Two Hours: The quest to run the impossible marathon by Ed Caesar (2015)
I watched the men’s and women’s marathons at the 2012 London Olympics. I was standing in St James Park within spitting distance of the runners as they flew past. It was extraordinary to watch. It was more than just the pace – it was running form, tactics, drama and facial expressions – each runner pushing themselves to the absolute limit.
The world record for the marathon stands at 2:02:57. It was set in Berlin in 2014 by Kenyan runner, Dennis Kimetto, and it was the first time a marathon was run in under 2:03:00. While this might not mean much to non-runners, it’s an extraordinary achievement. Now the race is on for the first runner to beat 2:00:00.
Ceasar sets out to explore this question. It’s a fascinating and compelling read covering the history of the marathon, in-depth stories about the lives of some of the world’s elite, as well as the science, psychology, and physiology of running.
And it’s a deeply human story – what is it that drives and motivates the best of the best? For some, it’s a way out of a life of poverty and hardship. But this in itself doesn’t explain why runners from East Africa dominate. While it might be one part of the picture, there remains the complex interplay of psychology, genetics, diet, high altitude training, being submerged into a culture of running, and individual and unique talents which are developed over 100+ miles each week in training – there are no short cuts.
Ceasar taps into critical elements of this in telling the story of Geoffrey Mutai, the Kenyan long distance runner. There are highs and lows – from a difficult childhood to races won and lost.
The more technical aspects of this book are also fascinating – from changes to training and how marathons are run to what weather conditions are required to the shoes worn to the other means to make energy improvements and savings. It’s the combination of all of these factors will be critical. To meet the 2:00:00 target, about 2.5% performance improvement is needed. New shoes will not be enough.
And so now the challenge is on. Who will beat 2:00:00 and when?