How fast is fast? A plodder’s guide to world class marathon running


Have you ever stopped to think about just how fast the elite marathon runners are? I mean really thought about it?

The current world record for 26.2 miles is held by Patrick Macau of Kenya, who won the 2011 Berlin Marathon in a time of 2:03:38. To use the official IAAF terminology, that’s ruddy quick.

But do us humble 9 or 10 min/mile plodders really appreciate how fast that is? Sure, we can see the numbers on a screen or read the stats on a page and think to ourselves “yep, they’re definitely not hanging about”, but I’d argue that without a point of reference closer to home we still can’t truly comprehend the full scope of their abilities.

So I had a think, and I did some sums. You probably heard it from where you are. Anyway, read on…

Let’s say you have a Half Marathon PB of 2 hours. Now, I know that many of you will be faster than that, some slower, but I think it’s generally agreed to be a decent enough time for an amateur (now would be a good time to point out that I haven’t quite nailed 2 hours myself yet).

Funnily enough, Patrick Macau is in town and he (quite rightly) thinks you’re bloody great, so he’s decided to run alongside you on your Half Marathon this weekend. It’s a great race, and you both cross the line shoulder to shoulder in exactly 2:00:00.

But, oh calamity! It’s suddenly started raining, and Patrick realises he’s left the sunroof of his beloved 1985 Ford Capri wide open. He turns on his heel and legs it back the way he came along the entire length of the 13.1 course, hoping to save his antique beaded seat-covers from a watery demise.

Now, we know that Patrick is capable of running 26.2 miles in 2:03:38. So that in turn means that in order to match his previous PB he’ll be making the return journey at a smidgen faster than 216 mph!!!

Ummm… Anyone else’s brain hurt yet?

Okay, so I know I’ve taken liberties with several fundamental laws of the universe there, but I think it serves to illustrate just how eye-wateringly speedy these super-elite folks are.

Oh, and in case you were worrying, his seat covers were fine.

6 thoughts on “How fast is fast? A plodder’s guide to world class marathon running

  1. Whenever I think about these elite marathoners I always think of Roger Bannister running a 4 minute mile and then these guys doing 26 reps of 4.40min/ml and that blows my mind as I can barely sustain that pace for a minute.

  2. I absolutely love this post- yours is fast becoming my favourite blog for a dose of light-hearted running philosophy and without fail I always end up chuckling away to myself (usually on public transport!). Hope the family are doing well 🙂

  3. I did realise during yesterdays half marathon, that the front runners will be running the ENTIRE race at a pacer quicker than our interval pace. Mind boggling!

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