Nike has been trying to re-start public interest in running by sponsoring a big project to get some East African to break the 2 hour barrier in the marathon.
The Berlin marathon on Sunday looks like a good bet for a new record (which is currently 2:02:57 seconds), although the weather might be a little warmer (high 63 F) than ideal. The last six best times ever have been set in Berlin, which has a very flat course. (The most famous annual marathon is Boston’s on Patriots Day every April, but it hasn’t seen a world record since 1947 because it is a hilly course.)
To demonstrate to marathoners that they can run faster, Nike recently sponsored a demonstration marathon-distance run on a track with designated rabbits to break the wind for the three stars. Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya ran 2:00:25, which suggests that a sub-2 hour run is not physiologically impossible.
On the other hand, running on city streets, which is essential to a genuine marathon, is harder than running on a high tech track, and a record setter would have to expect to run out in front, breaking the wind, for the last several miles. (You can’t hire somebody to run at a world record pace for 26 miles and then collapse in the tunnel to the stadium.)
In the New York Times,
Are Physical Limits All in Our Heads?
SPORTING SEPT. 22, 2017
It’s a truth universally acknowledged in the sporting world that the toughest obstacles to surmount are those we erect in our own minds. A barrier like the four-minute mile, we’re told, is impregnable — until someone like Roger Bannister shows, as he did in 1954, that it can be breached, and then everyone else follows. …
To me, the bout in Berlin seems like not just a clash of three heavyweights but a real-life test of the “mental barriers” theory of human endeavor. Faith in the primacy of mind over body is a trope as eagerly embraced in board rooms as in locker rooms and Nike commercials — and it’s a message we’ve lapped up, without much evidence, for centuries. …
The four-minute mile is now an allegorical staple of the self-help literature. Bannister’s feat shattered an imposing mental barrier much like the one holding you back from climbing El Capitan or getting promoted at work. “Within one year,” asserts “The Winning Mind Set,” a fairly typical self-help tract from 2006, “37 other runners did the same thing. In the year after that, over 300 runners ran a mile in less than four minutes.”
This claim is only marginally less impressive than the premise of “Do It With Words: Regrow Your Hair With Your Mind,” one of the “related titles” Amazon suggested to me, impertinently, when I looked up Norman Vincent Peale. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Just one other runner joined Bannister within a year of the first four-minute mile, and four more followed the next year. Still, even the unvarnished truth is striking: What was once impossible became possible, and soon almost unremarkable, with startling rapidity.
What happened was that two Swedish runners spent WWII smashing each other’s records in the mile and the 1500 meter “metric mile.” Between 1942 and 1945, Arne Andersson and Gunder Haag cut the record in the mile from 4:06.4 to 4:01.4 and made similar progress in the slightly shorter metric mile.
But then progress halted for nine puzzling years, with no new marks in the mile and two runners tying but not breaking the mark in the 1500m.
This hiatus from 1945 to 1954 is what made the Four Minute Mile into a legend. One neutral country, Sweden, had been able to break the mile record six times and the metric mile record four times from 1942-1945, but then all North Atlantic countries, back at peace, failed to make any progress from 1946-1953.
Was something wrong? The British, in particular, were worried that the Feudal Spirit that had built the Empire was as exhausted as the foreign reserves.
Thus, accomplishments like (New Zealander) Edmund Hillary climbing Mt. Everest in 1953 and Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile in 1954 were seized upon by patriotic publicity geniuses James/Jan Morris and Norris McWhirter, respectively. (Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale likewise dates from 1953.) The Swedes helped out by expanding the boundaries of the Nobel Prize in Literature to accommodate the English left with Bertrand Russell in 1950 and the English right with Winston Churchill in 1953.
It took another decade for the Brits to recover fully from the exhaustion of WWII to conquer the world with James Bond movies and British Invasion rock bands.