Whether you are a keen follower of athletics or not, the chances are that this weekend you will hear in the media about Eliud Kipchoge and his attempt to run 26.2 miles in under 2 hours. Usually, 26.2 miles is referred to as a marathon and Kipchoge himself is the marathon world record holder. However, for me, this is not a marathon he will be taking part in this weekend.
What is the INEOS 1:59
INEOS, as in cyclings Team INEOS (formally Team Sky) are behind this latest attempt of an athlete to run the marathon distance in under two hours.
This is not a marathon in the usual sense. In fact, it is not even a race and he will be the only competitor.
INEOS have pumped sports science, technology and engineering into this attempt to make one man run 26.2 miles in under 2 hours.
It will take place on a close public road in Vienna, Austria on Saturday 12th October 2019. So specifically planned out is this experiment, they have a window up to the 14th October to do this. Fixing the date on Saturday only happened two prior to that. They even left the start time fluid until the day before, finally announcing 7:15 am BST just the afternoon before. Controlling every aspect of this is part of the challenge.
Kipchoge will have 41 pacemakers who will drop in and out of the run over the course of the 26.2 miles. He will always be running at the back of a group of pacemakers to reduce wind resistance.
The pacemakers themselves will be following the lead car that will keep a constant pace over the course and guide the runners will laser projected onto the road surface. So much planning has gone into this attempt that there will be a spare car, just in case. The cars are also electric so that the runners are not affected by any engine emissions.
His fuelling and hydration will be scientifically calculated and distributed to him throughout.
This is a very scientific attempt to stretch the boundaries of human endurance.
But it’s not a marathon
Here’s the thing. This ISN’T a marathon.
It may be the same distance as a marathon, but it isn’t one.
This has been attempted before, though not quite like this. Back in 2017 Kipchoge, along with Zerseney Tadese and Lelisa Dedisa, took part in the Nike Breaking 2 project. Kipchoge came home in a time of 2 hours and 25 seconds – just 25 seconds short of the target. it was agonisingly close.
In 2018, Kipchoge broke the marathon world record at the Berlin marathon in a time of 2 hours, 1 minute and 39 seconds.
His Nike Breaking 2 time did not count as a world record as technically it was not a marathon. And, should he break 2 hours this weekend in Vienna, this attempt will too not count as a marathon world record.
His 41 pacemakers will rotate twice with each lap. Kipchoge will have his drinks and energy gels handed to him from a bike every 5km (3.1 miles) rather than picking them up himself from a table as he would in normal marathons. Aids such as this prohibited under IAAF rules. That is why the athletics’ world governing body didn’t recognise his Nike Breaking 2 time as the official marathon world record and will not sanction this one either.
I, for one, think this is absolutely correct.
A marathon is more that just a distance of 26.2 miles. It’s the course, the other runners and countless other environmental factors.
One could argue what a world record in the marathon actually means. The women’s world record, held by Paula Radcliffe since 2003, was set at the London Marathon. Whereas, Kipchoge’s men’s 2018 world record was set at the Berlin Marathon. If either of those records is beaten at a different marathon, how to you truly compare? It’s vastly different, say, from a track 10,000m world record.
Interestingly, the 6 previous men’s world record times to Kipchoge were set at the Berlin Marathon.
A feat of human evolution
What I can’t argue with is the human science involved in this attempt.
Kipchoge is king of the marathons in this current age and that can’t really be disputed. His level of fitness as endurance is second to none and this is the most important aspect of this attempt.
But, without all the technology behind this project would any human be able to run 26.2 miles in under 2 hours?
Checking on Wikipedia, I looked at the history of men’s marathon record times. The first recoding was set in London in 1908 and that was 2 hours 55 minutes18 second. In 1920, a time of 2h32m35s was set. By 1999 it was down to 2hr05m42s.
There is absolutely no doubt times are getting faster. I do believe that at some stage an athlete will break 2 hours during a true marathon. For me, that will be a far greater achievement than this, should he actually break 2 hours.
You can watch the attempt live on the INEOS 1:59 YouTube channel from 7:15 am on Saturday 12th October.
Thanks for reading
Title photo credit: ineos159challenge.com