Donner Party Mountain Runners | How fast is fast? |

Donner Party Mountain Runners | How fast is fast?

Donner Party Mountain Runners
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If you follow the world of elite running at all, then without a doubt, you had a conversation this week that went something like this one I had with a friend and training partner:

Him: "A 2:02:57 marathon is [just under] 4:42 pace per mile. Wow!"

Me: "I couldn't run a single 800 at that pace."

Him: "Maybe I will try to run a 2:21 for 800 meters on the track this week."

Me: "I think my fastest time for the 800 in college was 2:23. I couldn't keep up for half a mile!"

We were discussing, of course, the new men's marathon world record of 2:02:57, set by Dennis Kimetto at last week's Berlin Marathon.

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The only way I could wrap my brain around his 4:41 per mile pace was to break it down into a distance short enough that I could maintain that speed. So by my calculations, if I started the Berlin Marathon with the elite men, I could possibly hang on for a quarter of a mile, which would take one minute and 10 seconds to complete. Ouch.

If I wanted to hang with Deena Kastor's American women's record of 2:19:36? That works out to a 5:20 per mile pace — a speed I have a little better grasp of, having run that in younger and speedier days. But to run 25 more at that pace after the first one? Unfathomable.

American Shalane Flanagan made no pretense about her intentions to do just that in her effort to break Kastor's American record at Berlin.

She went big, maintaining a 5:19 per mile pace for the first half, but ultimately came up short of the record in a race where her 5:41 pace over the final kilometers was described by Runner's World as "dying." Imagine running a marathon where 5:41 pace is considered devastatingly slow.

Why, I found myself wondering after even further discussion with my friend, is consideration of these feats, these incredibly fast paces, so intriguing to those of us who will never come close to them? Aside from just offering conversation for our morning runs, I think it has something to do with focused training for road marathons.

I count myself among quite a few Truckee and Tahoe runners training for December's California International Marathon in Sacramento.

In contrast to our long summer days casually running mountain trails, training for a road marathon can entail short running, fast running and very measured running. Workouts are specific, miles are timed, and paces are calculated. Paying attention to the numbers can sometimes be part of the fun.

And when people are out there doing exactly what we are doing, but at a much (MUCH) higher level? It's hard not to take inspiration from their efforts and their accomplishments. It's hard not to get excited about the idea of the two-hour marathon barrier being broken some day. It's hard not to be impressed with Shalane's unabashed intent to break a record that was over two minutes faster than her own personal best, and equally hard not to respect her lack of regret about running aggressively but missing her goal.

I don't know about you, but I'll be thinking about that 4:41 pace during my next track workout while training for my upcoming marathon, and that's the kind of thinking that can make that next 800-meter repeat just a little bit faster than the previous.

If I'm lucky, it's the kind of thinking that will result in a personal best time on race day, even for someone who will never approach the pace of the elites.

— Author Gretchen Brugman writes on behalf of the Donner Party Mountain Runners, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to informing and inspiring mountain runners in the Truckee-Tahoe area. More information can be found on their site,