In the running world, 2016 was capped off by outstanding performances in the Olympic Games.
An American won gold in the 1500m for the first time in over a century, Usain Bolt picked up three more gold medals, and a world record was also broken when Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa beat Michael Johnson’s 20-year-old 400m record.
2017 started off with a world record attempt in the marathon.
Over two years ago, Nike started a project aimed at breaking one of the most challenging barriers in the running world: the sub 2-hour marathon.
After lots of research and months of training and preparation, three of the best distance runners in the world set out to do the impossible.
1:59:59 – THE PROJECT
The sub 2-hour marathon. 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds or faster.
A time that seemed out of reach for any human being until quite recently. In Monza, Italy on May 6th Nike sent three athletes on a 26.2-mile journey, and the mission was almost a success.
Nike named this project Breaking2. The goal was to see if a human could run a marathon in under 2 hours. This project was in the making for years, as scientists did endless amounts of research on the human body and tried to put together the right ingredients to help an athlete accomplish the task.
The athletes were tested to see what their lactate thresholds were, their VO2 max, and their running economy. VO2 max is a measure of how much oxygen a person can utilize when running. Running economy measures efficiency (East Africans are known for having great running economy). Lactate threshold is defined as the fastest a person can run without creating more lactic acid than their body can reconvert back to energy.
The three athletes taking part in this experiment were Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea, and Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia. Nutritionists also took part in the experiment, making sure the athletes had all the best foods to eat leading up to the race.
A new shoe was also released by Nike, specifically for this attempt. The Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite, customized for each of the three athletes, is a lightweight shoe with a sufficient amount of cushioning for the athletes. This world record attempt was more of an experiment than a regular world record attempt, which set it apart from other marathons that take place each year. Lots of research and preparation was needed to make sure everything was perfect going into the attempt.
For those of you that are familiar with the marathon, you know all too well that 2 hours is no easy feat. If you aren’t an avid runner or fan, you should know that this is a race that takes lots of willpower and training just to finish first.
According to legend, Athenian messenger Pheidippides ran to Athens to deliver the news that the Greeks had defeated the Persians at Marathon. He ran approximately 25 miles, and as he exclaimed to the people “Victory! Victory! Rejoice, we conquer!” (but in Greek, of course) and then he died. So technically after the first marathon ever run, the runner died.
If you thought finishing a marathon was impressive before, how about now?
These athletes were not just attempting to finish, they were attempting to run at an average pace of 4:34 per mile, or 13.1 miles per hour.
SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR
Around mile 11, Desisa started to fall off the pace. Around mile 13, Tadese began to fall off the pace. Eliud Kipchoge kept running strong. He stayed with the front pace group, and although he came through a few seconds off with 1 lap to go, he stayed strong and gave his best effort to sprint the final straightaway.
Eliud Kipchoge finished with a time of 2:00:25, the fastest marathon ever recorded.
“The world is 25 seconds away.” Kipchoge said after the race.
This was not a failure for Nike’s team. The training and preparation was impeccable, and everything went well as far as the race is concerned. It is just an extremely hard time to run. This multi-million dollar project was a big step towards the sub 2 milestone.
IT DOESN’T COUNT
As mentioned earlier, this attempt was more of an experiment than a normal world record attempt. Although Kipchoge’s time broke the world record, it does not count as a new world record because the project broke IAAF pace rules. A pace car was used, as well as several top athletes including distance star Bernard Lagat of the United States. The marathon was also run on a controlled course in Italy. The main goal of the project was to see if going under 2 hours was humanly possible, and although it may not happen for a number of years, the Breaking 2 project was a big step in the right direction.
It may be years before a human runs under 2 hours without pacers and controls, but with science and top athletes striving for the goal it may be possible someday soon.