Can a human being run a sub-2 marathon?

It’s audacious. It’s unimaginable and absurd. I’m talking about the quest to break one of humankind’s most enduring and seemingly-unbreakable of feats: running 42.195 kms. in under 120 minutes.

The marathon world record today stands at 2:02:57. That was set three Septembers ago at the 2014 Berlin Marathon. The current record holder is from Kenya and his name is Dennis Kimetto.

I’ve joined a few marathons myself and running 42K is backbreaking, toilsome and you can’t sprint fullspeed the entire stretch because it’s too far. How lengthy is a marathon? It’s the distance from the Provincial Capitol to Carcar. That’s a long, long, long, long, long way to travel using only your God-given feet.

How fast is the WR time of 2:02:57? It’s sprinting at a pace of 2 minutes and 54 seconds per kilometer. It’s like stepping on a treadmill and setting the speed beyond 20 kph! (A 10 kph speed is fast enough; imagine running at twice that pace — for two hours nonstop.)

Now, the question: Is it difficult to cut three minutes off that world record mark? Absolutely. Through the years, the WR has been broken repeatedly, but only by increments of a few seconds. Consider that in 1999, the fastest marathon was clocked at 2:05:38 by Khalid Khannouchi. This means that with the present record, only 2 minutes and 41 seconds was reduced in the last 17 years. That’s an average yearly reduction of only 9.5 seconds.

Which brings me to the Nike Project dubbed Breaking2. In a Runner’s World article entitled, “Nike’s Audacious Plan: Break the 2-Hour Marathon Barrier in 2017,” the sporting footwear giant wants to break the record next year.

“After more than two years of research, preparation and testing, three top distance runners—Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea—have officially started their Nike-backed build-up toward a sub-two-hour attempt sometime in the spring, the exact timing and location of which have yet to be finalized,” wrote Alex Hutchison in the Dec. 12 article from www.runnersworld.com. “Their goal is to run 1:59:59 or faster, a pace of 4:34 per mile for 26.2 miles.”

This goal is bold and stunning. “Nike’s announcement will undoubtedly raise eyebrows,” said the article. “Just two years ago, in a data-driven investigation of what it would take to run a marathon in less than two hours, I concluded that the barrier would be broken in 2075. That admittedly pessimistic prediction was based on the assumption that the record would continue to be shaved down by small margins, in keeping with previous trends.”

Nike is undaunted by this long-term prediction. They’re in a hurry and they plan to break the record very soon. Percentage-wise, the goal to carve three minutes doesn’t seem much, until you compute that it’s 2.5 percent. That’s substantial in a race where every second counts.

There are five key areas that Nike is focusing on. First, the athlete selection. From a pool that started with hundreds of runners, they selected three of the world’s best, testing each athlete to find out if they had what it takes for the record attempt.

Two, course and environment. Nike plans to control the course (not to be done in a regular road race), the time of the year and the conditions. “As our sub-two-hour feature noted, just getting the drafting right could shave 100 seconds off an elite marathon time, according to wind-tunnel estimates,” Hutchinson said. The final three areas: training, nutrition/hydration and equipment. (I strongly recommend you read the full article at www.runnersworld.com.)

“‘The sub-two-hour marathon is one of those epic barriers that people bust through,’ Nike’s VP of Footwear Innovation, Tony Bignell, told us. ‘It’s like breaking 10 seconds for the 100 meters or 4 minutes for the mile. At the end of the day, we just want to show it can be done. We want to show that it’s within the capability of human physiology.’”

Can it be done? As Nike says: Just do it.

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