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Speed - Faster Than You Think

Speed - Faster Than You Think

If you didn’t see it, the U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials were held this past Saturday morning in Houston (the TV replay was on Saturday afternoon).  Experts say that we may have the strongest overall Olympic marathon team that we’ve ever had – but there is no guarantee that we’ll win any medals in this event because the Kenyans and Ethiopians have truly dominated distance running over the past 10 years.  Before you shake your head and turn to the next article, have you ever thought about how fast these people run over 26.2 miles?  What it really means to try and compete in the marathon at the world level? It’s one thing to know that the world record in the men’s and women’s marathons are 2:03:38 and 2:15:25 respectively, but really, what kind of speed do these times represent?  In fact how fast were our U.S. athletes running this past Saturday?  I’d be so bold as to say that probably most people reading this couldn’t run as fast for 60 feet as these marathoners run for 26.2 miles.

Doing a little math (I’ll spare you the details), it is quickly obvious that our marathoners are able to run quickly for very long distances.  The number one qualifier, Meb Keflenzighi ran the distance in 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 8 seconds, averaging a mile every 4 minutes and 55 seconds at an average speed of 12.2 mph.  You’re probably thinking to yourself, “That’s not so fast”.  Okay, I’d challenge you to go out and pace out 60 feet.  Then run that distance (yep, just 60 feet – 20 giant steps) and time yourself.  If you run 60 feet in less than 3.36 seconds, then you’ve run the speed that Meb averaged over 26.2 miles.

So, if that’s too fast, try running the women’s pace.  Shalane Flanagan was the women’s number one qualifier and ran the race in 2 hours, 25 minutes, and 30 seconds.  This pace had her covering a mile every 5 minutes and 55 seconds at a speed of 10.8 mph.  Now you’re thinking, “Okay, I can really run that.”  Go give it a try on your 60 foot course….I’ll wait.  By the way, you’re shooting for a time less than 3.79 seconds.

You’re back. How did it go?  Remember that Shalane Flanagan ran that speed for 26.2 miles!

 Still not convinced? Let’s compare those times to the common 40 yard dash speeds of football players.  A&M’s Von Miller ran a 4.53 sec. 40 yard dash in the NFL combine last year.  While his was certainly a sprint, his 40 yard dash time represents a speed of 18.07 mph (still doesn’t ‘sound’ fast, eh?  Your 60 foot time just decreased to 2.27 seconds!).  That speed is faster than both of the marathon winners, but look at this another way.  Both Meb and Shelan averaged a speed over 26.2 miles that was almost two-thirds as fast as Von Miller was sprinting for 40 yards – Meb averaged 68% as fast and Shelan averaged 60% as fast.

And before we leave this topic, consider how close the marathon trials were.  In the men’s group, the top three men finished within 39 seconds of each other; that is an average speed difference of only 0.9 mph across 26.2 miles.  The top four women were only separated by one minute 47 seconds, a difference of 0.12 mph during the same distance.  Imagine running the speeds that we’ve been talking about and having that small difference - a stumble, having a poor water hand-off, slowing to catch your breath – finish your Olympic dreams.

So, go out and give it a shot.  See if you can run – just for 60 feet – the same pace as an Olympic Marathoner.  If you want to have more fun challenge your neighbors and watch what happened when people tried to keep pace with a marathoner for 60 feet in the New York subway (and the Marathoner whose speed they tried to match was Ryan Hall who finished second this past weekend). 

We all love speed.  But we should keep in mind that often it is not the sheer magnitude of speed, but the amount of speed over a given distance that makes the incredible athletic story.  And if you want to read more about our Olympic Marathon team, and the great stories behind each of those incredible athletes, then click here.

Until next week, be active and well.

 

 

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