As the sun crept up on a chilly morning in Monza, Italy, while you were still in bed sleeping, three humans set out to run 26.2 miles in under two hours. The feat, organized and meticulously designed by Nike’s Breaking2 project, was thought impossible by many — and so it proved to be.
Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, gold-medalist at the Rio Olympics and the best marathoner in the world, was the first runner to finish, digging deep to achieve a time of two hours and 25 seconds — an astonishing run despite not breaking the two-hour barrier.
Kipchoge’s time is two minutes and thirty-three seconds faster than the official world record of 2:02:57 set by Dennis Kimetto in Berlin in 2014, but today’s effort won’t count as new record because pacers were allowed to enter mid-race and drinks were given to the runners via mopeds.
The other two athletes — Zersenay Tadese, the half-marathon world-record holder from Eritrea, and Lelisa Desisa, a two-time Boston Marathon champion from Ethiopia — dropped off the 2-hour pace around the halfway mark, though both achieved personal best finishes.
It’s not easy to say what could’ve been done differently to achieve the sub two-hour marathon. The three athletes were handpicked using precise physiological measurements and spent three years under the watchful eyes of coaches, scientists, nutritionists and a plethora of other experts in preparation.
The location, Monza’s Autodromo Nazionale racetrack, was chosen because it’s flat and fast, with rolling bends that require little additional energy to navigate. The date and time, May 6, 05:45am, were chosen because the northern Italian climate in the region offers little to no wind and optimal temperatures of around 51 degrees Fahrenheit. The shoes, Nike’s fine-tuned new Zoom VaporFly Elite (read more about them, here), were designed specifically for the three athletes, with a (controversial) carbon fibre plate inside the sole to provide more spring and bounce in each step.
Described as a kind of Zen master by his coaches and fellow athletes, Kipchoge was the favorite to finish in under two hours because of both his phenomenal record and his resolute mental strength. “You know, running is actually thinking,” the 32-year-old Kenyan said before the race. “If your thoughts are halfway then you can’t finish, so you really need to focus fully and think positively.”
He ran with his eyes straight ahead, his legs cycling smooth and long, his face completely still. For over 140 minutes he looked like he would make it — but it wasn’t quite enough. The sub two-hour marathon remains illusive.
Stay tuned for more Breaking2 coverage, including more on those Zoom VaporFly sneakers, in the coming days.
Find out more about the Nike Breaking2 project and the innovative sneakers behind it right here.