At a picturesque tree-lined park known as the ‘green lung’ of Vienna, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge on Saturday pushed the limits of human endurance and mental fortitude to achieve what was thought impossible till a few years ago: a human being completing the marathon, a distance of 42.195 kilometres, in less than two hours.
Kipchoge had tried and failed to break the hallowed two-hour barrier two years ago at the famous Monza motor racing track but the serene park in Vienna provided him the perfect setting to become the first man to go so fast over such a long distance.
Kipchoge vs Kipchoge
Kipchoge’s time of one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds, however, won’t be entered into the records books because this was a staged time-trial where no stone was left upturned to ensure the Kenyan had the ideal conditions for the 8:15 am start.
Kipchoge was the only competitor and had a team of over three dozen pace-makers working in tandem, including multiple Olympic medalists, who were guided by laser lines projected on the road to push them to run fast enough at all times during the race.
Helped along by pacemaker
The pace-makers in front of him ran in a reverse-arrow head formation to shield him from the wind and provide a slipstream (like what happens when one Formula One car follows right behind another) to ensure he encounters the least wind resistance. He didn’t even have to break stride or veer off his path to reach out for a drink from water stations — like during a competitive marathon — because a support staff member cycled along and handed it over.
The 4.3 kilometre stretch, consisting of 90 percent straight paths, which he went across back and forth, provided him a near gradient-free course. Unlike a competitive marathon, this was not an open event where Kipchoge had to worry about world-class competitors outwitting him using their own team of pace-makers.
…And special running shoes
Kipchoge also had an ace in the hole in the form of an advanced version of the VaporFly series of running shoes from Nike. Though legal, the breakthrough technology, which is made from patented foam and has a carbon-fiber plate in the sole, helps absorb, retain and distribute energy into a runner’s stride. It is no wonder that the five fastest marathons have been won by athletes wearing these shoes, which studies show improve efficiency by 4 percent.
But still, Kipchoge’s achievement is remarkable.
Kipchoge world record of 2:01:39 will remain the fastest time run by a man in a marathon. But by going below two hours in a controlled time-trial, the greatest marathoner has proved to the world that there are no limits to human endurance.
Tokyo 2020, in less than a year from now, could be where the greatest athletics feat of mankind is achieved. Kipchoge wore arguably the most advanced running shoes ever made yet he deserves credit for attempting — after his first failure — what no human being was thought capable of till very recently.