Could Usain Bolt run under 5 minutes for the mile?

There’s some interesting debate, and spurred by a @ryanmfenton tweet and the running populous in general: Could Usain Bolt break 5 minutes for a mile? Usain certainly thinks he can.

Here are some quick thoughts:

While there are several running calculators/equivalency tables on the web, I don’t particularly like any of them because I only get one answer. (i.e., I put in an 800m time to predict a mile and only one output comes out). There is a great one, however, that will give you up to 5 predictions. Patrick Hoffman, who I believe created this tool back when he was a Ph.D. student at UMass-Lowell, is the creator of this truly awesome predictor. The basis of a lot of what goes below comes directly from this tool, which is linked below.

http://www.cs.uml.edu/~phoffman/ex1old.html (warning! In my years of using this site, there are random outages. If you type in your predictions and don’t get results, try again later!)

USAIN BOLT PRs
100m — 9.58
200m — 19.19
300m — 30.97
400m — 45.28
800m (self reported by Usain himself, and it may/may not be a PR, but since it’s all I have, I’ll use it) — 2:07

The first question to answer is, given that he has run 2:07 for 800m in practice, what type of range or abilities would he have over 800m in a “race” situation? This will help me understand how much “attrition” he’s projected to experience from 400m to 800m. Basically, as he adds distance and gets further and further away from his optimal distance of 100m/200m, how much “worse” is he getting compared to what the prediction forecasts suggest he should be able to do.

Jeremy Wariner, just this year, ran 45.51 as a season best in Edmonton. A few months earlier, Jeremy popped 1:53.02 for 800m in a race he was clearly running very hard in. If Usain covers 400m similar to Jeremy, at least we are in the ball park of 1:53 for 800m, give or take a couple of seconds.

All Time Men’s Best 400m

There are ~400 individuals that comprise of the 3470 performances on that list (which, conveniently exclude Bolt from appearing as the cutoff is 45.20). I scrolled through the list looking for 400m runners that are likely to have an 800m PR, which could help us move the baseline of 1:53 for an 800m PR up or down based on Usain’s PR of 45.28. He ran this PR at a younger age and given that he is so much faster over 100m and 200m, and that he’s the greatest sprinter that’s ever lived, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he should be able to run, at minimum, a hair faster than his old PR.

The following is a sample of runners I found that have:
Run sub 21 for 200m
Have run sub 45 for 400m
Have an official 800m PR

Their 800m PR is in parenthesis
Harald Schmid (1:44.83)
Adam Steele (his 200m PR is actually 21.04, but I am going to put him in this list anyways) (1:49.22)

Just plugging his 400m into Patrick’s tool you get estimates ranging from 3:20–3:53. By plugging his 800m into the same tool, you get estimates ranging from 4:28–4:55 (a tighter range, so we are onto something!)

If you take a closer look at the 400m output, however, Patrick’s tool suggests that 45.28 converts to anywhere from 1:44–1:45 (I am throwing out the abnormally low numbers here). And if you throw out the abnormal numbers using his 800m output, you get anywhere from 4:39–4:55, which seemingly makes this attempt at sub5 very comfortable.

I do think Usain can run sub2 for 800m given that his PR for 400m is so fast. But Jeremy Wariner only ran 1:53.xx for 800m this year and later went on to run 45.51 for 400m (slower than Usain’s 400m PR, but for all intensive purposes, a useful comparison).

And 1:53.xx for 800m converts to 4:10–17 for a mile. I don’t think Jeremy can run that (4:20 is 65 seconds/400m) but I do think he can get awfully close.

With a 800m PR of 2:07, a competitor that has run a similar time over 400m with a recent 800m PR, and a calculator that tells me that 2:07 converts to much faster than 5:00 — I gotta say it’s way more likely that he can break 5 than not.

I’d pay 3/1 on anything OVER 5 minutes, that’s how confident I am that he can break 5 min.

Sorry for the rambling — wrote this pretty quickly.

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