A marathon effort
As remarkable as the human body is, the human mind and spirit are infinitely greater.
Several weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night to watch live as a trio of runners tried to make history in Monza, Italy. The three, all from east Africa, were attempting to run a marathon distance in less than two hours. Currently, Dennis Kimetto of Kenya holds the world record of 2:02:57, set Sept. 28, 2014, at the Berlin Marathon.
Eliud Kipchoge ran at or just under the two-hour pace for much of the race, but his speed gradually declined by seconds per mile over the last couple of miles. He finished in 2:00:25, faster than anyone has ever run a marathon, but failed to break the two-hour barrier.
Kipchoge, an Olympic champion, and the other runners — Lelisa Desisa, a relatively young runner with two Boston Marathon titles, and Zersenay Tadese, the world record holder in the half marathon — were careful screened, starting with dozens of hopeful runners. The group was narrowed, not necessarily to the fastest, but to those showing the potential to break the two-hour ceiling. In the end, three were selected based on their skill and potential.
The run, a Nike project named Breaking2, did not count as a world record nor would it have if any of the men had eclipsed the two-hour mark. The environment was too controlled to count as anything close to a real marathon.
The run was held on an Italian Formula 1 track in front of few spectators. The site was specifically selected because it was flat, at sea-level, cool, had little wind, surrounded by trees, and the track had with no banking and easy curves.
The runners were measured and each bit of clothing was specially designed and made for the specific runner. Scientists analyzed the sweat of each runner to create a beverage for them to drink through the race and address the specific needs of each runner.
The runners were paced by a group of runners that switched in and out at intervals as well as a pace vehicle.
Even with the controlled environment, Nike CEO Mark Parker said the event was more than a race, calling it, “a moment of global inspiration that will encourage every athlete, in every community, to push the limits of their potential.”
The aim of Breaking2 was more to test the limits of human endurance, making the event part science experiment and part one-of-a-kind marketing endeavor for Nike.
It’s hard to imagine a run of this length could be done quicker. Kipchoge covered each mile in about 4:36.
Englishman Roger Bannister became the first ever to run a sub-four minute mile on 6 May 6, 1954, at Oxford University. Weeks later, Banister and Australia’s John Landy dueled against each other, both finishing the mile race in less than four minutes. By the end of 1956, nine others had done it and several of them, including Banister, had done it several times.
Banister credited an earlier run when he did not break the record but came close for the confidence that he could.
I suspect that, like Banister, now that runners realize and believe a two-hour marathon is possible, the barrier will fall.
It is amazing what we are capable of when we stop looking for excuse why we shouldn’t, stop listening to those who tell us we can’t, and start believing that we can.
-Mac Cordell is a reporter for the Journal-Tribune.
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