Two hours. To run a marathon in that time would be to smash a barrier so significant that exercise physiologists’, running coaches’—and runners’—jaws would drop worldwide. (Need some perspective? A 2-hour marathon requires less than a 4:35 per mile pace—that’s nearly 15mph.) The current record: 2:02:57—run by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto just about one year ago in Berlin. 177 seconds may not seem like much of a gap, but it’s eons when we’re talking times this fast. Yet, it’s a feat many say is possible. In his book, Two Hours, Ed Caesar seeks to find out. His clear protagonist is elite Kenyan marathoner Geoffrey Mutai who readers “meet” at the starting line of the Berlin marathon in September 2012 (and then go back in time to his humble roots, the fastest marathon ever run, and more legendary milestones.) But the book is not just about Mutai, nor is just about the mythical 2-hour marathon.
In fact, it’s essential reading for any marathon runner—or really any runner for that matter (Warning: if you haven’t run a marathon, this book may inspire you to sign up for your first.) Caesar’s conversational voice grabs your attention instantly making you feel as if you’re running alongside elite marathoners, visiting hometowns of the greats like Mutai and Haile Gebrselassie —and ultimately will think you’re reading a fictional story rather than an intensely research-heavy non-fiction book. But that’s what it is at its core: Caesar spent three years conducting hundreds of interviews and researching the history of the marathon—from 490 B.C. through to today. You’ll learn interesting factoids (Why 26.2? Before 1908, the “marathon” was any distance “around” 25 miles. Then, London’s 1908 marathon was routed to please the royal family and just happened to be 26.2—now that’s the universally accepted distance.) And you’ll certainly question the capabilities of human endurance. One of the most interesting facets of the book is the idea that it’s mentality—rather than physicality—that’s holding us back from a 2-hour marathon.
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Proof: At one point, we thought a 4-minute mile was impossible. Then, Roger Bannister crushed it in 1954 in 3:59:04. Now, a 4-minute mile simply means you stack up against the male middle-distance running competition. Is it possible that things are only impossible when we think they’re impossible? That’s the question you’re left pondering after you put Two Hours back on the shelf. And as to whether the 2-hour marathon is within human reach? We once thought Everest was insurmountable, Caesar points out…