In Being Fast, I talked about the vagaries of language and mentioned some of the speeds elite runners run at. I thought it would be useful to look at the speed and paces for all the major world records. It only becomes clear when you see these, how fast the best in world are running, and begin to realise how much the rest of us neglect speed.
|Men||Perf.||Mi/h||Km/h||Per mile||Per km||Athlete|
|Top speed||27.8||44.7||2min10||1min21||Usain Bolt|
|100 m||9.58||23.4||37.6||2min34||1min36||Usain Bolt|
|200 m||19.19||23.3||37.5||2min34||1min36||Usain Bolt|
|400 m||43.03||20.8||33.5||2min53||1min48||Wayde van Niekerk|
|800 m||1:40.9||17.7||28.5||3min22||2min06||David Rudisha|
|1000 m||2:12.0||17.0||27.3||3min32||2min12||Noah Ngeny|
|1500 m||3:26.0||16.3||26.2||3min41||2min17||Hicham El Guerrouj|
|Mile||3:43.1||16.1||26.0||3min43||2min19||Hicham El Guerrouj|
|3000 m||7:20.7||15.2||24.5||3min56||2min27||Daniel Komen|
|5000 m||12:35||14.8||23.8||4min03||2min31||Joshua Cheptegei|
|10,000 m||26:11||14.2||22.9||4min13||2min37||Joshua Cheptegei|
|Half marathon||57:32||13.7||22.0||4min23||2min44||Kibiwott Kandie|
|100 km||6:09:14||10.1||16.2||5min57||3min42||Nao Kazami|
|100 m||10.49||21.3||34.3||2min49||1min45||Florence Griffith Joyner|
|200 m||21.34||21.0||33.7||2min52||1min47||Florence Griffith Joyner|
|400 m||47.6||18.8||30.3||3min12||1min59||Marita Koch|
|800 m||1:53.3||15.8||25.4||3min48||2min22||Jarmila Kratochvílová|
|1000 m||2:29.0||15.0||24.2||4min00||2min29||Svetlana Masterkova|
|1500 m||3:50.1||14.6||23.5||4min07||2min34||Genzebe Dibaba|
|3000 m||8:06.1||13.8||22.2||4min21||2min42||Wang Junxia|
|5000 m||14:06||13.2||21.3||4min33||2min49||Letesenbet Gidey|
|10,000 m||29:17||12.7||20.5||4min43||2min56||Almaz Ayana|
|Half marathon||1:04:31||12.2||19.6||4min55||3min03||Ababel Yeshaneh|
|100 km||6:33:11||9.5||15.3||6min20||3min56||Tomoe Abe|
When you compare the men’s and women’s records side by side you see there’s consistently a difference of around 11-12% between them. This is believed to be down to the physical differences between the sexes, that men’s higher levels of testosterone allow them to have bigger muscles which in turn propel them quicker.
|Event||Men WR||Women WR||% diff.|
The two most notable anomalies are at the ends of the spectrum. Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 100m world record was set in 1988 but the video evidence shows there was a strong wind that day, yet the wind gauge recorded 0.0m/s assistance. It’s thought to be a faulty gauge. If, however, you add 11% to Usain Bolt’s 9.58s then then the women’s time should be 9.63s which is close to the 10.61s FloJo recorded the next day and the 10.62s she recorded in winning Olympic gold two months later.
At the other end there is the 100km where the difference is 6.5%. At this distance, the best runners are genetically determined towards endurance and lack the fast-twitch muscle necessary for top speed. Their slow-twitch muscle is naturally resilient and the testosterone difference between the sexes is much less of a factor.
Some of the outliers between men’s and women’s records are down to lack of drug-testing or detectability when the records were set, how often the distances are raced and over the past year we’ve seen distance records being broken with championships cancelled due to Covid and runners taking advantage of energy-efficient shoes.
I’ll return to the point I was trying to make in the Being Fast article, most runners don’t have true speed and that’s because they often fail to train for it. It’s not the only requirement for being a distance runner but it is an important part of it.
My coached sessions are focused on getting you quicker while building the endurance to support it. Everybody’s welcome. In the meantime, enjoy the following video of runners trying to keep pace with Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-2hr marathon pace.