The myth of losing your speed

The autumn marathons are upon us and first we’ve seen Eliud Kipchoge set a world record time in Berlin and then Keninisa Bekele placing 5th in London in under 2hr06. What makes these runs so impressive is Kipchoge turns 38 next month and Bekele is already 40. These are not the sort of times or placings you expect men approaching their midlife crisis to achieve.

Kenenisa Bekele readies himself for the off …

Both, of course have a long history as elite runners with both of them winning gold medals at the 2003 World Championship in Paris. Kipchoge won the 5,000m; Bekele the 10,000m. Since then Kipchoge has become the world’s premier marathoner and Bekele set a world record in the 5,000m. In 2019 he ran the second fastest marathon in history behind Kipchoge.

Both runners are naturally better suited to distance running than the rest of us and at around 3:50 their mile times are some way down on what the best can achieve but it doesn’t make them slow compared to the rest of us. Less than 2,000 men have managed a sub-4 minute mile and basic speed is the foundation of Kipchoge and Bekele’s distance running success.

Two marathon world record holders (Kipchoge and Radcliffe) watch near London’s finish lline

The pace of their recent marathons comes in at 4:36/mile (or 2:52/km) for Kipchoge and 4:48/mile (2:59/km) for Bekele. Few of the runners I meet can even run 400m in a time under 1:12, let alone a mile.

This harks back to a point I often make about how people returning or taking up running at forty say they’re getting old and can’t expect to be as fast as they were when they were young. Technically they’re right, but realistically they’re just making excuses in case they aren’t.

There is no reason why a decently trained man or woman in their forties can’t be near the front of local races, winning their age category and running their best times. One of my good friends ran his first sub-3 marathon (2hr58) at age 38 then spent his forties training properly with a club and was running 2hr34 as he was about to hit fifty. Improvement is easily possible for almost all the runners I meet.

For the most part staying fast as you age is simply about dedication and getting the training right. If you’d like me to help you improve as a runner then do not hesitate to contact me.