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Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon By Ed Caesar

Release date: 16th July, 2015
Publisher: Viking

List Price: £17.99
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“The boldest advance in the unexplored regions of human efficiency,” opined one wordsmith more than sixty years ago after Sir Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in under four minutes.

On 6th May 1954, Bannister succeeded in taking almost two seconds off a record which had stood since July 1945; at the time, the world marathon record was also held by a Briton – Jim Peters – who covered the distance in 2 hours, 18 minutes, 34 seconds the previous October.

Today, the world record is 2 hours, 2 minutes, 57 seconds; it goes without saying that the first man to crack the two hour mark is assured immortality.

In his accomplished first book, Two Hours, published next week (16 July), Ed Caesar considers the claims of those athletes best placed to ‘advance the unexplored regions of human endurance’, although he believes that even the very best of them have a maximum of ten marathons in which to do so.

In an otherwise well-researched tome, this appears an oddly arbitrary number; why not a dozen, or fifteen, although by inference, readying oneself to pound away over 26 miles, 385 yards in record time requires a significant preparation.

The consensus is that it’ll be an African runner, probably one born at altitude, who will eventually break the elusive two hour mark and Caesar mulls over the likely tactics he will employ. As the marathon world record has gradually come down, so African runners such as Kenyan Sammy Wanjiru have employed strategies previously considered rash. Wanjiru won the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics by destroying the field inside the opening mile, burning them off before romping home three minutes faster than the previous Olympic record.

A similar tactic, this time employed in mid-race, was used to good effect by Geoffrey Mutai, the central character in Caesar’s book, who smashed the world record in Boston in 2011, although his time was not officially recognised.

It was Dennis Kimetto who established the current world record time in Berlin last October, but as it’s taken almost 62 years for the record to come down by 15 and a half minutes, there’s a good case for arguing that it’ll be at least a decade before the two hour mark is broken.


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