Thoughts on the Breaking 2 project

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original Blogs.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, Nike had its Breaking 2 run this past weekend. Three runners were given every advantage (some that broke IAAF rules, making the run record ineligible) to see if someone could break 2 hours in a marathon.

The final result? Eliud Kipchoge came closer than many, myself included, expected by running 2:00:25. The other runners ran 2:06 and 2:14. Outside of Kipchoge, the results had to be seen as disappointing. Kipchoge, though, proved how great of a marathoner he is.

Yes, I’m late to the game in talking about this but I really didn’t have anything to add to this and didn’t want to post something just because I could. Now, though, I have some thoughts after the fact that I’d like to share.

What was this all about?

This was billed as testing the human limits. In my opinion, though, it was primarily a very well executed marketing ploy by Nike. They had a product line they wanted to gain some publicity for and, through this project, they got the kind of publicity you can’t buy. Hat tip to them for the excellent marketing.

Beyond that, it was an interesting science experiment. If you put everything together, short of crazy things like running down the side of a mountain, how fast can a person run a marathon? Bring together the best of everything, bending and breaking a few rules along the way as necessary without making the whole effort seem ridiculous, and see how fast an elite athlete can go.

What it wasn’t is a race. This was purely a time trial.

What did we learn?

Eliud Kipchoge is an amazing athlete.

Nike knows how to get people talking.

Personally, I learned a lot about optimizing marathon performance. For example, the draft given by the car and clock as well as by the pacers was apparently worth probably 60-90 seconds. According to Nike, they were saving 7 seconds per aid station by having someone moving alongside them to hand their fluids off.

What about the shoes?

Nike can claim all they want that these shoes make you 4% faster. That doesn’t make it true.

For a 2:05 marathoner, 4% faster would be exactly 2:00. Do we really believe Kipchoge, with all the benefits he was given Saturday, could have only run a 2:05+ in another pair of shoes?

What did we miss out on?

If only we knew. The biggest disappointment I have in this whole process is that we missed an opportunity to see Kipchoge line up against the field in London. That was still a great race but what would have happened with Kipchoge in there? It might have been an epic race. Personally, as a greater fan of racing than of time trials, I feel like it’s a shame we’ll never know.

To be honest, I was very disappointed about this when I first heard of this attempt. After the fact, I’m still a bit disappointed but, as long as this doesn’t become an annual thing, I think it was an interesting experiment. I wouldn’t say I’m happy they did this but I’m OK with it. It was interesting to see how it worked out and hear the analysis of what these different factors do to an elite marathoner’s time.

What comes next?

I thought this would be a one off thing. We’d see the attempt, they would come up 1-2 minutes short of the goal, and this would fade into memory. Now, with Kipchoge coming in 1 second per mile short of the goal, I have to wonder if there will be another attempt in the near future. To be honest, I kind of hope not.

As much as I dislike time trialing and uncompetitive record attempts, I kind of hope Kipchoge will run Berlin this fall and see what happens if he takes a shot at the world record. At this point, I think that’s the most likely thing to happen. At first, when I thought about his run on Saturday, I figured he could take a minute off the world record. The more I think about it and read about what likely led to this performance (such as this analysis by Ross Tucker) the more I suspect something more in the 20-30 second range if everything works out. That said, to think about a 2:02:30 is pretty amazing itself.

Beyond that, I have no idea what’s up. Hopefully, Kipchoge has some races left in his legs and can keep going for a while. That said, he’s not a young guy. The next generation is already here but there is no obvious successor to Kipchoge’s level of brilliance. Not that someone won’t come along but I don’t think we know who that will be yet.

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