In the aftermath of an astonishing new marathon world record last Sunday in Berlin, it’s a good idea to ask ourselves why we keep getting new records. Haile Gebrselassie held the last two records, eclipsing Paul Tergat, who held if for a little while, after having taken it from Khalid Khannouchi. And that’s all just since 2002.
Why, after over a century of the world’s best runners gunning for the best times, did we not yet reach the limit of human speed in the marathon quickly, many years ago? Why does it drop only bit by bit year after year? And how much lower can we expect the world record to drop?
Dr. Tim Noakes of the University of Cape Town South Africa might have an aswer. Dr. Noakes has argued that there’s a system in the brain he calls the Central Governor which autonomously decides our physical limits, and proceeds to shut down our bodies when we reach them.
If this is true, that would explain why runners didn’t hit the all-time best mark many years ago. It might be that hard training and the power of conscious goal setting convinced the Central Governor in the world’s best runners that a new fast speed might be possible, but only by seconds.
What does this mean for the rest of us? That the limits to our own abilities might lie as much in our heads aas in our limbs. Hard training and visualization might convince our brains that a harder effort on race day is safe and possible, opening up the door to new, faster finishing times for all of us.
And the answer to the second question? With the world record for the half-marathon under an hour, many people think that a sub-2 hour marathon will someday be a reality. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that will occur within a decade. Let’s keep in touch and see!
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