Here we go – again.
But this time it’s different. This time it’s not only not improbable, it’s likely. 2:00:25 in Monza, Italy in May 2017 tells us that much. So the awe factor, the mind-numbing conception of a human, in this case, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, running sub-two hours over the marathon distance has been somewhat diminished – perhaps even more after Ethiopian rival Kenenisa Bekele ran 2:01:41 in Berlin just two weeks ago, two meager seconds off Kipchoge’s 2018 official marathon record. Now Kenenisa feels like another legit sub-2 candidate. And whoever thought sub-2:00 might one day be considered prosaic?
On top of which, as much as they might like to present this as such, the first sub-2:00 marathon is not like the first sub-4:00 mile, or the first summit of Everest, much less the moon landing. All those challenges carried in the public consciousness the possibility of death. This is a second chance marketing exhibition for a plastics manufacturer and springy shoes.
The first sub-2:00 attempt in Monza had the juice of novelty about it because it seemed so audacious – especially when the official marathon world record stood just a couple of ticks below 2:03. Two years later with the official record in the mid-2:01s, it feels more like getting a second crack at making an easier putt to win the Masters in a playoff at Augusta after lipping out on a longer putt in regulation on the 18th. Still cool. Just not as cool.
Plus, neither INEOS1:59 Challenge nor the Nike Breaking2 Project in 2017 will define, much less top, Kipchoge’s career achievements’ list. Be a shame if it did, too, to be remembered primarily for a staged, unratified exhibition. Even land speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats have to conform to strict record protocols.
BEST OF THE BEST
No, for my money it will always be that ‘03 5000 at the World Championships in Paris that’ll stand proudly atop Eliud’s CV. And that race wasn’t about the time at all! It was all about Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenny B., the people you beat and the way that you did it.
Running at it is best makes time immaterial, incidental to the human interaction and friction of racing. Once you make time the focus, as this sport has to its detriment for decades, it’s the people who become incidental, like the 41 prop pacers in Vienna.
Tweak Here, Tweak There
After legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach drafted Larry Bird with the sixth overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft when Larry was still only a junior at Indiana State, he explained, “Everything is starting to fall into place. I hope you all realize this. One or two little moves and we’re ready to go.”
One of two little moves, that’s how the INEOS attempt feels in the context of Monza. In 2017, they saw how close he had come on an imperfect day on a sterile course without any fans to encourage and drive him. Then Kipchoge reset the official marathon world record in Berlin 2018 at 2:01:39, and people knew, there was more in this guy.
So they found him a better sub-2 tree-lined venue in Vienna, tweaked the shoes, tweaked the pacers, and added a sliding window of opportunity to ensure the best weather conditions. One just assumes that Kipchoge is fit, because when has he ever not been?
There it is, ready to go on a sluiceway slicker than goose shit. Every possible impediment removed. All that remains is the given day and Kipchoge’s energy efficiency. Like our beloved leader so often reminds us these days after upsetting the world order yet again, “we’ll see”.
But if/when Kipchoge does go sub-two, now what?
Some have suggested that they (whoever they are) work on bettering Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 women’s world record from London 2003. But while that time is way, way out there – we haven’t even seen another sub-2:17 yet – sub-2:15 just doesn’t have the same rounded ring to it as sub-2.
Who knows, though. If enough eyeballs take this effort in (Saturday 5 a.m. – 9 a.m. local time, or 11 p.m. – 3 a.m. EDT), Kipchoge’s three-year quest, linking both the Nike Breaking2 and INEOS1:59 together, may redound to something like the beginning of WWE for running. Call it World Running Entertainment – WRE. Might work. So watch for the eyeballs after watching the clock.
(BTW, good luck, Eliud. I’ll be rooting for you.)