A Salute to Nike’s Sub-2:00 Marathon Attempt

Exactly 63 years to the day after Roger Bannister became the first person to break the four-minute mile, three men attempted to break two hours in the marathon.

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge lies down after crossing the marathon finish line in 2:00:25 at the Monza Formula One racetrack, Italy.

Sure, it was a publicity stunt. And yes, the conditions were optimized beyond any normal marathon, but still, ridiculously impressive, nonetheless!

In case you have not heard, early this morning (May 6) Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese and Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa ran the race of their lives as they sought to break 2:00 in the marathon.

The event—Nike’s ‘Breaking2’ project, as it is known—has its critics and its advocates, but any way you look at it, it still comes down to: Can a human being actually run that fast for 26.2 miles? Let’s take a look at that for a moment. Four minutes and 35 seconds a mile for 26.2 miles. Or, looked at another way, most runners can’t run under 2:19 for the half-mile. Kipchoge ran 52 back-to-back 2:18’s. Right now, go to a high-school track, and run a 400-meter lap in 69 seconds—if you can. That’s how fast this dude ran for the entire marathon.

Simply put, it’s mind-boggling. But it’s also inspiring. Humans will always strive to break records, to do what has never been done before. It’s part of our nature.

Nike recruited the three runners and staged the event for optimal conditions by controlling variables such as pacing, hydration and 17.5 laps on Monza’s Formula One track in Italy. Not to mention that they wore special Nike designed shoes that claimed to give runners 4% more efficiency than the next-best Nike marathoning shoe.

Kipchoge, the gold medalist at the 2016 Olympics, finished the marathon in a history-making 2:00:25*, and it came down to the very end. Here’s how it played out.

Running behind a group of elite pacers, Desisa was dropped from the lead pack just after the 15K mark. Tadese lost touch with the pacers just before the they split 59:49 for the half marathon.

Kipchoge remained with the pacers through 40K before slowing and then pushed to the finish line solo with 400 meters remaining. Tadese set a personal best of 2:06:51 as he remained in the attempt for second place. Desisa struggled and finished in 2:14:08.

Believe it or not, Kipchoge said this after finishing: “I believe in good preparation and planning and if I stick to that the 25 seconds will come.”

Critic, or advocate, you have to give credit to the human spirit.

* The attempt was not sanctioned by the sport’s governing body due to the use of 30 rotating elite pacers who shielded the athletes from wind in an arrowhead formation, while drinks were delivered to runners via moped. The course itself also failed to meet strict specifications.

Upcoming races: John Newcombe Country Club 5K Sat., May 13 9:00 a.m. (New Braunfels). Texas Swtichback Trail Races Marathon, 1/2 Marathon and 10K, Sat. May 13 at 7:00 a.m. (Flat Creek Crossing Ranch adjacent to Pedernales Falls State Park)

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