Is there a limit to how fast a mile can be run?

And to follow up, os there a way to calculate the fastest speed the mile will ever be run in?

The 4 minute mile was the holy grail for a long time, but it tuned out the time limit was more of a mental hurdle than anything else. Ever since the 4 minute mile has been achieved, the record time for the mile has fallen to its current time of 3:43.13. This was set in 1999, so it has been quite a while since it has been lowered. But I have little doubt that it will be.

Is it possible to figure out how many seconds can be shaved from the 3:43.13? Because I believe you can close In on it by some common sense.

For instance. I think we can agree that the 3 minute mile is an impossibility (assuming no PEDs or any other speed enhancers.). I am also willing to bet the 3:15 mark is unreachable. I will go further and say that the 3:30 mile is never going to be broken. But is that provable by any method other than time?

Can you extrapolate the time it has taken the record to fall to almost 17 seconds below the unbreakable barrier to see if and when it will fall another 13 seconds?

I don’t know if there is a factual answer for this, but I’m curious. I think that if 3:30 is ever approached, it will be a bigger mental block to overcome than the 4:00 mark was. But it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to think someone could shave 3 seconds off their lap time to get close to the 3:30. But maybe it is physically impossible to do. Maybe even 3:40 is impossible.

Any ideas?

I guess if you had enough data you could plot date vs fastest mile ever run up to that moment in time. Then try to fit a function to the data, and extrapolate from there.

This is little more than a WAG.

…by humans. Pronghorns do it in 1 minute or roundabout.

Here are some good articles on the limits of human performance, and particularly the mile, which suggest that the limit for the mile will be just under 3:40.

1609 / 299792458 – minimal time in seconds to traverse a mile. :slight_smile:
(In the crowd’s frame of reference…)

More serious answer, assuming a limit of ~9 s / 100 m for the ability of the human body to propel itself, ignoring stamina, you get a hard theoretical limit of about 2.5 minutes based on human physiology.

Whether a human will ever be able to sprint a mile is, of course, highly debatable. But maybe with the right drugs… :dubious:

I’m going to say (complete WAG) that it should be possible to run a mile in under 3:30, and may, just, be possible to do it in 3:00 someday – but that’s really pretty much sprinting the whole time already.

ETA: si_blakely’s response wasn’t there when I posted; haven’t had time to read the links, but that’s certainly more research than I did… :o (i.e., none)

David Rudisha’s 800m 2012 WR pace was just over 100 seconds, that’s 3:20 for the mile.

So sub 3:40 is realistic on an Olympic standard circular, flat course.

For a straight track with a gentle incline, bit of a tail wind with pacers and wind breakers, sub 3:20 could be done.

You cannot just scale an 800m performance to assume 3:20 for the mile. That is like saying that because the mile can be run in 3:43 the marathon could be run in 1:40 (hint - it can’t. Sub 2:00 is marginal).

There is good research on this, easy to find via google and this is GQ.


You do some research and post:

I agree, and quote a current stellar performance that supports your mark

Then you go the snark?
How fast can a mile be run is a profoundly different question to what is the world record for a mile.
Top speed for a exceptional professional cyclists at a velodrome is around 70km/hr

The current absolute bicycle speed record? 268km/hr

You’re apparently good at Google, look up “Fred Rompelberg” and see how it’s done. To save other the work link
Another question.
When was the first 4 minute mile run?

Well the answer Roger Bannister in 1954 isn’t correct.
In 1770 (yep, almost 200 years earlier) James Parrott ran a mile along Old St, Shoreditch in London in under 4 minutes. It doesn’t appear in the record books because he did it to win a wager (at odds of only 3:1) so he was classed as a professional. (It also patently wasn’t a flat 400m circular Olympic standard track).

Bannister was the first recorded amateur to run a mile under 4mins on an Olympic standard track without wind assistance. He was paced, but that was deemed legal.
The time a land forgot

Ignorance fought … and that’s what GQ if for

I watched the fastest mile ever recorded being run (3:28.3) - 1983, Mike Boit, for the Queen Street mile in Auckland. But his best official time was 3:49.45. And for the purposes of discussion and comparison, assuming an official track event is not unreasonable.

Just wait until I finish my four-legged human project.

Intersting stuff. Thanks all.

I guess part of what I was mulling over in my mind was the idea to set up a mathematical function, which would find the lower limit of the mile time. I don’t know exactly what it would look like, but the upper limit would be infinity, and the lower limit would be the actual fastest time.

I should have set up parameters, so I’ll do that now. Indoor track, no wind, no PED’s, no straight downhill running, and no running at altitude. I don’t know what the international rules are for records set and how many feet above sea level they can be, but whatever that is, let’s go with that. Essentially, the fadtest time must meet the criteria to be recognized as an official world record.

