1:59 The Sub Two Hour Marathon is within Reach

Anyone who has ever run a marathon, is thinking of running a marathon or is even just thinking of someone who is thinking of running a marathon, will find this book an excellent read. Written by Phil Maffetone, with Bill Katovsky, friends of mine from the Natural Running Center, it’s packed with interesting facts (did you know that the Marathon has only recently been 26.2 miles?) and sensible but not commonly given advice for long distance training.

Phil predicts that soon, probably within the next few years, someone will break the two-hour barrier for running a marathon.

(Currently, the official world record is two hours, three minutes and 23 seconds.) The person who does it first may become as famous as Roger Banister became for breaking the four-minute mile barrier when he was a student at Oxford University. Personally, I admire Roger more for becoming a brilliant physician. That’s another story, but speaking of fellow multi-talented physicians who change the world’s thinking, Phil Maffetone is one of these. Phil is not only a physician (and musician), he’s been a long distance training coach for many years, for many people, some of whom, without mentioning names, have been pretty famous.

Have you ever been told by a well-meaning coach, “No pain, no gain?” Thankfully, Phil provides medically sound arguments why that is not such a great idea. Rather, you need to listen to our own body. Phil discusses exactly how one goes about this “listening,” monitoring your resting heart rate when you first wake up in the morning, for example. He gives advice about how hard to train and for how long. He also gives advice for running form, nutrition, (provides a few recipes even), sleep and footwear (it should come as no surprise that he is not a fan of heavily cushioned, “supportive” running shoes). The book is meant to help anyone, not just an elite marathoner, run faster and more efficiently, with fewer injuries.

Phil talks about why he thinks Kenyans and Ethiopans are winning most marathons today and why he thinks that trend may not continue. Counter to common belief, he believes their success has little to do with genetics but is more largely due to their environment, which is changing.

Marathon World Record Predictions

Phil predicts that a man will be the first to run a marathon under two hours. BUT, he also predicts that soon after, a woman will break the two-hour barrier. The gender gap in world record time for the marathon is smaller than it is for shorter races. We women have a number of genetic and physical attributes that make us quite suitable for long distance running. The current woman’s world record is 2:15:25, set by Paula Radcliffe in 2003. Back when Roger Banister was running in 1954, Paula’s marathon time would have been THE world record, men’s or women’s.

Mostly, the book is inspiring. I’ve run a number of marathons in my life, the first one when I was 15 years old and probably, at the time (1977), the fastest (and only) woman my age in the race. Although I run every day, I haven’t run a marathon for awhile, and wasn’t thinking of running one anytime soon…until I read this book. If and when I do, I’m counting on there being a lot of women my age to run with.


Update: This post was written in 2014. In October 2019, Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon in 1:59:40. As of February 2019, the official IAAF world record was still just over the two hour mark.

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