Since the beginning of the Wings for Life World Run, no athlete has broken the magic 80km mark, and only one has cracked 79km.
It’s a feeling that crosses disciplines. Breaking a record some regarded as unbreakable haunted one sleek man, lost. His eyes wandered aimlessly. And for a second it felt like he had detached from the crowd chanting his name. When David Rudisha completed the 800m in 1:41.09, it ended one of the longest standing running world records: a world record that had stood for 4412 days. Just a week later, he bettered his own mark.
At the Wings for Life World Run that seemingly unbreakable mark – at least for now – remains at 80km. Two-time Global Champion, Lemawork Ketema, got so close – 79.9km – when the Catcher Car ended his race in 2015. Out of 101,280 registered athletes in the 2015 Wings for Life World Run, only three made it beyond 75km: Ketema in Austria, César Díaz Hernández completed 78.31km in Chile and Italian running-Wunderkind Giorgio Calcaterra ran 78.06km in Milan.
In the world of sports, breaking records is considered the most visible sign of advance. Beyond the romantic idea of human progress that stretches from ancient arenas to today’s glass and steel stadiums, scientists have long hunted the magic ingredients of record-breaking athletic performances. Not surprisingly the answer is a complex mixture of physiological and psychological components, as well as outside factors that cannot be influenced by any athlete.
While records still rather happen than be planned, new analysis methods have allowed coaches and scientists an incredibly detailed look into an athlete’s physical ability to perform at any given point in time. But ever since Roger Bannister broke the four-minute-mile (link), scientific attention has dramatically shifted towards the psychological aspect – true to Napoleon Hill’s famous quote “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve”.
To break 80km at the Wings for Life World Run, a runner would need to run at a pace of 3 minutes and 49 seconds for more than five hours.
“You can wish as hard as you like, but all that really matters is the shape you're in on the day of the race. I've always felt these really big races aren't necessarily won by whoever is the fastest. They're won by the athlete who is the smartest and in the best shape on the day”, writes Paula Radcliffe, current holder of the women’s marathon world record at 2:15:25 hours (a pace of 3 minutes and 12 seconds).
With Lemawork opting to focus on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, only two of 2015’s top three runners are taking another swing at breaking the magic mark – pending a dark horse 80+km victory on Sunday, May 8.
Calcaterra, three times world champion of the 100km, and known to be ultra-competitive, will once again take on the Catcher Car in Milan, Italy, while Díaz Hernández has decided to race on Lemawork’s stomping ground in Austria.
Apart from this being the race of their lives, there are some factors no athlete can influence.
When Robert “Bob” Beamon set a long jump world record at the 1968 Mexico Olympics that would last for 22 years and 316 days, his leap of 8.90m was a classic moment of all stars aligning: Mexico City’s thin air, a just-permissible tailwind of 2m/s and an almost eerily perfect leap from the board all contributed to what has since become known as The Perfect Jump, vapourising the previous record by 55cm. After his gold medal. He never again jumped higher than 8.22m.
In similar fashion, Lemawork’s record-setting 2015 race day in Austria saw almost perfect running conditions with cloudy skies, mild temperatures and calm winds.
So can 80km be broken? There is only one way to find out: follow the Wings for Life World Run on May 8 at 11am UTC live at www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com.
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Astrid Kaltenböck, Local winner in Brazil 2015 and Verona 2014
Michael Wardian, Local winner in Melbourne, Australia in 2015 and Sunrise, Florida in 2014
Anita Gerhardter, Wings for Life CEO
Wings for Life foundation
Melina Magulas, Norway
Matej Markovič Slovenia