South African Athletics

R1m Two Oceans record incentive is safe - Tucker

2017-04-12 12:09
Ross Tucker (File)

Cape Town - Elite runners in the 2017 Two Oceans Ultra Marathon will once again be racing towards a large incentive.

In addition to the prize money that will be won, title sponsor Old Mutual has also put a R1 million bonus prize on the table for the first male and female to break the respective Ultra records.

The R1 million bonus was first introduced to the Ultra Marathon ahead of the 2014 event, as entrants set their sights on the records currently held by Thompson Magawana and Frith van der Merwe.

Magawana set the men’s record of 3:03:44 in 1988, while Van der Merwe set the women’s record a year later in 1989 when she ran 3:30:36.

When quizzed by Sport24, world-renowned exercise physiologist, Dr Ross Tucker, has deemed the incentive "safe" for another year...

Sport24: Old Mutual have once again put up R1 million for a new record in either the men’s or women’s Two Oceans Ultra. Is that the safest R1 million in the world? Even if it was R10 million can you realistically see either record being broken with the field assembled this year over the “new” route”?

Tucker: I don’t know if I’d go THAT far - I reckon R1 million in the bedroom of Donald Trump’s Fifth Avenue Apartment in New York might be a little safer. But not much beyond that, especially this year. The thing about Two Oceans is that it’s close enough to the marathon that you can get a reasonable idea of what an athlete is capable of by looking at marathon times. It’s not like Comrades, which is over twice the distance, and so it’s more difficult to predict how a marathon runner will fare when you add on more than double the distance.

But Two Oceans, you can still do that with reasonable accuracy. And to break this record on the men’s side, 3:03:44, you need someone with a marathon in the range of 2:08 - 2:10, who then adapts the training properly, AND has a great day, in perfect conditions.

Why is this? Because when that men’s record was set, Magawana went through the marathon in 2:15, and then he finished well too. The route they used back then was easier over the last 14km than the current one, too, and so anyone with aspirations of setting this record has to aim for about 2:14 to the marathon. Now, if you’re a 2:12 marathon runner, and you hit the marathon in 2:14, you are basically at your limit already, and you still need to run what are a very difficult 14km to the finish. It’s simply not possible. That’s why you need someone who can run 2:09, because for them, 2:14 is relatively comfortable, and maybe, while it’s still a very difficult challenge, they’d be able to hang on and get under that record.

The problem is, Two Oceans rarely has runners of this caliber in the race, and those that have tried it are either well beyond their best, or they don’t make the important adjustment to training required. That means that Ingredient #1, the right athlete, does not currently exist. So the rest is moot anyway, but it would also take the perfect day for that runner, in a competitive race, after a perfect build-up. 

That perfect storm is rare enough, but we just don’t have the athlete to do it.

The same is true on the women’s side. Frith van der Merwe’s record was ‘scared’ by the Olesya Nurgalieva twice (within 3 minutes of it), but what she had was a great marathon. She ran a 2:27:37 in 2008, the same year she came close. That’s a marathon performance our current generation of women are short of, by some distance. To get Frith’s record, you’d need to get to the marathon in around 2:37. That would leave you with 53 minutes to finish (Caroline Wostmann has done that last 14km in 53 min in her last two wins).

But 2:37? That again is right on the limit for our women. Caroline’s best marathon is 2:44, and OK, she could say she hasn’t focused on it, and that’s true. But that’s a long way off the pace required. Tanith Maxwell has a 2:32, so she’s faster, but hasn’t yet shown Caroline’s ability to extend that. Maybe this is her year, but I think asking for a 2:36-2:37, and then 14km is asking too much.

So overall, the maths just does not add up - we don’t have the runners with the necessary credentials to threaten the records, and so more than likely, the winning times, at best, will be 3:06-3:07 for the men, and 3:39-3:40 for the women.

Plus, add in that the prize money for winning the race is quite substantial, so the best athletes are going to be risk averse - do you go out and run for the record, which means going through the marathon in around 2:14, when the risk of doing so is that you blow up badly and don’t even finish top 10? Or do you play it smart, patient, and rather run 2:19 - 2:20, and be in with a chance of some money?

Overall, the million is safe.

The 2017 Two Oceans Ultra Marathon will take place on Saturday, April 15, starting at 06:40.

Click to follow Dr Ross Tucker on Twitter

Read more on:    two oceans  |  ross tucker  |  athletics
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