Early Saturday morning, nearly three years’ worth of planning, training, and strategizing came to a head, as three Nike athletes attempted to complete a marathon in under two hours. Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa, and Zersanay Tadese formed the basis of Nike’s “Breaking 2” endeavor. As the event wore on, Desisa and Tadese dropped off the pace, leaving only Kipchoge to assault the mark.
Kipchoge attempted a sprint in the final moments, but was unable to get the final push to break the mark. He came up 24 seconds short, but showed that it is possible to break the two-hour mark at some point.
The competitors each brought credibility and accolades to the track:
• Kipchoge is the 2016 Olympic gold medalist and winner of the 2016 London Marathon.
• Desisa is a two-time winner of the Boston Marathon.
• Tadese holds the current half-marathon world record.
Nike selected the Monza race track near Milan, Italy as the site of the attempt, opting for a controlled situation rather than, say, an environment like the New York or London marathons. The three runners covered the 2.045-kilometer loop, with its wide and sweeping turns, about 17.5 times to get the full distance.
This isn’t just an attempt at a new marathon standard, of course; it’s a sophisticated commercial endeavor. Each of the three runners sported exclusive new Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes, which claim to provide 4 percent more efficiency in performance. The use of the shoes has raised a few eyebrows over concerns about performance assistance, but both Nike and the International Association of Athletics Federation have indicated that the shoes meet standards for acceptable equipment in competition. The athletes have been training since last fall with various versions of the Vaporfly Elites, sculpting and tweaking them to their individual specifics.
Coming into the event, the marathon record stood at 2:02:57, established by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at the 2014 Berlin Marathon. The two-hour mark thus stood three minutes faster than that; the last time a marathon competitor had broken a record by more than three minutes was in the 1950s. Proceeding on the current pace, an athlete wasn’t expected to break the mark until 2030. Now, however, the two-hour mark could fall much sooner than that.
Running a two-hour marathon is, of course, the equivalent of running 13 miles an hour, or running at a pace of 4:34 per mile. It’s a phenomenally difficult pace to keep up, which is why Nike employed the use of 18 pace runners to help the three runners. That move was designed to help the runners more effectively maintain the rapid pace, but it also disqualified the competition from world record status; world records may only be set in events where all runners enter at the start.