This month saw two incredible running feats take place. At the Chicago marathon, Kenyan athlete Brigid Kosgei broke Paula Radcliffe’s 16 year marathon world record with a time of 2:14:04. At just 25 years of age, you wonder how much quicker she can get!
In Vienna though, Eliud Kipchoge wrote his name into the history books by becoming the first person to ever run a marathon in under two hours. To put this into context, he ran over eight Parkruns in a row, but every one took just 14:10!! Today, we thought we’d take a closer look at the man and his amazing achievement.
Who is Eluid Kipchoge?
Eliud started with shorter distances as he was a successful junior cross country runner before winning the men’s World Championships 5000m gold in 2003. He continued with this distance for years before turning to the marathon and winning his first major gold at Chicago in 2014. Since then he’s won London four times and Berlin three times with an Olympic gold picked up in Rio too. He’s also the mens marathon record holder with a time of 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. That run broke the previous world record by 1 minute and 18 seconds. Not a bad CV then!
What was the project?
The project was named the INEOS 1:59 challenge. The purpose, as suggested by the title, was to give Eliud the best opportunity to run a sub two hour marathon. Rotating pacers, flat terrain, ideal weather, high air quality and so on all came together to create the perfect conditions. This was his second attempt at the feat, as in 2017 he missed out by 25 seconds at the Italian Grand Prix circuit at Monza.
How did having pace runners in formation affect the run time?
If you watched any of the race you’ll have seen a really organised pack of pace runners (42 were continuously rotated). Importantly they ran in what was determined to be the most aerodynamic and therefore ‘easiest’ shape for Kipchoge to maintain his lightning pace. How much difference the ‘peloton’ made is a complex equation to figure out (beyond our mathematical skills) but pace runners in general do wonders for staying at the right speed.
A pace car was also in front of them throughout, beaming a laser onto the road to indicate the required pace. Refuelling wasn’t an issue either as his coaches delivered water and energy gels to him so he didn’t have to veer off course. If only we all got this much service during a race!
Was the course specially selected?
Yes, it took place in Vienna’s Prater Park. This location was specifically chosen due to the favourable climate and the fact that it’s almost completely flat with just 2.4 metres of incline throughout the whole route. The actual run was 4.4 laps of a 5.97 mile course and unlike his previous attempt, spectators cheered him on the whole way.
Why is this milestone so significant?
One of the main take aways from this event was to simply prove that in CAN be done. Although it doesn’t count as an official world record, we believe it will change racer’s perceptions of what they can achieve. If you look back to Sir Roger Bannister in 1954 when he became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes with a time of 3:59. It was just a month later that Australian John Landy ran a quicker mile than Bannister. The sub four minute milestone has been broken many times since and the current world record holder is Hicham El Guerrouj who ran a mile in 3:43 back in 1999 (and this would be even lower if it was a more regular event nowadays).
Eliud’s set the benchmark and shown it’s possible. It’ll be very interesting to see where marathon running goes from here!