Three minutes, forty-three seconds, and thirteen hundredths of a 2nd is the fastest that a person has ever run a mile, as much as we know. Hicham El Guerrouj, a Moroccan middle-distance jogger who was then twenty-four year old, accomplished the feat in 1999, averaging slightly much more than 16 miles per hour together he sped approximately Rome’s Olympic stadium track. A figured out wisp of a man, El Guerrouj weighed a hundred and also twenty-eight pounds in ~ the time and stood 5 feet ripe inches tall in his running socks. Those few who’ve come close to to run a mile as rapid as El Guerrouj have actually been about the very same size, and that’s not a coincidence: if you great to run center or long distances quickly, it helps to take trip light.

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The six-time Olympic yellow medalist Usain Bolt, who set a hundred-metre human being record of 9.58 seconds, in 2009.Photograph by Sandra Mailer / REX / AP
The Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, top top the other hand, has “one the mankind’s most sculpted bodies,” as GQ put it a couple of years ago: that is eight inches taller 보다 El Guerrouj and also weighs much more than two hundred pounds. Once the six-time Olympic gold medalist set his hundred-metre world record of 9.58 seconds in Berlin, in 2009, in ~ the period of twenty-two, that averaged more 보다 twenty-three miles every hour, peaking at much more than twenty-seven. He can not sustain that pace over a continuous mile, the course; his finest two-hundred-metre (19.19), four-hundred-metre (45.28), and also eight-hundred-metre (2:10) times make that clear. So exactly how much would certainly Bolt slow-moving down while running a complete mile? can he operation that street in less than, say, five minutes?

This hypothetical has actually been debated by to run geeks because that years. Top top the well-known Web site


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Johnson has a pair brother, though, named Weldon, a previous Olympic-trials distance runner who co-founded the web site through him. Weldon respectfully disagrees v his brother. “With training, I would certainly think Bolt can break five minutes,” that told me. Various other educated observers room willing come go also further. Zebulon Lang, one assistant track and also cross-country coach in ~ Cornell University, said, “I’m happy to walk on document that I believe Bolt could run a mile in 4:20 right now.” Lang cites the strong fifteen-hundred-metre time (4:14) by the world-record-holding decathlete Ashton Eaton, and also the outstanding eight-hundred-metre début time (1:53) by Jeremy Wariner, a three-time gold medalist in the four hundred metres. Lang’s thinking, essentially, is this: if one of the best quarter-milers ever before can become an élite half-miler, and perhaps the best decathlete ever before can run what equals a 4:34 mile, climate the ideal sprinter of every time deserve to at least run a mile as well as a solid high-school athlete.


But what around Bolt’s most likely inability to speed himself over longer distances—not to point out his body’s spiking blood-lactate levels and reasonably poor capillary density as his human body exceeds the trained limits? (Running a mile quickly requires efficient consumption of oxygen and recycling that the body’s accumulating lactate; to run a hundred metres easily does not.) His largely anaerobic training would certainly hurt that in a greatly aerobic race, right? Probably. “Speed over short distances go not automatically guarantee relative speed over lengthy distances,” Ross Tucker, a professor of exercise physiology in ~ the college of the complimentary State, in southern Africa, said me. “Mainly because the device used to produce energy sent to muscle is rather different. What a one-hundred- or two-hundred-metre sprinter counts on is incapable of conference his requirements over a mile. Through definition, the training a short-distance sprinter walk is in polar the opposite to the of a middle-distance runner. One-hundred-metre speed translates pretty well up to 4 hundred metres. Yet after that there is a large change.”

Tucker, too, brought up Ashton Eaton. “If the runs 4:15 come 4:17” in the fifteen hundreds metres “at the finish of two days of decathlon competition, ns reckon a fresh effort puts him in ~ around 4:20 for a mile,” the said. “Yes, a decathlete’s maintain is necessarily aligned towards an ext endurance than a one-hundred-metre runner, but I nothing think to the level that castle an irregularity comparison. If Eaton is capable of a 4:20 mile through his training, then Bolt,” v middle-distance training, “won’t be much quicker than 4:30, in my opinion.” If Tucker had to guess, he’d placed his money on 4:45 to 4:50. “But the incentive for him would need to be large.”

There are relevant precedents one have the right to cite, and they nothing bolster the instance for Bolt’s success. The so late American sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner, that won 3 Olympic yellow medals and also still holds people records in both the hundred (10.49) and two hundred metres (21.34), attempted to come to be a distance jogger after her sprinting job ended. It didn’t occupational out well. Probably the most visually convincing argument versus Bolt’s potential prowess in the mile is the clip of the nine-time Olympic yellow medalist and sprinting specialist Carl Lewis struggling to run a 2:16 half-mile in his prime, in 1986, top top television. It’s clean from his critical lap the the guy who was then the “fastest human being in the world,” as the TV announcer call Lewis, is spent. He provides the half-mile look hard. "There's no method Lewis would have finished the mile in under 5 minutes," Robert Johnson said me.

Bolt’s agent, Ricky Simms, won’t say whether he believes the his client could run a mile in less than five minutes. But Simms confirmed, over e-mail, the the world’s best sprinter has, in fact, never tried running that far: “Usain has never operation a mile.”


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Charles Bethea is a staff writer at The brand-new Yorker.

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