Sinead Diver's 2:21:34 is unique outlier
It would take a nuclear bomb to dissolve the cloud of suspicion enshrouding this performance
According to World Masters Athletics, Bernard Lagat holds the world record for the marathon in the male age 45-to-49 age bracket, having run 2:14:23 at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials. Lagat—who started his career as a Kenyan, ended it as an American, and for a spell dubiously straddled the line between them—was a brilliant performer on the track for an impossibly long time. He’s still the second-fastest man ever over 1,500 meters (3:26.34), recording that performance in a 2001 race he lost to Hicham El Guerrouj.
Lagat, reportedly a dedicated father, tested positive for EPO in 2003, but in a statistical miracle was cleared of all harmdoing when his “B” sample (or “‘B’ sample”) came back negative or thereabouts. Lagat had signed a shoe contract with Nike the year before, and he represented that distinguished company for his entire career.
This tells us* three things: One, Bernard Lagat, a delightful family man, was one of the very best runners in the world in both his mid-twenties and his mid-forties; two, Bernard Lagat—adorably nicknamed “Kip”—was almost certainly a beneficiary of banned substances the entire time; and three, even given these two attributes, the always-genial Bernard Lagat’s age-45 marathon time was more than 10 percent slower than the world record.
The difference between Lagat’s 2:14:23 and Eliud Kipchoge’s 2:01:09 world record is 10.92 percent. But the rolling course used in Atlanta for the 2020 Trials was dank mud compared to the layouts used for record attempts, so if his time were adjusted to 2:13:16—and he’d likely have been faster on a runway-style course, but this is close enough for Substack work—he’d be exactly 10 percent off.
Is this a typical drop-off? After all, someone being mega-talented and juiced doesn’t mean he’ll age more slowly than most.
In fact, looking at other road events, we* would actually expect a larger difference. Kevin Castille, now serving a doping suspension, holds the 5K world record for 45- to 49-year-old males with a 14:29 from 2017. That’s 13.0 percent slower than Berihu Aregawi’s world record of 12:49 from last December. Even assuming Aregawi had access to superior shoes, that wouldn’t explain the entire difference; a 10-percent gap would require a 14:06 in the older division. And the world record for the half-marathon in the proto-geezer division (1:05:01) is 13.1 percent slower than the open world record of 57:31.
Ejgayehu Taye has the open women’s world record in the road 5K, running 14:19 in the same race Aregawi ran 14:49. The world record in the women’s 45-to-49 category is 16:13.7 by Linda Somers-Smith. That’s a difference of 13.4 percent. In the 10K, the difference is 14.5 percent (29:14 vs. 33:28), though the proto-geezer time—set by a Ukrainian clearly using all the drugs she could get her hands on—is over twenty years old.
If you feel like comparing times in other road events, some of the open world records are listed here, while Wikipedia maintains this page for masters records. But granting that I’ve collected a reasonably useful mini-sample, it appears that the best runners in the world are about 13 percent faster than the best 45-year-old runners in the world. It might be accurate to observe that if a world-class runner continues racing seriously into his or her mid-forties—and few do—then this might be closer to 10 percent.
Enter Sinead Diver.
The 2:21:34 Diver ran in Valencia on Sunday at the age of 45 years, nine and a half months is a mere 5.6 percent slower than the world record of 2:14:04.
For Diver to be 10 percent inferior to the world record would require a woman running 2:08:41. Being 13 percent slower would mean a women’s world record of 2:05:16.
When Diver ran a half-marathon in 1:09:00 in February to set a proto-geezer world record for that distance, this was within 9.8 percent of Letesenbet Gidey’s 1:02:52 from months earlier—a time that happens to be the most stupefying mark among current world road records. Only a dozen American women of any age have run faster, and only four of them lacked access to modern road flats in their primes (Joan Benoit Samuelson, Deena Kastor, Kara Goucher, and Shalane Flanagan).
Imagine a 45-year-old man capable of any of these times, especially one with pasty-white parents:
Mile - 3:55.6
5,000m - 13:17
10,000m - 27:39
Half-marathon - 1:00:44
Marathon - 2:07:56
Also note that Diver is not just absurdly fast, but has been improving for years, although it seems unlikely that she will ever improve on 1:09:00 and 2:21:34. She never broke 2:30:00 until turning forty, by which time she was no beginner.
How have the media responded to the 2:21:34? Predictably. This Runner’s World story is representative of the dunce-yawping, incurious mix, and it’s genuinely cute—I think the author believes every last word she wrote. Here are a few of those words:
She only took up running at the age of 33, works full time as an IT consultant, and has a busy family life with two young kids.
And if her back story and achievements don't make her inspirational enough, Diver is also responsible for one of the funniest instagram [sic] running accounts.
Another inspirational athlete who scoffs in the face of the concept of ageing [sic] is Catherine Bertone of Italy…
Oh, and did we mention? She's 50 years old. Age really is just a number, and that number is 'one ridiculously fast marathon time!'.
Setting records and epic multitasking – these super fast women can do it all.
I can’t be the only one who laughed aloud when I saw that an Italian medical doctor was also running unlikely times as an inexorably calcifying fossil. She must have at least forty-seven kids she’s never discussed in order to have gained the she-power to develop and maintain that kind of strength. That, or she’s familiar with any number of clones of these people.
It doesn’t matter how talented or hardworking Sinead Diver is, or how slowly she may be aging, or how fast she might have run as a younger woman had she started before turning 33. Everything about her performance profile is too suspect to even denigrate using standard dismissive-sarcastic terminology; her 2:21:34 and untrammeled improvement strain credulity too much.
That jaw line and cheek bones are part of a healthy diet of food truck burritos.
"She-power". This made Rachel die laughing when I read it to her.