Running a Sub 2hr14 Marathon

It’s the start of the Northern Hemisphere Spring Marathons and marathoners from around the world have already run races such as Boston and London. Most would have trained specifically for their event for the last year with most having many years’ experience. The Athletics NZ Ranking site lists 16 New Zealand marathoners with times under 2hr14. The most recent listing was 2008. Of the top rankings, the 1980s seem to be the time for New Zealand’s top marathon times. There are 7 runners with sub 2hr14 times run in the 1980s and 3 during the 1960s and 1970s.

Rod Dixon’s 1983 time of 2h8m59s would have still won him 9 of the last 16 New York Marathons. The time suggests it is a tough course and Rod was a truly great runner. He would still have been competitive against today’s best marathoners. However, looking at other recent major World Marathon results, you will find that most times are within the 2hr4 to 2hr7 range. A lot of the marathon courses have been designed for fast times and the organisers employ pacers. Overall though the rest of the world has moved on and got faster. Why then were New Zealand marathon runners in the 1980s superior to today’s runners? Shoes are technologically better, training programmes have improved and the courses are now designed to be fast.

Rod Dixon would have been financially rewarded from sponsors and prize money for his performances but several athletes on the top 16 list, especially those that ran in the 1960s and 1970s got no monetary return for their efforts. They worked normal jobs, they ran long and hard because they liked to run. Today’s runners obviously do the sport because they like to run but are they training correctly? African marathon runners are getting younger and younger with 19 year olds often up with the leading pack for the first 30km. You then recognise the same names 2 or 3 years later, when they win a major city marathon. Each race for them is a stepping stone where they try and run further, but at the same pace as previous.

Last week I was asked the question "What training does it take to run a sub 2hr14 marathon time?"

Firstly, you have to be prepared to run a fast half marathon. That means a 64-minute time. You must be able to run 29 minutes for 10km. Be prepared to run multiple 3-5km reps at 3 minutes per km and complete 30-35km runs every 10-14 days, starting at 3m30 per km pace. It is the effort on those long hard days that will count. It will take time to reach those paces as it depends on each runners’ initial ability. It seems a near impossible task, given that there are very few men in New Zealand able to break 30 minutes for 10k. But it has been done by others, so why not you!

In the recent London Marathon, Mary Keitany attacked the first 5k in an impressive 15m31s. She then ran through half way in 68m2s. Back in 2011 Keitany ran a similar 67m 56s in the first half of the New York Marathon before slowing considerably to finish in (a still respectable) 2h 23m 38s. It suggests that in the 6 years between she put in some pretty serious training to be able to maintain that pace. Race day was probably easier than some of her training sessions and, as a result, she always looked confident and in control. Even Mary Keitany’s worst times would still win against the men in marathons and half marathons across New Zealand.

Marathon training today is clinical and well documented. It is no longer an event that you hope to finish, but one where you have an achievable plan based on your training. Those that made the New Zealand top 16 each served their apprenticeship by running fast 10km, half marathons and committed 100% for at least 5 years. Running sub 2hr 14 is achievable by many New Zealand male runners. Let’s step out from the shadows of men from the 1980s and away from today’s top women. Who is ready to take up the challenge?