Run 42,164 meters at 100 metres every 16 seconds? Sure.
Words & photos by Milo Black
Running is an intimidating thought for those who don’t normally do it. I didn’t run up until the age of 17. Before I’d ever put on a pair of running shoes, stepped out of my house early in the morning and cracked out a 5k, the idea of running for more than about one hundred meters seemed near impossible.
Fast forward a couple of years to a couple of weeks ago, I was invited to go out to Italy to witness three men try and run a marathon in under two hours at Monza race track. Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa, and Zersenay Tadese were the brave souls tasked by Nike to do it. The sub two-hour marathon is a symbolic barrier within running that, much like the sub four-minute mile, challenges the current expectations of what is possible for a human to do. The athletes were to run this in race in a Vaporfly Elite, Nike’s newest innovation in running. The shoe is, according to Nike, 4% more efficient than the Zoom Streak 6, the companies best running shoe before this.
The location, Autodromo di Monza, is usually reserved for ultra-fast car races. But this is where the attempt was to take place. The scientists involved have decided that this would be the ideal environment. There was little to no wind and the weather would provide perfect conditions to attempt it.
We were woken up at three on the morning of the attempt and, as everyone on the trip gathered around the centre of the camp, with glazed over eyes, there was a sense of anxiousness. This attempt was the first of its kind. No one had ever stepped out onto a track with the intention of running a sub two-hour marathon and, as we all know, the unknown is frightening.
The track was spooky. Lights ignited the long and empty back straighy. After around forty-five minutes of cake eating and coffee drinking, it was almost go time. We found our viewing spots around the track and stared at the screen showing the athletes on the start line.
To watch a runner engage in a 2:50 per kilometre pace from the starting gun is astounding. It is hard to gauge just how fast these guys were going so let me attempt to break it down. To run even close to a sub-two-hour marathon you must clear 100 meters every 16 seconds, for 42,164 meters. For most runners, this speed would be closer to a 100-meter sprint pace, let alone a marathon pace. For context, the fastest I’ve ever run a 5k is at a 4:35 per kilometre pace. That’s 3 miles. Those guys ran 26 miles almost twice as fast.
So you probably know that the fastest of the three runners was Eliud Kipchoge, who came in with a 2:00:25 time, not breaking the two hour goal that he’d been aiming for. But, as Eliud courageously sprinted the last 100 meters of the marathon, and we knew there was no way he’d do it under two hours there was no feeling of disappointment. This man had just dug to the bottom of his soul, and then gone about 6 feet deeper.
In fact we were the opposite of disappointed. We were overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with pride for not only Eliud, but all three men attempting this courageous feat. As a runner, we all know those days when we don’t want to run. We don’t want to get out of bed. We have a bit of work to do which we convince ourselves is more important. Our leg hurts a little…
As the men were picked up by the incredible pacers that had been switching in and out every lap to accompany the them for the entirety of the race, I decided I wasn’t going to make any more excuses. Mankind was pushed to the next level on that day and I was inspired. I was going to try and break a two of my own every day. I ran my fastest 10k later that day and now I’m training for a half marathon.
Thanks to Nike for getting me out to Italy to witness the attempt, and big shout outs to Track Mafia who adopted me for the weekend and motivated me on all the runs we did ourselves.