How Fast are They… Really?

It’s sobering every once in awhile to take a look at world records and the paces or speed these elite runners can attain or maintain. In perspective, there are only a handful of humans who can even come close to these times and speeds. 

We walk an average of 3.6-5.4 km/h or about 3 miles per hour; 20 minute miles is casual walking. A brisk walk is 15:00 mile pace. On the other side of the spectrum, elite race walkers can “walk” from 6:15 to just over 7:00 per mile for races of 20k-50k! 

Take a look at this chart. I created it with some rounding of numbers. (So, don’t get your undies in a bunch or get all anal on me and tell me they aren’t exact… I already know this, thank you.) I used the officially recognized records from the IAAF website (as of 8/23/07). Just for comparison sake, I extrapolated the distances shorter than the mile and made a “what if” column. This column (in red print) is the “if they maintained that pace for a mile, what would their pace be”?

(Click on the chart for a larger view.)
Speed Comparisons

The fastest humans – Asafa Powell and Justin Gatlin reportedly reach top speeds of about 43 km/h or about 26.7 mph in the 100m. Michael Johnson hit a top speed of about 41.75 km/h in his WR 200m of 19.32. (The chart will not reflect these speeds since I calculated an average speed not top speed. Of course the comparatively slow acceleration period in sprints dramatically skews the average speed.)

The Cheetah is the fastest land animal and can reach speeds up to 105 km/h (65 mph) for just over a quarter mile. It also has pretty nifty acceleration: 0-110 km/h (almost 70 mph) in 3 seconds. I think at their speed, we would need to default to 1000ths for timing. They actually weigh about what an elite distance runner weighs. An adult weighs 90-140 pounds. I try to imagine one on a 400m track. They don’t need spikes… they’re built in! The gun could go off for the 400 meter race, they could take nap, wake up with everyone on the final 120 meters and decide to run and still catch everyone! They could eat the starter for lunch, and still catch the last runner for dessert before he crosses the finish line! Now that is tough competition!


Triathletes aren’t safe. I don’t know if Cheetahs like water but they can outrun you on your bike too!


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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