Chartat Running Planet.

It predicts that a VO2 Max of 87.5 will be needed for a 3:36 mile.

This calculator predicts a VO2 Max. of 89 for a 3:30 mile. Most world class runners are somewhere between 75-85 with the highest in the low 90s.

Running efficiency will also play a role as well as ratio of fast/slow twitch muscle fiber.

They’re probably doping.

You can reduce wind resistance further by doing it in a vacuum.

Do the stadia with inflatable domes have a reverse switch?

Note those domes are inflatable – that is haled up by air pressure. It’s going to be hard to run with the inflatable dome collapsed all around you. Breathing is going to be hard too, and I’m sure runners aren’t going to reach to speed wearing oxygen masks or proper vacuum clothes.

Pfft, my airplane does it way faster than that!

These articles are very interesting. The second article especially was insightful, as it explained exactly what I’ve been trying to get at.

The speed “limits” of the mile are between the fastest sprinter in the world at this time (Usain Bolt) and the current world record. If you extrapolate Bolt’s time in the 100 meters to the length of a mile, the time works out to around 2:36. The upper limit of the range would be the current world record of 3:43. Somewhere between these two times is the answer.

Based on the fact tha the current record was set in 1999 means that we may have already hit the fastest time in the mile. The mile’s time has been steadily decreasing over the last 100 years. The author also points out that the number of people on the planet has jumped considerably since records began to be kept. So, from 100+ years ago you have 2 billion people on the planet to now, with a population of 6+ billion, meaning the number of potential runners have increased while the times have steadily decreased until 1999, when the current record was set.

The author does some mathematics and exponential decay to get to the fastest possible time a mile will ever be run as approx 3:39.6, which may be hogwash, but it was an attempt to get the answer I was hoping to via mathematics. Interestingly, it was close to my 3:40 guess, which was derived by pulling it out of my butt mostly, with a small bit of logic tossed in.

I will be curious as to when and if the record is broken again, how many times it will be broken before it settles into the final record time. And the fact is there is a limit to how fast a human can run the mile. And we may already be very close to that now.

If you are interested in this topic (and I assume you are if you are reading these replies), I recommend you read the articles linked to by si_blakely. Especially the second article.

Given the first quote, I would be more interested in doing the opposite of a vacuum.

Enclose a mile-long running track, and then fill it with 100% oxygen, and let some Olympic runners loose in there. Higher oxygen to boost performance, I imagine we can air condition the track to the optimal temperature. We’d lose out on a wind boost but I wonder if the other factors would make up for it.

Certainly up to the point that they catch on fire :wink:

I am not sure that more oxygen in the atmosphere would help. VO[sub]2[/sub]max is a measure of the O[sub]2[/sub] delivery capacity of the cardiovascular system, and I don’t believe it is limited by O[sub]2[/sub] exchange in the lungs.

And (with respect to Runners World, because I like and trust them) I am a bit dubious on the model, to be honest. That chart is designed to give an estimate of VO[sub]2[/sub]max based on running times, not the other way round. And VO[sub]2[/sub]max is an odd thing. The chart gives me (at my fittest) a VO[sub]2[/sub]max of 52.5 (based on a 50min 10k). But I could not have run a 6:30 mile (on the same row), no way. I could have barely run a 7:30. And it is clear that athletes have achieved VO[sub]2[/sub]max greater than 90, but those mile times still look pretty far away.

Other factors raised in the other research I have read - power to weight. ~6.2W/kg seems to be a pretty hard limit (although this may need to revised down a bit as Lance Armstrong et al have to be removed from the calculations). Biomechanics has a part to play, too. Usain Bolt is taller than expected for a sprinter, but he makes it work. Eventually, someone with all the biomechanic advantages and metabolic advantages will have a go at the mile, and will lower the time. That is why one of those predictions upthread used a population weighted logarithm - more humans, more opportunities for people to run, more chances for those genetic outliers to push the boundaries, and massively improved nutrition and training for those that really excel.

One factor not considered is the one of heat. Some research indicates that getting rid of heat may be more of a factor in performance that previously considered. Pre-race ice jackets are still a bit contentious. There has been some research that shows that palm-based cooling systems during exercise can provide benefit, but being able to do so without adding weight is the difficulty. I was always tempted to tape chemical chill packs to my hands for a 10k, just to see. For a mile event, it is certainly a possibility, but maybe too short a distance with too much heat involved. And I don’t think the chem pack would last for a marathon distance, where additional weight would be more of a problem.

Roger Bannister(yes, same one) did some experiments with supplemental oxygen. Google Books link.
If the link doesn’t work, search “roger bannister high oxygen”, should be the first link.
In brief, men on a treadmill, working at a rate that brought them to a standstill in 8 minutes on room air, experience greatly increased capacity on 66% oxygen.