When flicking through the world record books you may stumble across a number of famous faces along the way. The likes of Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson and his remaining 400m world record, David Rudisha and Hicham El Guerrouj’s one mile heroics are just a few. But what could be considered the greatest running world record?
For an athlete, becoming a World or Olympic champion could be considered the ultimate achievement. However for a spectator, seeing an athlete break a world record holds that special feel good factor and grabs the interest even of the non-athletics fans who are able to experience the intensity as the athlete gives it their all down the final 100m straight whilst the clock ticks unforgivably on.
Being a world record holder means you are not only the fastest athlete that season but of all time, something no one else in that discipline can say they are. To achieve this feat the athlete must possess the talent aided with hard work accompanied by huge amounts of courage and self-belief to travel at an unfamiliar pace, one that no human being has tried to achieve before.
Each record comes with its own unique story and journey and some of the World Record highlights include the first sub four minute mile broken by Roger Bannister, a target thought impossible for the human body to withstand. Or how about Usain Bolt’s Berlin World Championships where he stormed to World records in the 100m and 200m with an untied shoe lace. Most recently the London Olympics hosted the greatest ever 800m final as David Rudisha took a gun to tape victory and record in calm fashion as the rest of the field desperately tried to cling on to him with gritted teeth, all running to personal bests and national records.
But as the marathon fever starts to ease following events around the world and of course in London, I would like to show you why I believe the marathon world record is the greatest.
As the ultimate endurance event for runners, athletes are required to complete 26.2 miles of gruelling road running. For most, just getting to the finish line is an incredible achievement but for elite runners who train to compete at this discipline the journey to success does not allow shortcuts. With elite runners clocking 150 to 200 miles a week ranging from long tempo efforts to slow runs, the training is long and hard and adds a whole new meaning to the word determination. Ron Hill famously said that if you do not look ill then you are not in shape to be an elite marathon runner, showing the physical punishment the discipline inflicts.
Opposed to many other disciplines, marathon runners have to pace themselves to perfection ensuring they don’t go off too hard at the beginning whilst they feel fresh. With this said, huge levels of concentration are required as it is extremely easy to fall off the pace without realising as the watch becomes your only friend in a lonely battle.
Whilst many would describe the build-up of lactic acid in an 800m race as the closest thing to death, imagine hitting “the wall” with 10 miles to go in the marathon. The stage where your mind and body decides enough is enough, but you must fight on.
To back this statement, is it any wonder it is taking Mo Farah over a year to just complete a marathon competitively after only running half in London to gather some experience.
As we take the above into consideration, would it surprise you to announce that only a small percentage of people would know who the men and women are to hold the marathon World record? If you are amongst the majority then let me tell you who they are and what makes them so special.
Firstly, would it be a surprise to reveal that the Women’s World record holder is in fact Paula Radcliffe? An athlete criticised in her later career for “quitting” actually holds a record of 2.15 for the marathon in London which hasn’t been touched for ten years.
Now let me put this record in to perspective for you. After averaging the whole race in 5 minutes 10 seconds per mile, this pace would be respectable for an elite male club runner over 10 or even 5 kilometres. Adding to this, Radcliffe covered the second-half of her world record in 67:23, a time which wasn’t beaten in a half-marathon race in 2003 and Radcliffe’s performance was the fastest by a British runner that year, regardless of gender.
Whilst race commentator’s, pacemakers and even Radcliffe’s team constantly criticised her “suicidal” pace, Paula didn’t listen and continued to believe in herself, running on behalf of an evolution for women which would see more respect for females in the sport. Steve Cram summarised the race as “the best performance I’ve ever commentated on.”
The Men’s marathon World record also continues to develop as Patrick Makau of Kenya broke the men’s record in 2011 in Berlin with a time of 2.03.38. Even though Radcliffe’s world record equates to being more impressive according to the IAAF world records rankings it would still be a shock to reveal that on the way to this record Makau averaged 14.35 minute 5k splits over the 26 mile distance, something an elite 5k runner would be proud to achieve over just the single distance.
As you begin to process these facts and figures, you have probably reached the same conclusions I have as I become ever fascinated by the marathon and how it can create super human athletes. At paces which are non-withstand able for the average human over even half a mile is it any wonder I believe the marathon is the greatest running world record ever achieved by a human being and I well and truly believe that in the next 50 years we may see even greater things over the 26.2 miles run.