Breaking 2 – Nike’s Attempt for a Sub 2 Hour Marathon

This past weekend, many of us in the running world watched in awe and wonder at this attempt for the first sub 2 hour marathon time. So, here’s the deal…

Nike decided to take on the challenge to see if they could come up with the perfect training, conditions, etc. to have one of the world’s elite marathoners break the 2 hour barrier for the first time.

Photo from Nike.com

Here are the guys they chose to work with…

First up, 2 time Boston Marathon Champion, Lelisa Desisa from Ethiopia.

Next, half marathon record holder, Zersenay Tadese.

Last, but not least is the reigning Olympic Marathon champion from Kenya, Eliud Kipchoge.

Sal Masekela, Shalene Flanagan, and Craig Masback were the commentators with comedian Kevin Hart adding as a special correspondent.

The race was run in Autodromo Nazionale Monza to provide the optimal setting.

To achieve this feat of a sub 2 hour marathon, lots of research went into setting up the perfecting situation which would allow the runners just to run. So, they had good weather, flat course, 2 years of training with many scientists to set up this monumental task.

So, here’s how they set it up. There was a pace car (pictured above), a group of pacers who would switch out every lap, and this laser light projected out from the car to create….

a flying V….like in the Mighty Ducks movies. Yes, several folks on the live Twitter feed made mention of this formation. However, the strategy was to use the V formation with the main 3 runners behind. That way, they would be running in a constant split stream and allowing them to conserve energy. All the while, maintaining the required pace. Unlike most marathons, this race went with the assumption that the sub 2 hour marathon had its best chance of happening with a constant pace throughout the race. In other words, no negative splits or saving energy in the first part of the race. The lasers at the back of the car gave a constant image of where the pacers needed to be all throughout the marathon.

By the half marathon point, it was down to Eliud Kipchoge. At most of the check points, he was right on pace to break 2 hours. Watching him pass each check point was kind of thrilling. The closer he got to finishing, the more exciting it got watching. It was a very different kind of marathon to watch. After all, there were only people cheering him on at the end of each lap. So, there were no distractions. Kipchoge was focused and determined. For most of the race, he looked very relaxed. He’d even throw out some smiles for the camera at various points along the way.

One thing that I thought was kind of sad is that, no matter how things worked out, this race would not be counted as an official World Record because the runners got their nutrition out on the course via bicyclists and that’s a no-no (apparently). However, this kind of exchange helped the runners not waste energy grabbing at drinks like they would in a normal marathon. I really enjoyed hearing about all the work that went into preparing for this race.

Sadly, Kipchoge didn’t pull off a sub 2 hour marathon. He was a mere 24 seconds short. He was under pace for most of the way. However, the last 5K was where he went over the pace needed to break 2 hours. According to the announcers, Kipchoge does have a strong finishing kick that he’s known for. So, even though he was just a little off in the last mile, the announcers (along with the rest of us) were hoping for a strong finish where he could make up the time. As he got to the last straight away, the pacers began to peel off. They were cheering Kipchoge so hard as they let him go by and finish. Everyone wanted him to to it. Even though he didn’t pull of a sub 2 hour marathon, it was quite an amazing race to watch.

Now that I’ve spoiled it for you, check out the race in its entirety above. You will need to start this video at the 30 minute mark. Why Nike chose to keep a 30 minute countdown with nothing else is something I don’t understand. As you will see in the coverage, it wasn’t perfect coverage. I appreciated Kevin Hart most of the time as he added some comedic moments. I really enjoyed hearing about the preparations as it can serve as a mini master class on marathoning. However, my two chief complaints are….

  • They didn’t give you any indication of how far they were into the race except for the checkpoints every 5K.
  • When it looked like the sub 2 hour marathon wasn’t going to happen, they mysteriously cut the clock. I’m not sure why as that would have only added to the drama of the moment.

I do want to give props to all the pacers that kept these guys going. The transitions from one group of pacers to the next were flawless. They had a job to do and did it well. Seeing the last group of pacers cheer Kipchoge as they peeled off was kind of emotional. It’s like they were this team trying to get someone else to a moment that has never happened before. It’s what makes this running community so amazing.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to watch this event live, please look at the video I’ve linked of the entirety of coverage. When you watch, watch the race in its entirety. You won’t want to skip parts. Seriously. I know that 2 hours is a long time to dedicate to one thing in our busy worlds. But, watching the whole thing will help you feel the drama of the moment at the finish line. This race is a big indicator that a human being will eventually break the 2 hour marathon mark. It will likely happen when we least expect it.

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One comment on “Breaking 2 – Nike’s Attempt for a Sub 2 Hour Marathon
  1. what an amazing race to watch-it truly was magical (even though he was 26 seconds off). I definitely think his next outing of a marathon may be a new world record!

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