Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sub 2 hour marathon? That's just the beginning!

This is an article I recently wrote for, which I thought I would share here. You can also read it in their new 3rd Transition Magazine. I plan to follow-up with more on this topic of the future of training and technology.

The Sub 2-Hour Marathon is just the Beginning

With an onslaught of fast marathon performances over the past few weeks, (Paris, London, Boston and Rotterdam all in 2011), there is a lot of talk and debate about what is possible for performance at the mythical distance.

The sub 2 hour marathon is the modern day 4-minute mile barrier, where we see much of the same doubt that humans aren’t capable of running that fast, (drugs not-withstanding). Recent articles in the New York Times, the Independent, and a host of other publications and forums all discuss the debate.

Haile Gebresalassie, Paula Radcliffe, Emmanuel Mutai, and many other top runners and experts vary in their belief if it’s possible, the possible timing of it happening, what it would take from an athlete, and the course requirements for such a mythical performance.

We’ve already seen the 1 hour half-marathon broken over 150 times. Call me overly optimistic, but the sub 2-hour marathon is coming very soon, by the Olympic year 2024 at the latest, and that’s just the beginning.

The real problem with all this belief that it’s impossible, or the timing is too far away for any of us to see in our lifetime, is that these people look at the result, not at the process. If you know much about me as a coach, you know I’m big on data and training tools. In cycling, we have power meters which have done wonders for training and performance. In swimming, we’ve had incredible leaps in suit technology, but we’ve also had important studies with force plates, swim flumes and video technology for stroke analysis, as well as incredibly bold and knowledgeable coaches creating new periodization models and approaches, across all sports.

Look back to the 1990’s, when a group of young east African men came onto the distance running scene, and re-wrote the record books for 5000 and 10,000 meters, month after month, year after year. We went from wondering if anyone other than Said Aouita could run sub 13 minutes, to today having seen it done over 250 times, and the record standing at nearly 4 minute mile pace, 12:37! Hell, the mile is now down to 3:43! That’s over 4 seconds faster per lap than Roger Bannister was trying to run!

Or we wondered if sub 27 minutes was possible in the 10K, and today the record stands at 26:17! We are now wondering if sub 26 minutes is possible. And believe me, it is. Yes, 2024 sounds a long ways away, but many of use remember the 1990’s performances like they were yesterday. 13 years is not much time at all.

One thing we’ve been missing with running is a way to measure output consistently, throughout an entire race, across different terrains, weather conditions and more. This tool is coming soon, and it’s so simple, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t arrived already, (a few companies are working on it), but when it does, the sub 2-hour marathon mark will be just the beginning. Every world record will fall once again, from the marathon, down to the 100 meters. Every field event, from the horizontal jumps to the high jump and pole vault, and all the throw world records, will all fall.

We are on the cusp of a performance revolution. The blend of the science of training and the art of coaching are entering into a stronger relationship than we’ve ever seen. What we have lacked is the right tool to help measure performance and output directly from the athlete, during the entire performance duration, in order to better understand the events’ specific demands, and the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses.

This tool is the power meter in a shoe. Much like we have power meters on bikes, when we can measure force production, and speed of the force from the foot coming into contact with the ground, we begin to measure output directly, not just in times or marks. Suddenly we will know much more than we have ever known, and this information will open the floodgates of a new level of high performance.

Here are just some of the ways a power meter in a shoe will affect training and performance:

  • Better understanding of technique and the value of technique, as well as how to effectively tweak it
  • Better assessment of fitness, objectively
  • Better tracking of fitness, so performance plateaus can be avoided
  • Better planning of tapers and perfecting tapering strategies
  • Better understanding of recovery techniques and periods required, specific to each athlete
  • Power to weight ratios and the affect of it on performance, proper ratios
  • Better and more effective warm-up routines
  • Better quantification of training stress, fatigue and fitness
  • Better understanding of strengths and weaknesses, and effectiveness of training strategies to address them
  • Objective feedback on periodization models, for improvement and tweaking

Those are just some of the ways we will see a new world of performances we can’t yet imagine. This is just in track and field, but it is safe to say these benefits will transfer to triathlon and other endurance sports, or any which involve running in some capacity, (soccer, basketball, and more).

They said 7 Tour de France victories in a row would never happen, but Lance was one of the few who adopted technology like power meters, early on in his career. Expect something similar with power meters for the athlete on foot.

The initial onslaught of data and feedback for coaches and athletes will be overwhelming at first, but those who study it and try to use the data to their competitive advantage, will be the ones who set themselves apart initially. Once the best athletes come into contact with the best coaches, who know and understand how to use this technology and data to design training programs and improve athlete weaknesses, the next revolution will begin, and the sub 2-hour marathon will be just one of many performances which will leave us dropping our jaws. Trust me, or just look at past history, and you can see the writing is on the wall.

Coach Vance

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