TRACK STATS.

London’s quest for the men’s marathon world record

20 Apr 2016

When the start gun fires this Sunday morning, a mass of around forty-thousand runners will lurch forward, embarking on one of the most prestigious marathon majors humanity has to offer. This is, of course, the London Marathon.

Among the throng, several athletes will quickly emerge, attempting to complete the course in a manner which is favorable to them, be it a victory, a course record, or a world record. The world record, as ratified by the IAAF, has been set in London several times, most recently in 2002, by Khalid Khannouchi (for the men’s record), and in 2003, by Paula Radcliffe (for the current women’s record).

Specifically, when examining the men’s record, the last six record breaking efforts have been run at the Berlin Marathon. Does the London Marathon have a chance to take back the title of the World’s Fastest Marathon? Below is a chart that outlines the progression of the men’s world record alongside the progression of the winner of the London Marathon (since its inception in 1981).

London winner v world record

As evident in the graphic, the London Marathon winner has progressed toward the world record mark as the years go on, which may be a testament to not only the athlete’s preparedness—but also the ability of the race promoters and agents to get the right runners on the starting line. Berlin Marathon may have more instances of record-setting efforts, but the London Marathon finish times are not that far behind.

Another point to examine is the depth of the race’s field. A record-setting day will likely require at least a few athletes with top-level fitness to carry along the eventual champion to a time of 2:02:56 or faster.

Taking this approach, we can examine how fast the top athletes at the race are, relative to the existing world record. We’ve benchmarked the top-ten times for both the London Marathon and the Berlin Marathon, relative to the existing world record at the time the race was run. For additional clarity, the times have been converted to miles-per-hour, then calculated as a percentage of the existing world record, and finally standardized by the following formula to expand the variance within the given percentages, with a base of 90%:

Speed Rating = (((Athlete’s MPH Percentage of Existing WR)*100)-90)*10

For example, when Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich ran 2:04:44 at the 2012 London Marathon, the current world record was 2:03:38. Wilson’s mile-per-hour average works out to 12.61 mph., while the world record was 12.72 mph. Wilson’s speed was 99.12% as fast as the current world record, earning him a speed ranking of 91.2. Had he broken the world record, his speed rank would have been above 100.

The below chart shows the speed rank of the top-ten athletes for both the London Marathon and the Berlin Marathon for the years 2011-2015.

Speed rankings: Berlin v London

As evident, Berlin has been able to produce slightly faster times than London, but by a relatively small margin. In fact, when examining the average speed rank of the top-five athletes from each race for the past five years, London appears to be about as fast:

Speed-rank average of top-5 finishers

Will the London Marathon soon regain the world record? No statistic can ever point to a definitive answer, although based on a few high-level analyses, it certainly seems that the course is quick enough to produce a time faster than ever run before, right there along the Thames.

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