STARRED REVIEW
October 27, 2015

A race against time

By Ed Caesar
Review by

If there’s a movie called Four Minutes about the quest for the 4-minute

If there’s a movie called Four Minutes about the quest for the 4-minute mile, why not a book called Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon?

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If there’s a movie called Four Minutes about the quest for the 4-minute mile, why not a book called Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon?

Just one problem: The 4-minute mile, once thought impossible, was accomplished more than half a century ago. The current world record in the marathon (26 miles, 385 yards), is 2 hours, 2 minutes and 57 seconds, set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014.

So . . . can the extra 2 minutes and 57 seconds be shaved off by, say, mid-century? After all, it was only 17 years ago that the record was 2:06:05, so it’s gone down over 3 minutes in that time. Or is 2 hours truly impossible?

In Two Hours, British writer Ed Caesar analyzes the dream of a sub-2-hour marathon from every angle, including training, equipment, diet, genetics and the influence of performance-enhancing substances. Along the way, we get a history of distance running and a behind-the-scenes look at the life and training habits of Kenyan runner Geoffrey Mutai, who’s won at New York, Boston and Berlin.

Two hours may be just a number, but—like Everest—it’s there, and tantalizingly close. And Caesar makes a compelling case that it’s doable, although perhaps not for several more generations.

While doing so, he wears two hats: one as a student of science, delving into the realm of oxygen consumption rates and lactate thresholds, and one as a student of human nature, arguing that the marathon is “not primarily a test of athletic talent, but a test of character.” That’s where Mutai comes in, and the up-close-and-personal moments with him are among the book’s best moments.

Caesar takes a cerebral approach, and is careful not to make any bold assessments or predictions. For author and competitor alike, that’s a wise course. 

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Two Hours

Two Hours

By Ed Caesar
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781451685848

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