The 32-year-old Kenyan ran a blistering 2:53 min/km pace, but the two-hour wall still stands.
After three years of planning, Nike’s goal of staging a sub-2-hour marathon is still just that – an audacious aspiration. But Eliud Kipchoge, a 32-year-old Kenayn, ran 42.2 kilometres faster than anybody in history, finishing the time trial in 2:00:25.
The achievement on the Formula One track in Monza will not count as a world record, because the race utilised practices like alternating pacers that are not sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations. Kenyan Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 in the 2014 Berlin Marathon still stands as the world record.
“The world now is just 25 seconds away from under two hours,” Kipchoge said.
Three men attempting the two-hour-marathon, including Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersensay Tadese, and six pacers took off at 5:45 am (local time) Saturday at the Formula One track in Monza, Italy. A team of scientists and physiologists had tried to account for and control every detail, including picking a time that offered the best weather. At the start, reports showed 12 degree Celsius temperatures with light rain and 74 per cent humidity. The pace and went largely according to plan for the first part of the race.
Right around the 16K mark, with about 11 laps to go Desisa faded from the pack. Shortly after, at the 20K mark, Tadese fell back as well, and while he fought for a few strides to hold on, he ultimately ended up putting significant space between himself and the pace group. Tadese ultimately finished in 2:06:51 – a huge improvment from his previous best of 2:10:41.
Kipchoge, however, went through the 25K mark still on pace at 1:11:03. At 30K, he was just one second off the desired pace. He continued on, sometimes with a smile on his face, sticking to the script.
At the end he sprinted the final stretch to break the tape, coming up 26 seconds shy of the goal. He said afterward that the effort was 100 per cent of what he had to give.
Kipchoge, the 2016 Olympic marathon gold medallist, was favoured in this attempt from the beginning. The 32-year-old Kenyan’s previous personal best was 2:03:05, on the London Marathon course last year. Nike handpicked him for the Breaking-2 attempt for his fast times in shorter distances and his unflappable attitude and racing confidence. “I believe in good training and good preparation,” he said during the press conference after the race. “If I have that, the 25 seconds will come.”
Tadese holds the half-marathon world record (58:23). While his previous marathon best was relatively slow compared to the others, a 2007 report named him one of the world’s most efficient runners. That, along with his world cross country championship title and success on the track, made him a clear choice for this event. He holds an Olympic bronze medal from 2004 in the 10,000 metres and a silver medal from the 2009 world championships in the same distance.
Desisa is well known for his 2013 and 2015 wins at the Boston Marathon and his second-place finish at the 2014 New York City Marathon. He was unable to hang on to the torrid pace on Saturday, finishing in 2:14:10.
All three runners wore Nike’s latest innovation in shoes – the Vaporfly Elite. The shoe, which has gone through major testing, allows runners to maintain pace while burning about four per cent less energy. Each athlete had a personal handwritten message digitally printed on his race shoes. For Kipchoge, it was ‘Beyond the Limits’, and, on the inner sock liner, the names of his wife and children. For Tadese, it was his wife’s name; for Desisa, it was his parents’ names, Desisa and Bidike.
“This is history, and always history must be kept,” he said, when asked what he will do with his shoes.
Nike employed 30 of the world’s best runners as pacers, including Bernard Lagat and Sam Chelanaga. Key to the attempt was the drafting method. Runners ran in what is best described as an arrow formation, in which six pacers formed the arrowhead while the three runners followed, single file, behind.
Alex Hutchinson contributed to this report.