Thursday, April 23, 2009

Not in a Million Years

The fastest mile I ever recorded was 7:16, during a failed and puke-inducing attempt at breaking 50 minutes in a 10-K. Last year, I toyed with the idea of working toward a six-minute mile. A pace I have only sniffed while running 800-meter intervals (if you can call 6:52 "sniffed").

I've always wondered how fast I could run a mile if I ran all out. However, I have never run in a mile race or focused on it during interval training, so it's difficult to track other than my splits from training runs and races.

Jim Fixx wrote in his seminal Complete Book of Running that all runners, no matter when they start running, improve their pace each year until they peak at 10 years and start to decline.

I started running in 2006, so according to Fixx I still have about seven years of upside. However, it also means, I have a limit to how fast I will ever be able to run a given distance.

The blog Gravity and Levity has an interesting post, "The Fastest Possible Mile," which delves into the limits that all runners face and concludes with a fixed time that anyone will ever be able to achieve in the mile.

The fastest mile ever recorded by a human is 3:43:13, by Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999.



Gravity and Levity posits that El Guerrouj came within 1.5 percent of running the mile at maximum human capacity.

I'm not going to spoil the surprise by telling you what that capacity is. Go read it for yourself. But it pretty much says I won't be coming close that mark. Not in a million years.

Perhaps a better study for me would be to see if I can reach the maximum human capacity for chugging a pint of beer.

17 comments:

Vanilla said...

I've often toyed with the idea of running a one mile race, but it seems weird to spend the effort to go to a race that is over so quickly. (Assuming that 7ish minutes is 'quickly')

Xenia said...

I'm still a little boggled by the math and graphs from that link. Having said that, I'm still pretty sure you could run a mile in 6 minutes. With proper training of course.

tfh said...

I wonder whether I could run a 3:43 minute mile for 10 yards.

Also, thanks to Jim Fixx I now know I've peaked and am starting to decline at the ripe old age of 27.

Nitmos said...

I always snicker (yes, I said snicker) whenever someone tries to definitively quantify a limit to human potential. It's a fools errand in my opinion. The "experts" once said that, if a man ever broke 4 minutes in a mile, he's most likely to collapse and die on the spot. Until it happened. Sounds like there is another barrier then...until someone proves that wrong also.

Maybe you?

Mike said...

Viper, I'm looking at your PRs and there's no doubt you could run a 6-minute mile if you trained for it. But there's the rub. Unless you want to train for a mile race there isn't much point.

But if you decide to try, just gradually increase the length of your intervals. You and I are about the same pace and I managed a 6:32 mile in an all-out sprint last year. Since you are WAAAAAYYYY younger than I am, six minutes would definitely be within reach.

Carolina John said...

i've found it's a lot easier to drop your pace than raise it. slow down, drunkard!

I have broken 6 minutes in a 1 mile race years ago. as an old man, it's not within my range anymore. and i have no desire to run 1 mile races anymore.

Spike said...

I'm sure you ran a 6min mile. If you can pull a 7:16 at the end of a 10K, you can run a sub 7. In fact, you will probably have a harder time finding a 1M race.

Roisin said...

6 minutes for a mile...I have no doubt that you can do it.

For that pint business...I guess it depends on what you're chugging. Are we talking Guinness?

gravityandlevity said...

I'm glad you found the post interesting! Nitmos's criticism is very valid. I was surprised by the results of the analysis myself, and I am quite aware of foolhardy predictions of the past (although apparently the idea that "experts" predicted a minimum of 4:00 for a mile is a myth: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Bannister ).

The only response I have is that the data is extremely convincing. 100 years worth of data almost perfectly fits the mathematical form for exponential decay to the time 3:39.6. You're right that any attempt to describe human willpower with a mathematical formula should be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, if any human runs a mile in under 3:39.6 during my lifetime, I'll eat my hat.

Sun Runner said...

I ran a one-mile race last year, and won the whole ball of wax, or in my case, bag of bread. 6:48, still my fastest mile ever.

1M races are out there, but they are kind of hard to find. I'm lucky to have one right in my town.

chia said...

Only a pint? Wow, way to lower the bar!

My fastest mile so far on normal ground is an 8:12. I have also been known to set a treadmill to 12mph and just stand on the sides every 25-30 seconds and call it a 5 minute mile. But we won't talk about that.

Ted said...

Here's my suggestion.... Find the steepest downgrade hill. Run a mile and you will get it under 6 minutes. Guaranteed!

Al's CL Reviews said...

Chugging a Guinness is very easy...other pints, I would have to get more practice.

As for a 6 minute mile...I will never achieve that.

Jess said...

There was some blogger...can't recall who...who last fall (I believe? man, my memory is shot!) was trying for the 5 min mile and he got the virtual community in on it by hosting a virtual "one mile race." Perhaps you could replicate something of that nature to motivate you toward that 6 min mile!

Or, would that be too much work?

Some guy named John said...

If you've never raced the mile, you really owe it to yourself to at least give it a try! In some ways it's my favorite distance to race: It hurts like hell, but it doesn't require quite the raw power of 800m and down.

And for what it's worth, you wouldn't be the only grown-up to focus on the mile: I'm doing it a half-dozen times between now and August myself in the attempt to get as close to 6:00 as I can.

Anonymous said...

and if you didn't start until you were almost 47? I'm thinking not. It would be nice though~if I don't get any slower I'll BQ at 74.

Vava said...

Hey man, thanks for the comment on the Jays. I don't know when the last time the Jays were on top and the Leafs on bottom, but I do know that the chances of this happening are better than the other way around. The Jays' are losing pitchers almost daily at the moment, but the ones that are left are still pitching above expectations. As far as hitting goes, the team is FINALLY hitting the way they were expected to hit for the past two seasons, but didn't. Also, the team chemistry seems great, and for what it's worth I think a positive clubhouse does impact play on the field. Here's hoping that this hot start continues and the Jays can be this year's Tampa Bay Rays.