American ultrarunner Jim Walmsley posted an incredible result in Arizona at Hoka One One’s recent Project Carbon X 2 event, running 100K in 6:09:26 and finishing just 12 seconds off the world record. This is agonizingly close, and had he managed to run a little over one second faster per 10K, he would have beaten the record of 6:09:14 that Japan’s Nao Kazami set in 2018. Such a close result could nag at Walmsley as he replays and dissects the race in his head, but he should look at Eliud Kipchoge for reassurance, as he, Kipchoge, has proven that, while painful in the moment, missing a record by such a slim margin can lead to greater self-belief, which in turn can produce far faster results in future runs.
In 2017, Nike held it’s Breaking2 Project in Monza, Italy, with Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese and Lelisa Desisa attempting to run a sub-two-hour marathon. Of the three men, Kipchoge was the only one to come close to the two-hour barrier, but he fell just short, completing the 42.2K run in 2:00:25. Much like Walmsley’s result in Arizona, Kipchoge finished mere seconds off his goal. Both men performed incredibly, and although they accomplished so much in their respective runs (Kipchoge unofficially smashed the marathon world record and Walmsley obliterated the previous American 100K record), they were both left wanting more and wondering how they could have made up those few extra seconds.
While there were some similarities between Walmsley’s and Kipchoge’s runs (both were at races designed with a specific result or record in mind and both featured a select group of elites), there are a few differences that should be noted. Perhaps the most important difference is that Walmsley was chasing an existing record — a time he knew was humanly possible to run because Kazami had already done it. In Kipchoge’s case, however, he was looking to run far faster than anyone else ever had, as the marathon world record at the time was 2:02:57 (Kipchoge has since lowered that to 2:01:39).
Further to that point on records, Kipchoge’s result at Breaking2, although more than two minutes faster than any other marathon in history, was not ratifiable as a world record, as it didn’t follow IAAF (now World Athletics) guidelines. Kipchoge had a rotating team of pacers that he followed throughout the marathon, and his coaches brought him bottles to hydrate and fuel up whenever he needed. In an official, record-eligible event, pacers are allowed, but they can’t hop in mid-race, and athletes are certainly permitted to accept hydration and nutrition, but they have to wait to grab these at aid stations.
Project Carbon X 2 followed a similar model to Nike’s Breaking2 project, but it was still record-eligible. The only people on the course were there from the very start, so Walmsley didn’t benefit from fresh pacers routinely jumping in front of him (he actually ran most of the second half of the race solo), and he and his competitors had to wait for aid stations to reload on water and fuel.
Despite all of the differences between Breaking2 and Project Carbon X 2, there is of course one big similarity, which is that Kipchoge and Walmsley both finished so close to the goals they were chasing. Missing a record or goal by a matter of seconds is certainly not easy to accept, but in coming so close, Kipchoge proved to himself that he was capable of running fast enough to break two hours. The disappointment was probably crushing after the run, but he knew he could make up those 26 seconds, which is exactly what he did two years later at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna, where he ran a marathon in 1:59:40.
It might take a while for Walmsley to get over his run, but he ultimately proved that he can run 6:09:14. Twelve seconds isn’t a lot in a marathon, let alone a 100K, and while we shouldn’t expect to see Walmsley running another record attempt soon, we also shouldn’t be surprised when he eventually beats that time, and potentially by a lot.