THIS month, Eliud Kipchoge, a 2016 Olympic marathon gold medalist, became the first man to run a marathon in under 2 hours. An epic accomplishment indeed, but one that was not recognized as an official world record even by the sport’s governing body because the event did not take place in an open competition.
Instead, Kipchoge’s performance has been described as an exhibition event designed for speed in which race-day conditions have been controlled or eliminated. In order to achieve the best performance in the history of marathon running, many things had to go right. Let’s take a look at what it took to shatter the record.
The Course: Marathon races take place all over the world, but Kipchoge’s run took place in Vienna, Austria, on a course that was relatively flat and had wide turns. Races that take place on the streets have many barriers along the course, such as terrain change, elevation gradients and sharp turns. The course in Vienna was a track that allowed Kipchoge to run 26.2 miles in exactly 26.2 miles, without having to go around mailboxes and people, and up and down curbs.
The Weather: Temperature affects performance. Running in colder weather is like having AC blowing into an engine that is red-lining for nearly 2 hours. Sports scientists selected this day in October for this reason.
Rabbit Pacers: A total of 40 world-class marathoners ran ahead, five at a time, in a “V” formation to shield the wind. These “rabbits” kept a pace that was guided by a car that displayed the current time while projecting a green laser on the ground to show where runners needed to be in order to make their sub 2-hour timeline. The rabbit team rotated at various points around the track in order to keep them running at their fastest pace. Race situations often mean other people get in your way, and it takes even more energy to go around them.
Nutritional Support: Another pacer on a bicycle was present to supply nutrients to the team. There is a continuous rise in energy expenditure the longer a runner spends time on the road. Running economy suffers over time, and sprinting a 4:30 minute/mile for almost 2 hours is sure to stress the metabolic system.
Attire: The attire and footwear were provided by Nike, which custom-engineered the material and design for Kipchoge’s shoes. Laboratory testing estimated a 4 percent improvement in efficiency when wearing this high-tech footwear.
Mental and Physical Readiness: Like the above conditions, an athlete’s conditioning, mental health and immune function must be optimal for a steady period of time to achieve peak human performance. Even a verbal altercation prior to the event may be a variable to performance.
While no doubt that many of the race-day variables in Kipchoge’s time-trial were controlled, what he accomplished that day was a demonstration of peak human performance under near ideal situations. Under the right climate and conditions, the human body can adapt itself for greatness. But to put it into perspective, in order for Kipchoge to win the 2019 Boston Marathon with his record-breaking time of 1:59:40 means he would have had to outrun this year’s winner, who did it in 2:07:59, by nearly two miles! My congratulations to you Mr. Kipchoge — record or no record, your performance will be inspirational for many generations to come!
Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition-based health care. For comments or questions, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.