Is it Possible to Run a Full Marathon in Under Two Hours?

As you are probably aware, elite Kenyan athlete Wilson Kispang recently broke the world marathon record, completing the Berlin Marathon in a short 2hours 3minutes and 23seconds.

Kenyan athlete Kispang and his new world marathon record. (Photo from The Guardian).

Kenyan athlete Kispang and his new world marathon record. (Photo from The Guardian).

Over the last century, the world marathon record has been broken many times. In 1908, it was officially set as 2hours 55minutes and 18 seconds. At the time, completing a marathon in less than two hours merely seemed to be an impossible dream. But now, elite athletes are literally banging on the door of the two-hour mark, due to rapid improvements in technology, medical knowledge and dietary requirements. Eventually the two-hour mark may be a marathon record – and that was once thought as being impossible.

Read on, for whether this record-breaking feat will take place in our lifetime.

High altitude training

In order to stand a chance to break the two-hour barrier, the marathon runner must train at very high altitudes on a daily basis. In this regard, he is likely to come from an East African country, where the people are used to running at high altitudes.

Running at high altitudes help to make the muscles more efficient in converting the oxygen in the blood into fuel. In fact, many of the world’s elite runners today are twice as efficient at converting their oxygen into fuel to be used for running – compared to the average college man. This is measured in terms of VO2 max (maximum oxygen intake).

However to actually break through the two-hour barrier, the elite marathon runner must be able to sustain a high percentage of his high VO2 max throughout the whole marathon. While many marathon runners have been measured to do this for 88 per cent of the marathon distance, this may need to be improved further, in order to break through the magic barrier.

The record-breaking feat could very well be set at the Berlin Marathon. (Photo from

The record-breaking feat could very well be set at the Berlin Marathon. (Photo from

The Conditions must be right

In addition to the VO2 max, everything must be perfect on the day of the race. The marathon runner must be at the peak of health and the wind conditions must be good too. Having the wind blowing in the wrong direction could very well mean the difference between a sub two-hour marathon and completing the distance over two hours, because it can easily slow down a runner’s pace.

At the same time, the course of the marathon must also be pretty flat – so that the marathon runner can run at maximum speeds throughout the whole race. If there are a lot of slopes, this will, no doubt, slow down the marathon runner. Examples of good, flat courses, where the record is likely to be broken, are the Berlin Marathon and the London Marathon. So do keep a lookout of the elite athletes taking part in these two races each year – for we may just witness the first sub two-hour marathon there.

Huge Monetary Prize

If there is a huge monetary prize slapped on the two-hour barrier for the marathon, then the world’s elite distance athletes will surely train harder for it and make sure that they do it. And then we would certainly see this elusive mark being broken much sooner than expected. For the person who manages to do so, will be literally be running all the way to the bank.

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  • NWS says:

    This reminds me of the 4 minute for 1 mile (1.6km) which was first achieved by Roger Bannister in 1954.

    Like what you said,It seems that going below 2 hours for a full marathon would be achievable with the right training/diet/technology =)

    Mere mortals like us will be contented with just completing a full marathon in shape!

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