The clock is ticking, or at least liquid crystals are silently reforming. And with that inexorable progress, time is running short for Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge – as it is for all of us now, all who came before, and all who may come after.
At age 34 (5 Nov. 1984) the marathon world record holder and 2016 Olympic champion has no time to waste. We are only in our prime for so long. Thus, even as the 2:02;37 effort from London this April 28th still lingers, Mr. Kipchoge is already planning another assault on the sub-2 hour marathon. for this fall
This new attempt will not take place in Berlin, the Abbott World Marathon Major where the last six men’s world marathon records have been set – including Eliud’s 2:01:39 last September. Instead, Kipchoge will attack sub-2 at a special event staged somewhere in London sponsored by INEOS, a large London-based manufacturer that has recently entered into the world of sporting sponsorship by taking over cycling‘s Team Sky.
It was in the spring of 2017 that Kipchoge first attempted to run sub – two. That effort was conducted on a Formula One race track in Monza, Italy that was closed to the public. The production was famously staged by Eliud’s shoe company sponsor Nike.
That attempt came tantalizingly close to its historic goal, just 26 seconds shy of the magical sub-2 mark. However, his finishing time of 2:00:25 was not record-eligible because the event used a rotating squad of pacers when only pacers who start with the record attempter are deemed valid.
The understanding is that for this 2019 attempt in London, Kipchoge will again be set up behind a phalanx of rotating pacers.
Eliud Kipchoge is widely regarded to be the greatest marathon runner of all time. In his 12 career starts over the classic distance, he has won 11 times, most recently at the Virgin Money London Marathon last month where he ran 2:02:37, the second fastest time ever recorded behind his own official world record of 2:01:39 run in Berlin last fall.
Though his competition record is nearly perfect, there are some who argue that running nothing but dead-flat courses with pacers has not closed the book on GOAT recognition quite yet.
I just came from a staged record attempt in Sacramento, California, the HOKA Project Carbon X, an attempt to run a world record at the 100 kilometer distance and perhaps bring the record of 6:09:14 under six hours. Pacers were utilized there as well, but the course and racing conditions were carefully staged to comport with record-eligibllity requirements.
Unfortunately, due to the rapidly rising temperatures in the second half of the race, the 100K record fell short, though Flagstaff, Arizona based Jim Walsmley did break the 50-mile record along the way (4:50:07), a record (4:50:51) that had stood since 1984.
Eliud Kipchoge is nothing if not a thoughtful, contemplative man, not to mention an otherworldly runner. And he says he wants to leave a special legacy that will inspire generations to come just as Roger Bannister did in breaking the four-minute barrier in the mile in 1954. But the sub-4 mile had been in the wind for several years before Bannister achieved his 3:59.4 clocking on 6 May 1954 at the Iffley Road Track in Oxford, England.
What’s more, the mythic mark was being chased by several other well known athletes, most notably John Landy of Australia and American Wes Santee. It was the collective quest by three athletes from different nations over several years that created the buzz that most captured the public imagination.
In this case, there’s only one man chasing the sub-2 time, the only man now seemingly capable of achieving it. That lack of competition removes at least some of the drama that surrounded the sub-4 attempts.
The other aspect that made the sub-4 minute mile so magical and mythic was the sense that not only could it not be done, but that the attempt itself, like the attempt to summit Mount Everest – also first accomplished in 1954 – could cost a man his life.
That sense of life-threatening danger is wholy lost in the sub-2 hour marathon attempt. In fact, there are many who believe Kipchoge is fully capable of the task, though he still needs special arrangements like the rotating pacers and breakthroughs in equipment technology to accomplish it rather than a new level of fitness or a competitive push.
Don’t get me wrong, running under two hours for 42.2 kilometers, no matter how it was achieved – other than downhill – would be notable and very cool. But in these more jaded times, when the sense of what’s possible has been brought closer to scientific understanding, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as Everestian as Sir Roger’s mythic run on this date in 1954.
That said, Go get it, Eliud! I, for one, will be pulling for you.