The Future Of Luke Puskedra: How Difficult Is It To PR After Career Marathon #3?

October 21, 2015

At the famed weekly staff meeting, we often just talk running. This week, someone brought up the Wall Street Journal feature that Luke Puskedra got last week after running 2:10:24 in Chicago.

The article’s title was “America’s Great Marathon Hope” and included the following quote from Oregon coach Andy Powell about Puskedra, “Luke’s going to run a lot faster.”

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A staffer said something along the lines of, “Did anyone think that article was a little overly optimistic? What does ‘Great Marathon Hope’ mean? And what does ‘a lot faster’ mean? If ‘great hope’ or ‘a lot faster’ means faster than 2:09-2:10, then okay, I’m fine with it. If it means 2:06 and Olympic contender, then no way. I think the odds are way higher than he never breaks 2:09 than that he does. It might only be 50-50 that he ever breaks 2:10. How much do guys improve after marathon #3 anyway?”

So we decided to take a look at some stats to try to figure out how much marathoners improve. There is a popular notion that it takes a long time to master the marathon but is that really true?

We did a little research to try to find out. First, we took a look at the five men’s marathoners in US history who have broken 2:09:00 on a record-eligible course plus Meb Keflezighi, the U.S.’s best marathoner of the last decade, and figured out their marathon pb after marathon #3 (Chicago was Puskedra’s third marathon) and compared that to their ultimate personal best. Here are the results (source:

Athlete PR after Marathon #3 Final PR Difference
Khalid Khannouchi 2:05:42 2:05:38 4 seconds
Ryan Hall 2:06:17 2:06:17 none*
Dathan Ritzenhein 2:11:07 2:07:47 3:20
Abdi Abdirahman 2:08:56 2:08:56 none
Meb Keflezighi 2:10:03 2:09:08** 55 seconds**
Alberto Salazar 2:08:50# 2:08:50# none

*79 seconds if you count Hall’s wind-aided 2:04:58 at Boston in 2011
**78 if you count Meb’s 2:08:37 from Boston in 2014
# Salazar ran a 2:08:13 in NY in 1981 in his 2nd marathon which was short; most equate it to a 2:08:50.

Only half of the athletes improved their record-eligible PR after marathon #3, and in Khannouchi’s case, it was only by four seconds.

The stats are a bit more encouraging if one takes a look at the five fastest marathoners in the US since the start of 2013, not counting Ritz or Meb, who appear above (or Puskedra).

Athlete PR after Marathon #3 Final PR Difference
Jeff Eggleston 2:14:09 2:10:52 3:21
Ryan Vail 2:11:45 2:10:57 48 seconds
Bobby Curtis 2:11:20 2:11:20 none*
Fernando Cabada 2:12:27 2:11:36 51 seconds
Nick Arciniaga 2:16:13 2:11:30 4:43

*2:11:20 was Curtis’ 3rd marathon finish.

You can spin that table two ways, however. Of the four men in that group who have run more than three marathons, all of them lowered their PR after marathon #3. But it’s obviously easier to shave off time when you’re starting further back, and none of them had run as fast as Puskedra after three marathons. And that’s still the case now — none of them have run faster than Puskedra’s 2:10:24 PB. Is there a glass ceiling for Americans at 2:10:00?

We went a step further and looked at the 10 fastest men in history.

Athlete PR after Marathon #3 Final PR Difference
 Dennis Kimetto 2:03:45  2:02:57 48 seconds
 Geoffrey Mutai 2:07:50  2:03:02* 4:48
 Moses Mosop 2:03:06  2:03:06* none
 Emmanuel Mutai 2:06:15  2:03:13 3:02
 Wilson Kipsang 2:04:57  2:03:23 1:34
 Patrick Makau 2:04:48  2:03:38 1:10
 Haile Gebrselassie 2:06:20  2:03:59 2:21
 Eliud Kipchoge 2:04:05  2:04:00 5 seconds
 Ayele Abshero 2:04:23  2:04:23 none
 Duncan Kibet 2:04:27  2:04:27 none


So 13 of the 21 men (57.1%) we looked at improved their PR by less than a minute after marathon #3, with seven of them failing to PR at all.

Only 5 of the 21 (23.8%) knocked more than 2 minutes off of their PB after marathon #3.

So our staffer’s hunch seems to be backed up by the stats — the odds that Puskedra never breaks 2:09:00 seem to be higher than that the does.

What do you think? Vote in the poll below and talk about this topic on our messageboard: MB: LetsRun, What say you? What will Luke Puskedra’s ultimate marathon PB be?

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