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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

Eliud Kipchoge breaks mythical two-hour marathon barrier

On a specially prepared course inside the vast Prater Park in Vienna—part of the Vienna Marathon’s course also runs through the park—Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge finished the marathon distance of 42.195km in 1hr 59 min 40.2 seconds.

other-sports Updated: Oct 13, 2019 10:52 IST
Dharmendra
Dharmendra
Bengaluru
Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge, the marathon world record holder, celebrates after a successful attempt to run a marathon in under two hours in Vienna, Austria, October 12, 2019.
Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge, the marathon world record holder, celebrates after a successful attempt to run a marathon in under two hours in Vienna, Austria, October 12, 2019. (REUTERS)
         

So, it has been done. A marathon, run in under the mythical 2-hour mark.

On a specially prepared course inside the vast Prater Park in Vienna—part of the Vienna Marathon’s course also runs through the park—Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge finished the marathon distance of 42.195km in 1hr 59 min 40.2 seconds.

“I’m the happiest man today. The message that no human is limited is now in everybody’s mind,” Kipchoge, ecstatic and barely out of breath after his feat, told reporters.

The circumstances of the run—the specially designed course, a special pair of shoes, a posse of pacemakers—means that this will not be counted as an official timing. No matter. The 34-year-old Kipchoge already holds the world record for the distance with a time of 2hr 01min 39sec, which he set in Berlin last year. This was about proving a point. This was about pushing the limits of human performance.

Ever since Kipchoge had made the announcement on May 6—nicely timed since that was the day, 65 years ago, that Roger Bannister had broken the 4-minute barrier in running the mile—the world had been waiting in anticipation.

Kipchoge, who is also the Olympic marathon champion, has been gunning for the sub 2-hour mark for a while now. He came tantalizingly close in 2017—again on May 6— at the Monza National Autodrome racing circuit in Italy, where he finished in 2 hours and 25 seconds.

That date was chosen by his shoe sponsor Nike, which spared no detail in trying to make it happen—the world’s best runners as pacers, nutritionists, shoe designers, and physiologists were summoned to help Kipchoge. If you were someone who was at the cutting edge of anything to do with running, there is a good chance you would have been on what was called the Breaking-2 project.

This second attempt was sponsored by Ineos, a UK based petrochemicals giant which threw its considerable weight behind the attempt.

Plenty of cynicism has accompanied both of Kipchoge’s attempts. Some felt that the project was simply an elaborate marketing campaign by Nike. In fact, many feel that the shoes worn by Kipchoge for both this and the earlier attempt should not be allowed in competitions because they confer a significant advantage.

As a company, Ineos is embroiled in multiple controversies—when they took over the winning team at this year’s Tour De France, the team faced widespread criticism.

Yet Kipchoge’s simple charm, combined with his preternatural athletic abilities, and the spectacle of the run itself can stand apart from the controversies.

Forty one of some of the world’s best athletes assembled in Vienna as pace-setters for this historic attempt. They were split into nine teams that took turns pacing Kipchoge.

At one point during the run, you had the 1500m Rio Olympics gold medallist pacing the marathon gold medallist from the Games.

Goosebump moments abounded.

Roger Bannister, (amongst Kipchoge’s many inspirations) was supposed to have been distraught at his 4th place finish in the 1500m event in the 1952Olympics in Helsinki and considered quitting athletics forever. The first ascent of Mt. Everest is one of the inspirations whichconvinced him otherwise. Kipchoge had no such baggage. He has 3 Olympic medals (one of each kind over 3 different Olympics), and has only lost one of the 12 other marathons he has run outside the Olympics.

He would have been regarded as among the greatest, if not the greatest runner, of all time, even if he had retired last year after his world record.

Kipchoge believed there was unfinished business. His quiet confidence and motivational quotes from the many self-help

books he says he reads would look out of place on anyone else . You could consider what he says as braggadocio only if you didn’t know what he’s capable of. Before he made his first attempt in 2017, he had said that he wasn’t sure how close he’d get to the target. This time round, he was almost certain it would happen (earlier in the week, he had told reporters that his attempt would be like “making history in this world, like the first man to go to the moon”.)

After all, he’s the only human to have run a marathon under 2 hours and a minute previously. Only he knows what’s out there.

When the live streaming began on YouTube this morning, there were about 50,000 viewers. Over the next 90 minutes another 500,000 joined in. In the last 15 minutes, as it became increasingly obvious that the barrier would be broken, another 200,000 viewers clicked on.

Kipchoge maintained an almost metronomic pace of around 2:50 minutes per kilometre through the run. When the band of pacers moved aside in the final km, Kipchoge actually picked up pace, surging towards the finish line. His last kilometre was also his fastest.

“From the first kilometres I was really comfortable,” Kipchoge told reporters after the race. “I have been training for it for the last four and a half months, and above all I have been putting in my heart and in my mind that I’ll run an under-two-hour marathon.”

All of Kipchoge’s training took place at an austere training camp in Kaptagat in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where he lives with thirty-odd runners and follows a monastic lifestyle of training, reading, and resting. The camp is a few hours’ walk from his village, Eldoret, where he spends his weekends with his family.

When Kipchoge crossed the finish line in Vienna, the first thing he did was to embrace his wife, Grace.

“That was my best moment in my life,” he said.

What can he achieve at Tokyo 2020? That’s a question worth dreaming on.

Dharmendra is a running coach, management consultant and freelance writer, based out of Bengaluru. His first book, Boston D party, is available on Amazon