Berlin Marathon

Photo: NN Running Team/Twitter.

Since Eliud Kipchoge’s world record run several weeks ago in Berlin, many have wondered how long until a sub-two-hour marathon is run. Running enthusiasts and scientists are examining the nutrition, the shoes, the training and the race tactics that could help break the elusive barrier. 

RELATED: Kipchoge’s Berlin nutrition plan

Kipchoge ran 2:01:39 in Berlin, shattering the previous world record, but still leaving one minute and 40 seconds between himself and 1:59:59. A 2018 study by Wouter HoogkameRodger Kram, and Christopher J. Arellano suggests that with a team of eight Kipchoge-like runners, the two-hour barrier could be broken.

The authors modeled various co-operative drafting scenarios to see which was optimal. They used “physiological characteristics of the world’s most elite long-distance runners and mathematically simulated the depletion and recovery of their distance capacity when running above and below their critical velocity throughout a marathon.”

Nike Breaking2

RELATED: Here’s how much of a head start you’d need to beat Kipchoge

Drafting is common in the first half of a marathon, but significantly less common in the second half, as there as very few runners who would be able to sustain a sub-two pace, and willing to do so for another runner. Co-operative drafting is defined as a group of runners running in a line and taking turns leading. A race of this speed would require complete co-operation among athletes. It would be a race against time, not against each other.

Nike Breaking2

Photo courtesy of Nike

The authors suggest that using highly calculated co-operative drafting is one of the ways to break the two-hour barrier. “In the context of co-operative drafting, we show that the best team strategy for improving marathon performance time can be optimized using a mathematical model that is based on the physiological characteristics of each athlete.”

Authors predicted that a team of four of the most elite marathon runners in the world, using their version of co-operative drafting, could run a 2:00:48, and a team of eight Kipchoge-like runners, Kipchoge clones, could run sub-two hours for the distance. 

RELATED: Why Nike’s Breaking2 could succeed

In May of 2017, Nike facilitated the Breaking2 attempt, which saw pacers drop in and drop out of the race to encourage the perfect pace for the entire race. Co-operative drafting is slightly different, as pacers don’t drop in and drop out, but rather rotate through a line.

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