How Fast Does a Professional Athlete Run?
You might see a runner at your local park, a local race, or even on T.V. for a big competition like the Olympics and wonder, “How fast are these men really running?” Are they running very fast? With some simple math and the appropriate conversions, we can convert world records or any time desired into a speed or velocity that is a meaningful number. Over the range of world records, this can produce some interesting data. There are also inherent limits to this math, because it is a conversion of the final time, and not a breakdown of splits.
Starting with the longest Olympic competition distance, we have the marathon. In Berlin on September 25th, 2011, Kenyan runner Patrick Makau Musyoki covered the 26.2 mile distance in 2:03:38. This beat the previous record, set by Ethiopian distance legend Haile Gebrselassie, by 21 seconds. The math to convert a marathon time to miles per hour is fairly simple: you must calculate the number of seconds that the event took, since that is the smallest unit of time available. It took Musyoki 7418 seconds to cover the Berlin Marathon. You can then divide this by 3600 (seconds per hour) to calculate the exact number of hours (2.06056) the event took, and finally divide 26.2 miles by the resulting hours figure. In miles per hour, Patrick covered the marathon distance at an average pace of 12.72 miles per hour. To acquire a pace per mile, the calculation is equally easy. Simply divide the seconds by the number of miles, then divide by 60, remove the minutes figure, and multiply by 60 to get the remaining seconds. Makau’s mile pace was an average of 4:43.13.
The next longest common event in which world records are routinely sought for the sake of the specific event is the half marathon (many records are often set en route to the marathon or half marathon). Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea holds the current record for the 13.1 mile event in 58:23. Because the half marathon is measured in an imperial distance like the marathon, the easiest choices for measuring speed are again minutes per mile and miles per hour. Tadese’s time equals an average mile pace of 4:27.4. His average running speed over the event was about 13.46 miles per hour.
Is this really fast? In a word, yes. The average adult human can’t even sprint 100 or 200 meters above 13 miles per hour. The training of these men is extraordinary. From another perspective, I train about 50-60 miles per week, and my best half marathon time is 30 minutes slower than Tadese’s best time. This means he can cover three miles in the time that it takes me to cover two over a half marathon distance.