around him, yelling, laughing, clapping him on the back. They kept saying something: Ricodda? Ricoad? Ricod?Record? Record. The world record to be precise. And the new … heavyweight champeen of the mile distance race … in a time of three minutes 57.9 seconds … John … LANDY. You get the drift.

Pushed: John Landy (right) thought he could creep towards the four-minute mile before Roger Bannister (left) smashed it. Photo: AP
Having thought only a few weeks earlier that the four-minute mile could only be approached a tenth of a second at a time, Landy had not only smashed the barrier himself but also taken nearly two seconds off Bannister’s time. He’d always been capable of it – it was just that the Bannister feat had liberated his mind, as to the possibilities. And it liberated other runners, too, with the four-minute mile soon being regularly broken by other runners who’d long thought it impossible.

Will we see the same with Kipchoge, and his fellow runners? The Kenyan has now demonstrated that it is possible to get at least close to that barrier. As he is 33 years old, our own Robert de Castella who himself held the record three decades ago at 2 hours, 8 minutes and 18 seconds says he’ll have to get the job done in the next couple of years. But surely, if not Kipchoge himself, then one of the next generation of runners will crack it …

On the day that it happens, it will surely be bitter-sweet. After all, with Everest now conquerable to even moderate mountaineers, and with the four-minute mile a mere good training run for the best athletes, the two-hour marathon is one of the last mythical sporting feats left standing. If it does go, what is left?

All I can think of is that one day, far in the future, the NRL might be able to get through Mad Monday without atrocities breaking out and … And you’re right. I take it back. That really is impossible.

Source: theage.com.au

A sub-two hour marathon is moving ever closer

When Eliud Kipchoge woke to a dazzling Monday morning in Berlin he was greeted with global headlines lauding him as a “long-distance Usain Bolt” and “the fastest man in the world”. No wonder, given that he had just “pulverised” – as Marca put it – the marathon world record by 78 seconds.

According to Die Welt, the Kenyan had also performed another feat of wizardry by contradicting the late Czech runner Emil Zatopek, in 1954 the first man to break the 29-minute barrier in the 10,000m and a visionary who famously said that “fish float, birds fly, and humans run”. The paper insisted: “The 33-year-old did not run. He flew to a new world best.”

As Kipchoge soared across the line in 2hr 01min 39sec, even sober minds began to entertain the fantastical. His time, after all, was just 100sec from the holy grail of distance running: the sub-two-hour marathon. Suddenly the pipe dream did not look so potty.

Certainly Kipchoge, who ran 2:00.25 in Monza last year as part of the Nike Breaking2 project – although it did not count under official rules as pacers were subbed in and out of the race – thinks it is possible. “It is not rocket science to break this barrier,” he insisted. “You simply have to believe in it. And you need a great team that believes in it and in you, the perfect shoes, and to be stronger than any runner before. Then everything is possible.”

Intriguingly, some scientists agree. “It is now a significant step closer,” says Dr Michael Joyner, an expert in human performance at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. “We might see something like a Tiger Woods effect – when he arrived on the golfing scene he was a quantum leap forward, yet eventually there was a catch-up.”

Others, however, are more sceptical. The highly respected sports scientist Dr Ross Tucker believes that sub-two is “probably at least 15-20 years away” although there is a substantial caveat. He is unsure how much improved shoe technology and science helped Kipchoge – and how future tech boosts could further improve times.

Kipchoge (C) poses with Amos Kipruto and Wilson Kipsang (R) all of Kenya during the ceremony. Photo: Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images

“What is remarkable about Kipchoge is his ability to run at a high relative speed for so long,” says Tucker. “But we don’t know how much of his world record is tech-driven. Was it the athlete or his shoes that made the difference? It muddies the waters.” Like most top distance athletes sponsored by Nike, Kipchoge runs in Vaporflys, which contain a highly controversial carbon-fibre plate in their soles, and are claimed to improve times by 1 per cent over the next speediest shoe.

On Sunday Kipchoge’s manager, Jos Hermans, cited another factor – an energy drink made by the Swedish company Maurten. Not only does it contain more carbohydrates than other such drinks but, crucially, it also forms a hydrogel when it reaches the stomach – thus supplying more energy during a marathon without causing gastrointestinal problems.

“So is that the shoe? The carb-drink? The mindset? I am not sure,” says Tucker. “But if it is the first two then the sub-two is a lot closer than you would think. Because all it will take is a similar step-up in technology as we have seen in recent years.

“However if technology is not a massive factor, then a sub-two is a lot further away because the physiology of humans isn’t going to change as quickly.”

A lot depends on how much of a phenomenon Kipchoge is. Remember Paula Radcliffe’s women’s marathon record was set in 2003 yet still stands today.

Meanwhile Mark Burnley, a sport scientist at the University of Kent who specialises in high performance, says the “big three” physiological parameters of VO2max, lactate threshold and running economy remain the biggest limiting factors in going under two hours.

“To take a car analogy, maximal oxygen consumption [VO2max]is the size of the engine, oxygen consumption [VO2]is how much the accelerator pedal is being pressed down at any one time, and the lactate threshold is the rev limiter,” he says. “Although you can go above this point, the engine doesn’t like it and the car will break down [fatigue]eventually.

“Meanwhile running economy is a measure much like miles per gallon. The more economical the engine the further a given fuel load [muscle glycogen] can take you. Combining all of these factors determines how fast, and how long, an athlete can run for. Theoretically, the maximum speed a runner can sustain is given by a thing called the critical speed. Above that, your physiology goes haywire. Or, to continue the car analogy, bits of trim fall off until you blow a gasket and your vehicle falls to bits.”

Burnley says that critical speeds of just over 21km per hour are possible in 10,000m athletes, which is sub-two-hour pace, but it places a severe strain on their carbohydrate reserves and the probability of hitting the wall is very high.

Source:  irishtimes.com