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Renato Canova Talks About The Two-Hour Marathon

The world-famous coach stopped by the offices of the Boston Athletic Association last week.

The world-famous coach stopped by the offices of the Boston Athletic Association last week.

(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

BOSTON — Italy’s Renato Canova may just be the world’s best marathon coach.  He made an appearance yesterday at a media roundtable here at the offices of the Boston Athletic Association, and explained his thoughts on Moses Mosop’s debut marathon this past April, training for the marathon, and specifically the possibility of a sub-two hour marathons.  Here is what he said.

RRW: Boston this year was unlike any other marathon in history. From Boston, what changes can you see so far from the race?

Renato Canova: Boston changes the self confidence of many people. The most important thing as a marathoner isn’t the history. Boston was the most exciting marathon of all-time. Running 2:03, the way that Geoffrey and Moses used to run Boston, in my opinion, is something that can change the history of this event in a mental point of view.  There is no fear or fright of running faster, and it is possible to overtake the limit. What I can say is that the mind of Boston is different, the motivation is different now.

RRW: With the inaugural B.A.A. 10K on Sunday, what do you think the event can bring to the table?

RC: The B.A.A. 10-K can be something important in the future. The course is very flat, and in the future, maybe, on this course it is possible to look for the world record for 10-K on the roads. Of course it depends on the shape of the athletes and the field. Boston is not only something in history, we believe in the history here, and it is really, really exciting.

RRW: What are your thoughts on how Moses Mosop developed over the course of marathon training?

RC: First to think Moses never trained with people at 2:04, 2:05; he was training having not finished a marathon. He was particularly alone. Now Abel Kirui is in the group… I think for the next time it will be easier mentally for him. Mentally, the situation for these guys is the change after the marathon, that three athletes– Geoffrey, Moses, and Gebremariam– they best appear like runners of 10,000m.

RRW: What do you think of the times run and the capabilities of athletes now having seen this year’s Boston?

RC: Athletes that wait to finish their career on the track are slowing down before moving to the marathon. This is the first difference with the past. And of course, you have athletes stronger than the past, younger than the past, they can use something different in training. They have the ability to recover quickly after very tough workouts, and we changed the methodology of training. The methodology is connected with the level of athletes. We needed to change the methodology. It’s not the methodology coming before the athlete, but after the athlete. With this type of athlete, it is possible to look for a time under 2:03 in two or three years. This wasn’t possible until three or four years ago, when I think in the mind it was very far, a final target. Now I think it is not far but very close, and of course new athletes, new motivation, a different mind, different possibility of recovery, different training, all of these components can bring a record that was not possible until two years ago.

RRW: Much has been made of the two-hour barrier. I know you think 2:02 is on the horizon.

RC: Really, two hours in my mind, is really far. But after the 30-K of Moses in Eugene on the track, there was no speculation of wind. There was wind in Boston, of course there was wind, but the calculation of help or aid was some speculation that I continue to call a stupid speculation, calculating the amount of advantage an athlete can have. To compare for example, the marathon of this year with the marathon of 1994 is to cheat people, for I remember a picture of Uta Pippig where her hair is in front of her face; the wind was a storm.  This year, I also spoke with Gebre [Gebremariam] today, and everybody said the same thing, that in the last 5-6 km, there was wind at their back, that was helping. But all the other parts of the race, the wind was from one side, and sometime also against. This is the truth, and I don’t look to match the official data like it is a competition of 100m, it is not possible that for more than two hours it is even, at a constant direction. It is speculation.

But if we go to analyze the competition of this year, the key is Ryan Hall at the beginning, Hall was very even through 25km, but after 25km, there is 5km in 15:07, where all athletes lost 25 seconds on the pace. I don’t think that these 25 seconds could be recovered in the last part. So if it was possible this year to have someone pushing from 25 to 30km, already this year the final [would be] 2:02:45, it was already possible. We need to discover something new in this situation. What I can say, in an athlete like Moses, and I suppose an athlete like Geoffrey, can look in two years time because the problem is to find the conditions. But running at 29-pace (for 10Km), it means 1:56 after 40km, it means to finish in 2:02:20, it is really possible in good conditions.

We need to discover what is possible to do with the training and volume of before and more intensity. We don’t know. Now, the human limit, we need to discover something new in training. Because in the history of athletics, not much has changed  in the last 40 years, for example in the 800m or 1500m. In the 400m, nothing has changed? No, we are speaking of 45 seconds today, forgetting that in the Rome Olympics, 1960, 51-years-ago the first and second were together in 44.9. So, we have new methodologies that the elite didn’t change.

For long distances, everything changes, because we continue to increase in every type of performance. The first key for changing started from Ron Clark in 1965, when for the first time, people not only spoke of general mileage, but of the qualification of mileage. This is the key for running fast. It is not possible running long and fast, running long and slow in training, and short and fast. No, we needed to put together the situation. What can happen if we are ready to reduce three-percent the difference between running a half-marathon like pace and a marathon, we can look for running under two-hours.

Of course, we need an athlete that, in that period, is running 26:20 for 10,000m preparing for a marathon. I don’t know if at the moment there is one out there like this, but I know it is possible, also because a marathon is the only event in athletics now where they can keep the motivation. Or secondary motivation which is very important. So the most top talent that are young are moving to the marathon right now, so my idea that the world record on the track will have a very long, very long life, because there is no longer the same interest around. The world record in the marathon can be beaten several times in the next years.