Three of the world’s fastest runners will be part of an attempt to break two hours in the marathon this spring. Nike has backed three East Africans – Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa, and Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese – and their marathon buildup for the bold.
The project, known as Breaking2, has been more than two years in the making as the sportswear brand has invested research and testing in hopes of making 1:59:59 a reality. The exact date and location will be announced in 2017. Breaking two hours in the marathon would require reducing the current men’s world record by two-and-a-half per cent.
“Fueled by a long-standing passion for running, Nike began working on a specific marathon footwear solution back in 2013,” a release reads. “This effort ultimately transitioned into a full-on commitment in the summer of 2014 to break the two-hour marathon barrier, precipitating the formation of the Breaking2 team. The Breaking2 team brings together a group of passionate and world-class experts across biomechanics, coaching, design, engineering, materials development, nutrition and sports psychology and physiology.”
The men’s world record is currently 2:02:57, held by Dennis Kimetto, set at the 2014 Berlin Marathon, known as one of the fastest marathon courses in the world. The current world record pace translate to just under 2:55 per kilometre. Running a 1:59:59 marathon would require averaging 2:50 per kilometre for 42.2K.
The three athletes chosen for the project are some of the world’s best. Kipchoge is the Olympic marathon champion. Tadese is the half-marathon world record holder and, according to a 2007 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, he has “one of the lowest (if not the lowest) ever published values” for running economy. Simply, that means he is incredibly efficient. Desisa, not to be confused with Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa, is a two-time winner of the Boston Marathon including wins in 2013 and 2015.
Tadese has the slowest marathon personal best, 2:10:41, of the three. Meanwhile, Kipchoge is one of the fastest in history having run 2:03:05 in 2016. Desisa is the youngest of the group at 26 while Kipchoge and Tadese are 32 and 34, respectively.
Some have suggested that a sub-two-hour marathon could be held on a non-record-eligible course though Nike did not go into detail regarding the specifics. It may be downhill, located below sea level or point-to-point based on wind direction. The coach for arguably the greatest runner in history shared similar thoughts earlier this year.
“We don’t care if the first sub-two hour marathon is IAAF record eligible,” Jos Hermens, the coach of 2:03:03 marathoner Kenenisa Bekele, told Deadspin before any of Nike’s plans were announced. “First, we achieve it. Then we do it record eligible.” Bekele, the second fastest marathoner ever and 5,000m and 10,000m record holder, is not part of the project. Interestingly, Bekele has been working with another team, Sub2, in hopes of breaking the iconic two-hour barrier within five years as per the team’s initial goal.
Nike plans to debut “a system of groundbreaking innovation that has the potential to elevate every runner” as part of the Breaking2 project.