Article #3 of 50: I have made it a goal of mine to share at least 50 research articles with you to review in 2012. (Merry Christmas! 2012 will be here before you know it.) These articles will be shared with no opinion of mine, just purely the information provided in the research and where to go to read more about the topic. This weekly challenge will feature many different aspects of the field: strength, conditioning, nutrition, psychology, etc. If you would like to submit research articles to be included in this segment, please email me a PDF version of the peer reviewed journal article.

J Appl Physiol 110:275-277, 2011

Overview: In this Viewpoint we ask if information about the physiology, genetics, and empirical history of elite endurance performance can provide insight into the question of “who” will break the 2-h marathon barrier and when this might happen. We also identify several physiological questions that we believe need attention. The current world record in the men’s marathon is 2:03:59 (Gebrselassie 2008). This record has fallen by more than 16 min since the early 1950s after high volume/year round training was adopted widely. Except for the 1970s, the record has fallen by _1–5 min/decade since 1960 when Africans entered international competition. Improvements since 1980 likely also reflect increased prize money and competitive opportunities that allowed top athletes to earn a living running. Figure 1 shows the history of marathon times and projected improvements. Using times from 1960, the open squares suggest it will take 12–13 yr to break 2 h assuming an _20-s reduction per year. If times from 1980 are used, the filled squares suggest it will take 25 yr assuming an _10-s reduction per year. Consistent with the idea that marked improvement is likely, empirical models of running times suggest that the men’s world records for the 10,000 m and half marathon are equivalent to a marathon time of _2:02–2:03 (5, 21).

Summary: Whoever breaks 2 h will likely have outstanding running economy and small body size along with exposure to high altitude and significant physical activity early in life. However, neither of these factors nor any specific suite of genotypes appear to be obligatory for a time this fast. Current trends suggest that an East African will be the first to break 2 h. However periods of regional dominance in distance running are not unique to the East Africans: athletes from Finland, Eastern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have all had extended periods of success at a range of distances (17). From a physiological perspective, more information is clearly needed on the relationship between V ˙ O2max and running economy and the influence of running economy and body size on thermoregulation and fuel use.

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