I've just finished reading the book, "Two Hours : the Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon" by Ed Caesar. This book is fascinating and compelling as it takes the reader on a journey into the lives of elite marathoners as he traces the history of the marathon as well as the science, physiology and psychology of running. I particularly enjoy reading about these super humans and learning of their lives, for I am forever astounded when contemplating what it must take to run that fast for that long.
To put it into perspective, or in normal terms; I can run a sub 3 hr marathon at about 4 min 15 s per km or slightly quicker, which puts me into a small % of finishers in a marathon field. And all of us, regardless of our own marathon pace has a sense of what that pace feels like, for that long. However, when considering the pace that elite marathoners run, which is currently 2:55 per km (world record pace), I can run 1 km at this pace ( flat out & only just), but cannot run 2 km at this pace. And these guys run this pace for 42.2km. It truly is incredible, almost unbelievable and seemingly super human.
Much has been written recently about this quest as the two major footwear players in marathoning, Adidas and Nike are jostling for bragging rights as they drive the push & put up the cash to break the 2 hour barrier. In fact, each has released their own sub 2 hour shoe that will carry the successful runner to this ultimate glory. Nike will be first to the chase, as they have pulled together a team of elite (Nike sponsored) athletes to have a crack at it this weekend.
Naturally, and perhaps unfortunately the worlds best marathoners are split between the two major sponsors, with Adidas boasting the three recent record setters including the current world record holder, Denis Kimetto (Berlin 2014 2:02:57), Wilson Kipsang (2:03:23) and Patrick Makau (2:03:38) whilst Nike have the current Olympic champion and second fastest time holder (Kipchoge, London 2017 in 2:03:05) amongst others.Adidas boasting the three most recent record setters including the current world record holder, (Denis Kimetto, Berlin 2014 2:02:57) whilst Nike have the current Olympic champion and third fastest time holder (Kipchoge, 2:03:05) amongst others.
To bring you up to speed with the Nike lead Breaking2 project, click here.
And in fairness, if you'd like to check out Adidas sub 2 shoe, click here.
It is somewhat reminiscent of the race to break the Four Minute Mile, in 1953/54 when the two major players, Roger Bannister & our own John Landy were running their own projects on opposite sides of the globe, battling to be the first man to break the 4 minute barrier. What each man lacked were pacers to carry them fast enough & far enough through their race at the required pace, before they could launch their final assault into the final lap. No-one could come anywhere near Landy in Australia which left him hanging agonisingly close, whilst Bannister set-up the perfect controlled time trial ( not a sanctioned race) to have his pacer take him as far as he could before he too could only manage a 4:02. Whilst he didn't reach the mark then, he did however find the belief, and he eventually broke it the following year in a proper race. Landy soon followed and further trimmed the mark when he came to Europe where the competition was strong enough to push him to his limits & find the extra yards. This complete story is one of the best running books I have ever read, which I highly recommend; The Perfect Mile, Neale Bascomb.
Whilst many will debate the philosophical correctness of such a bold attempt in a totally controlled environment as opposed to a legal race, the process of the project or experiment itself is a fascinating insight into the depths of exercise science, physiology, and the physical limits of these incredible athletes to follow and observe. And whilst I don't believe the 2 hour barrier will be broken this weekend, like Roger & John in 1952, the belief and impetus will be in motion for it to be possible. Clearly, now the once unfathomable feat is in sight and it is not longer a case of 'if' but rather 'when' this will happen.
For more on the Breaking2 Project, including live video of the attempt from Monza, Italy, click here.