Events

New World Record Set: Longest Time Between Sub-3:00 Marathons

Iain Mickle ran under 3 hours at the Cal International Marathon… more than 42 years after his first sub-3.

In Sunday morning’s California International Marathon, several dozen elite marathon runners added their names to the bulging list of men and women who have qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta on February 29.

But only one runner, Iain Mickle, is known to have set a new “world record” in Sacramento. Mickle’s performance gets quotation marks because it’s not officially recognized as a world mark. However, it is statistically accurate and highly prized among veteran marathon runners.

Mickle finished Sunday morning’s marathon in 2:42:57. This comes precisely 42 years and 151 days after his first sub-3 marathon on July 10, 1977. That gives him the record for longest elapsed time between two sub-3 marathon finishes. Mickle, a Sacramento attorney, celebrated his 59th birthday three days before CIM.

Here are the current top-3 rankings for years between sub-3 marathons:

  1. 42 years, 151 days: Iain Mickle (last sub-3, 12-8-2019)
  2. 41 years, 362 days: Antonio Arreola (last sub-3, 12-2-2018)
  3. 41 years, 102 days: Blake Wood (last sub-3, 3-19-2017)

Mickle had previously occupied third place on the list. Now he has supplanted Antonio Arreola at the top rung. However, Arreola will have a chance to bounce back when he runs the next Houston Marathon on Jan. 19, 2020.  If he succeeds in Houston, Arreola’s elapsed-time will grow to 43 years, 45 days between sub-3-hour marathons. Arreola, who lives in San Jose, California, is 16 months older than Mickle, having turned 60 last August.

In Houston, Arreola will also attempt to be one of the first to put his name on the 6 Decades Sub-3 list. There are currently 41 runners in the 5 Decades Sub 3 (5DS3 group), but the sixth decade is sure to substantially winnow the numbers. Many of the 5DS3 runners recorded their last sub-3 in 2010 or 2011, and are unlikely to break 3 hours again a decade later.

From High School To Masters

Mickle ran the San Francisco Marathon as a high school junior in 1977 because his father was running the same event. Mickle recalls that he finished in about 2:50, 10 minutes ahead of his dad. During his college days at the  University of California Berkeley, he was coached by Canadian marathon great Brian Maxwell, inventor of PowerBars. In college, in law school, and while getting married and raising two young children, Mickle had no time for consistent training. He gained about 20 pounds, even while continuing to run at a low-mileage level, and didn’t enter marathons. Hence, he doesn’t have a consecutive-decade streak.

Mickle has only gotten serious about marathon training and racing in the last decade. He recorded his PR, 2:38:18, at the 2014 Boston Marathon. To prepare for CIM, he ran up to 80 miles a week with a group of fellow members of the Sacramento Running Association. “The marathon itself was fun, with great conditions,” he said afterwards. “I ran much of the way with the pacers and elite women aiming for the 2:45 women’s Olympic Trials standard.” He passed the halfway mark in 1:21:23, meaning he ran near-perfect even splits.

Arreola, who recently retired from full-time work, entered his last marathon a year ago at CIM, finishing in 2:54:48. Since then he has had to contend with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “It’s been a struggle much of this year, but I started turning things around again in the fall,” he says. He ran an October half-marathon and another in November, finishing both in the high 1:22s. Those seem like positive indicators for a sub-3 at Houston.

He admits that he should be ready for a 2:55 or so in Houston, but has concerns about “heavy legs” that sometimes strike after as little as three miles. “I don’t feel that I’ve ever achieved my marathon potential,” says Arreola, whose personal best is the relatively modest 2:46:17 that he ran 18  years ago. On the other hand, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down much either. Which is a good trait to have in the consecutive-decades game.

“I don’t know Antonio, but I wish him well in Houston–I hope he’s successful,” says Mickle. “And if he is, that will give me all the more motivation to come back strong again next year.”