Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge

Here we go –  again.

Marathon Master Eliud Kipchoge (Runner’s World)

 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.


Eliud Kipchoge wins World Championships 5000m gold in Paris 2003

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.)


25 thoughts on “Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge

  1. Pingback: ‘I Don’t Believe In Limits.’ Marathoner Eliud Kipchoge On Breaking the 2-Hour Barrier – Current News Vista
  2. “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.”

    I think you are being overly dramatic here. Sir Roger Bannister’s sub-4 minute mile did not have any possibility of death associated with it. And it is fairly well documented how close Bannister got to a 4 minute mile before he decided to give it a go at Iffley Road track that day. Eliud Kipchoge had a similar situation where before Monza he did not really know if he could break 2 hours but after Monza he knew what he needed to do to break 2. And instead of just academically pondering about how he could break 2, he went and actually did it. Like he said in one of his interviews, “He walked the talk”. Let’s not diminish the magnitude of what he has achieved by running the marathon distance in 1:59:40.2 by indulging in pedantic arm chair analysis. BTW Kenenisa Bekele came within 2 seconds of Eliud’s WR, he did not beat it – big difference. My take is Eliud will break his own WR given the condition he is in after preparing for the sub-2 hour attempt.

    1. MT,

      In Neal Bascomb’s book, The Four-Minute Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less than Four-Minute’s to Achieve It, he opens with the statement: “Men thought people would die if they attempted to reach four minutes. The heart and lungs simply didn’t have the capacity for it. And so there was this barrier psychologically that it was an impossible to achievement.”

      This isn’t to say that that belief permeated Bannister’s run, itself, It’s just to say that that belief was part of the mileu that attended the achievement in the public consciousness over time.

      That same belief more rightfully attended the first summit of Everest, the first breaking of the sound barrier, and certainly the first moon landing.

      I’m simply reporting the circumstances as they existed at the time, not hyping from the comfortable armchair of 2019.

      Thanks for reading and responding. Much appreciated.

      Toni Reavis

  3. Thank you Tony.
    I want to go back to Eliud’s post Berlin 2018 world record interview where when asked what was next, he said “I would like to run 2:02 so I can say I ran 2:00, 2:01, 2:02, 2:03, 2:04 and 2:05.” We laughed but the truth in his jest conveyed a desire to move away from the science experiments and focus on racing. His Breaking2 quote of “the world is now only 26 seconds away” also implies that he has figuratively proven the barrier can be broken and is happy to pass the baton to a future generation to accomplish it. And he has, since Berlin he and 3 other athletes have gone under 2:03 igniting a new Bannister effect.
    So why are we back here? Is it for the money? Eliud strikes me as someone not interested in money but if it’s an exorbitant amount I can understand it might be major opportunities for family and his businesses/projects to grow. In terms of what’s next what about the sub 4 minute mile for women? I believe Sifan can currently run 4:10 if we can get her to stop looking over her shoulder and with a couple million in funding and a group consisting of Konstanze, Muir, Debues Stafford, Dinaba and Houlihan we could see a 4:06 in a space of a year.
    Thanks again for cheering me on at 2009 LA Marathon, 2:21:35

  4. Great article Toni. But have to disagree with your view that nothing he has done in his truly truly remarkable career, tops his 2003 world champs 5000 win. We all loved, and remember that race fondly. But Olympic Gold, world records, winning Berlin in spite of his insoles falling out of his shoes, taking on ,and beating, the very best the marathon world has thrown at him time and again. Surely his defining characteristic and what he should be remembered for is bringing a hereto unseen consistency of performance at the absolute highest level, to a notoriously inconsistent event in the marathon. No one else in the history of marathon running has come close to achieving that. If it is about racing and beating people and not times, he has done that in spades.

    1. Thanks for the reply. Yes, there are any number of Kipchoge high points in this remarkable career. I guess my choosing the 2003 World Championships 5000 was based on the competition as much as anything.

      Yes, it wasn’t the Olympics. Yes, it wasn’t a record. But In no other of his high point events were two other potential GOATS his victims.

      No doubt El Guerrouj is in the running for GOAT 1500/miler and Kenenisa is the all-around Distance GOAT.

      This isn’t to diminish his Olympic Marathon gold or two marathon world records. But the challenges there weren’t as high as Paris 2003, though the stage was.

      In any case, the fact that folks can argue about which moment is the most impressive in a career extending over nearly two decades just underscores how superb a career it’s been. Again, thanks for contributing.


  5. Cheers again to Toni! If anyone hasn’t taken time, energy & resources out of their life to tell you what a “GREAT STORY TELLER” you are; here’s my two pence worth!!! Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful piece of writing, once again…..

    1. Iyob,

      Congratulations to you and all fellow Ethiopians for having Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali be awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. In all the talk about athletics excellence, we shouldn’t forget how political stability is the key to allowing athletes everywhere the setting necessary to explore their physical limitations. Huge accomplishment!


      1. Thank you very much for your compliments & best wishes!!! It is indeed a significant “once in a lifetime” achievement for Dr. Abiy himself, ETHIOPIA the motherland, and ALL Ethiopians everywhere…!!!

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