The current world record for the mile is 3:43:13 and is held by 37-year-old Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj. There was a time when a sub-four mile was considered unrealistic.
The fastest men’s marathon run to date, with wind, is 2:03:02. Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai (who also just won New York with a new course record of 2/5/6) did it last spring in Beantown. But since Boston’s course design renders it ineligible for official running records, 2:03:38 remains the fastest marathon run to date, courtesy of Kenya’s Patrick Makau at this year’s Berlin Marathon.
Most likely, a runner will break three hours long before it can be considered official. It will happen in an obscure race with favorable wind conditions and questionable timing devices, probably by someone who isn’t a “real runner,” someone who doesn’t train to win races but rather just focused themselves on that record.
It will happen though, and probably within the next ten years. In 2001, Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Jifar set the New York Marathon’s course record with 2/7/43. It took ten years to shave more than two minutes after no one came closer to the record than 24 seconds. In fact, just two years later, a time of 2/10/30 broke the ribbon.
By examining the times, we see that the record for New York was never gradually worn down, it’s almost always, to exercise an apt cliche, “shattered.” For example, Mutai’s time this year was more than three minutes faster than last year’s finisher. In 2001, Jifar beat the 2000 winner by a little over two minutes.
If we consider that advancements in training, nutrition and equipment will progress faster in the next decade than they did in the last, it’s feasible that it could happen in the next five years. Truthfully, I’m not overly sold on how shoes will make a difference at this level.
So we now sit at 2:03:38. When this official time is surpassed, it may bring us to just above the threshold, probably around 2:01 something. Maybe we’ll sit for a few years just around the two hour mark, at which point every major marathon in the world will become the center of the running universe.
And I’ll just be happy to run a sub-4:00.