Doc: Arbitrary and inspiring quest for the two-hour marathon

marathon runner quest

It’s hard to imagine that running for 2 hours at over 21k/h is possible. I have been in marathons in the bottom 20% (which is the place I belong) and witnessed elite runners whizzing past at unimaginable pace – and they maintain a cadence for the entire range of the race that even if I was running from a bear I couldn’t even achieve to begin with. All 42km and change at near 22km an hour.

Marathons are absurd

There are few things as arbitrary as a marathon. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, it’s just something to do which is absurd but noble. The great secret is, at the back of the pack, and if you’ve ever done this you’ll know it, it’s only a bit of running for 4-5 hours and then it’s a lifetime of smug self satisfaction – almost anyone can do same or similar. Not so the professionals. What they do with their bodies and the art of running is elevate it to new levels of arbitrary greatness. Running is the purest sport I know. It’s the original instinctive pursuit. It costs to run but you gain from it more than you invest, generally.

The marathon itself is an absurd spectacle. There are as many different running styles in the marathon as there are participants, each one in themselves a study of admirable self-determination. There are different gaits, different styles, some sexy stuff, some tensions, periods of contraction, periods of expansion. The sub-2 hour marathon just a few years ago would have seemed an impossible target. It wasn’t even on anybody’s road map. Now, in what’s essentially laboratory conditions, a team of physicians, scientists and sports technicians as well as dozens of fellow runners acting as pacers, co-operate to bring the best runners they can find over the line in 2 short hours. It won’t make a marathon world record because it’s not an accredited race, but it will discover the limits of the species and set the bar.

Contented runners

I find running inspiring anyway at the best of times. At the worst of times it’s grim torture. The instinct to quit is always at a distance, which is odd, I’m off it right now but I’m planning to get back on and this doc is giving me ideas. Maybe I can optimise some things, think about what I’m doing, consider that it’s more than just “one foot in front of the other” and try to bring down my times. What I’m thinking of is the contented expressions in the runners’ face as they train their runs – I can feel viscerally their sense of things. I also picked up a few technical tips by watching them and the training in groups thing will have to be attempted in order to attack the 4 hour mark. I actually should target 3.30 and be happy with 4. I’m currently the 4.17 guy, I want 4.15 before I’m outta the game but why not take on a bigger challenge and shoot for the impossible BQ standard. It would change my life, but life is for changing and living.

Watch the video. Eliud Kipchoge’s smile at the end says everything.