Three of the world’s top men’s distance runners were in Monza, Italy to do what many believed was unattainable at this point: break two hours in the marathon. As the running world saw Saturday morning in Italy, the barrier remains out of reach, but narrowly. The attempt was known as Breaking2, put on by sportswear giant Nike.
A 1:59:59 clocking for 42.2K required a more than 2.5 per cent bettering of the world record, 2:02:57 by Dennis Kimetto, set at the 2014 Berlin Marathon. The trio – Eliud Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese and Lelisa Desisa – are among the most accomplished active runners. Kipchoge is the reigning Olympic marathon champion, Tadese is the half-marathon world record holder and Desisa is a two-time Boston Marathon champion.
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Kipchoge clocked 2:00:25, the fastest a human has ever run by 2:32. It is not an IAAF world record, however, as the pacing strategy and fuelling strategy is not compliant with the world governing body standards.
RELATED: Photos from Nike’s Breaking2 attempt.
There was a green laser shown on the asphalt in front of the runners to signal what the necessary pace – 2:50 per kilometre – requires for a two-hour marathon. According to on-site commentators, there were two drivers in the lead Tesla, one to steer the vehicle, the other to control the speed. (The Tesla travelled at a steady speed throughout maintaining a gap between it and the pack, for the most part, of nine runners.)
The marathon was not a sanctioned race but rather a small, exclusive event put on by Nike. There were 32 runners – many of the world’s top distance athletes – acting as pacers throughout the 42.2K time trial-like format. The marathon consisted of 17.5 laps of Autodromo Nazionale Monza, a Formula One race track located outside of Milan.
Lead splits (per Nike, besides half-marathon split): 5K: 14:14 / 10K: 28:21 / 15K: 42:34 / 20K: 56:49 / 21.1K (half): 59:49 (unofficially) / 25K: 1:11:01 / 30K: 1:25:20 / 35K: 1:39:37 / 40K: 1:54:04 / Finish: 2:00:25
The trio went through 10K under pace covering the near-first quarter of the race in a blistering 28:21, well below 1:59:59 pace. At 15K, the group slowed slightly though, to 1:59:48 pace from 1:59:35 pace at 10K with some back-and-forth splits despite there being the consistent laser on the ground to indicate the projected target. At the 51-minute mark, before halfway, Desisa was the first to drop.
Five-time world half-marathon champion Tadese was the next to drop, shortly after Desisa. The Eritrean, along with the Ethiopian, continued running, with pacers, but well back of Kipchoge. Through halfway, it was only the Kenyan Kipchoge with the six alternating pacers. All three were wearing customized Nike shoes, which are said to improve running economy by as much as four per cent.
Considered by some as the greatest marathoner in history, Kipchoge looked comfortable through 25K continuing to take in nutrition and fluid with help, one factor which made the run non-record eligible. With a 2:03:05 personal best and multiple Abbott World Marathon Majors titles to his name, he was the favourite entering Saturday morning’s attempt, a time and date which was determined based on the weather.
With exactly 10K remaining, at 32.2K, Kipchoge and the pacers were just outside of the two-hour marathon. The men’s and women’s world records were set running negative splits meaning the second half of the race is faster than the first. Experts on Twitter noted how smooth he appeared, relaxed and not labouring. At the 1:36 mark of the race, a grimace appeared on the 32-year-old’s face, the first sign of fatigue. But, perhaps it was a smile or a bit of a poker face. Regardless, Kipchoge, who has been coached by the same man, Patrick Sang, for his entire career, continued to roll at a near-impossible pace.
Around 35K, Kipchoge passed Desisa, who was one full lap – 2.4K – behind, and split 1:39:37, which translates to 2:00:06 marathon pace, seven seconds slower than the target. At 36.5K, Kipchoge began fading a touch, separating himself from the green laser projected by the lead Tesla.
The two-time London Marathon champion, the 2015 Berlin Marathon champion and the 2014 Chicago Marathon champion didn’t fade significantly in the closing stages. At 40K, he was on 2:00:19 pace. When all was said and done, Kipchoge clocked 2:00:25, which translates to 2:51 per kilometre pace, a time unmatched in history.
“Great run by Eliud Kipchoge in Monza,” the IAAF wrote on Twitter.
Tadese ran 2:06:51; Desisa finished in 2:14:08.