The men's marathon record was broken this week end at the Berlin Marathon, pending ratification, by Patrick Makau with time of 2:03:38. Beating the old record Sept. 2008 record by Haile Gebrselassie by 21 seconds. The record has been broken with some regularity since the mid 1930s when the depression caused men to look for any way to make a living or bolster their reputation to get and keep a job.

It has occurred to me that the record tends to be broken when the economy is in long term trouble and when the young are having hard time finding opportunity elsewhere. The record broken by decade is as follows: 1930, 3; 1940, 1; 1950 6; 1960 9;1970 3; 1980, 5; 1990 2, 2000 4, 2010 1st last weekend. Marathoning is a tough way to make a living and the competition, at least in my time, has appeared to get stronger as the stock market tanks and gets weaker as it is about to take off. I missed my opportunity by not taking up serious marathoning in 1992 but waiting till 1996, 1992 was when I was at my peak and the competition was weakest.

Below is a comma delineated file with the month the record was broken, the % change in the Dow Index 12 months prior (counting month record broke), and the 12 month after % change in Dow index.

Here are some key statistics:

12 month prior avg. 3.22% stdev 13.64% count 34 negative count 15
12 month after avg 13.59% stdev 21.06% count 33 negative count 7

Student T test 2 different stdev one tail, 1.14%

It would appear that the marathon tends to be broke at the turning points in the Dow, however with a wider deviation than prior and the last 2 times this did not work. A similar result occur taking out all but the first occurrence when the record is broke within 12 months of the last time, except the student T test is higher due to fewer occurrences.

Month Record Broke,Prior 12 month % change in Dow,Next 12 month % change in Dow, New Record

12/1/1967,15.20%,12.48% 2:09:36
5/1/1969,4.29%,-22.53% 2:08:34
7/1/1970,-9.98%,30.37% 2:09:29
12/3/1973,-16.58%,-17.75% 2:09:12
2/1/1978,-20.75%,9.00% 2:09:06
4/1/1980,-4.43%,27.76% 2:09:01
12/1/1981,-9.23%,16.91% 2:08:18
10/1/1984,-1.45%,10.10% 2:08:05
4/1/1985,7.46%,43.56% 2:07:12
3/1/1988,-13.74%,9.02% 2:06:50
9/1/1998,-1.29%,43.64% 2:06:05
10/1/1999,24.88%,3.04% 2:05:42
4/1/2002,-7.35%,-23.18% 2:05:38
8/1/2003,8.68%,9.81% 2:04:55
8/1/2007,17.37%,-21.91% 2:04:26
8/1/2008,-13.58%,-19.39% 2:03:59
9/1/2011 -0.15%, ?, 2:03:38

Kim Zussman queries: 

Russ, in your opinion, will the 2 hour mark be broken in our lifetime (you and I are about the same age)?

The 12 records since 1980 have dropped in a roughly linear fashion, which if continued extrapolates to about 2035

Russ Sears replies:

If you would have asked me in the 90s about this, I would have said no way, they are beginning to form an asymptote. However, I believe sport science has made considerable progress in 2 areas critical to lowering this record below 2 hours. 

1. There is a much better understanding of the altitude effect has in endurance training and how to maximize this effect.

2. There are now much more creative ways to exercise more with less detrimental stress but maintaining the positive stress and exercise specifics. See zero gravity treadmills and water running treadmills for example.

And perhaps it simply is competition creates its own opportunity and it is clear to me we are in a new competitive era for distance running.

Hopefully it will continue for the rest of our lives. But not because the economy will continue to flounder. Especially for the young, ambitious and talented.

Larry Williams comments: 

The math is all a runner has to do is knock 8 seconds a mile of his/her pace. Much easier said than done, but it's a goal within reach. 2:00:00 will be broken in next 10 years is my forecast. Mostly because of what Russ said–better training habits and knowledge. With science, a runner with lots of personal angst will break through. Must have personal angst (see current frank shorter article in Runners World) to get through the pain. 


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