Breaking the two-hour marathon: How to run your fastest time ever

For many recreational runners breaking the four-hour marathon barrier is a quest of a lifetime. Each attempt to beat it requires dedication and months of training. On race day, they need the perfect storm to happen - good weather, finely-tuned pacing, correct nutrition, comfortable footwear and clothing and the right mindset to overcome the physical and mental obstacles the race will throw their way. Some break it and some don't, but to these runners, it's a goal worth chasing down.

Breaking two

That's the philosophy behind Nike's recent Breaking2 where three world-class marathon runners took on the challenge to break the two-hour marathon barrier in Italy.

The runners needed to beat the fastest marathon that's ever been clocked — 2:02:57 by Kenya's Dennis Kimetto at the Berlin Marathon in 2014 — by about three per cent. That means they needed to shave seven seconds off each of the race's 26.2 miles. To most, it's a seemingly impossible challenge. But to Nike, it was an innovative moonshot attempt designed to unlock human potential.

Millions of people across the world tuned-in to watch Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese push their bodies beyond its limits. After an incredible race, Olympian Kipchoge (Kenya) crossed the finished line at two hours and 25 seconds, just shy of the sub two-hour barrier but still smashing the current world record time by a staggering 2 minutes and 32 seconds.

Inspiring runners of the future

One of Australia's all-time greatest marathon runners Steve Moneghetti watched as running history was written. He says attempting to break the sub two-hour marathon challenges the perception of what is possible in sport.

"While the runners ran fast, they didn't run fast enough, but the extraordinary attempt was two years in the making. It will inspire runners around the world to push the limits of their potential," says Moneghetti.

"There was a lot of talk about the science and technology behind the Breaking2 attempt, such as the research and development that went into the Zoom Vaporfly Elite running shoe and race day apparel, the training programs, and the race day nutrition and hydration. But we shouldn't forget that the runners still had to train incredibly hard to maximise the benefits of all those advantages."

Competitive edge

Reflecting on Kipchoge's impressive performance, Moneghetti wonders whether increased competition could have helped him break through the time barrier.

"Distance running is about person on person competition, as much as it about running against the clock. I think that had Desisa and Tadese kept pace for longer, we might have seen a more competitive race that would have pushed Kipchoge to beat the clock.

Advertisement

"In the end, Kipchoge missed the mark by just 25 seconds, but once your body is tired you can't just flick a switch and run a few seconds faster.

"Having been in a similar situation myself, you realise that you can hold pace, but when you start to slow, moving your legs faster is mentally and physically really difficult to do," adds Moneghetti.

In due time

Will the two-hour marathon time barrier be broken? Moneghetti whose fastest marathon time was at the Berlin Marathon in 1990 thinks so, and sooner than we can imagine.

"I've always thought it was possible to break the sub two-hour marathon, but after Breaking2 it has been accelerated," says Moneghetti.

"A couple of years ago I said it would take about 12 years to achieve. It may well be that long, but with events like Breaking2 and future attempts in the pipeline from the Sub2 consortium, the science and technology will evolve, as will people's mental strength."

Forge ahead regardless

There's no doubt that Breaking2 will inspire runners of all backgrounds to reimagine what their bodies can do. Moneghetti says it will also provide aspiration for runners and help them to realise that even world-class athletes like Kipchoge have good and bad days.

"Watching Kipchoge get so close to his goal, but not make it normalises the experience of success and failure," says Moneghetti. "I'm sure Kipchoge believed he could do it and he came so close. He, the other runners and Nike will get over the disappointment. They will move on, learn from it and next time they will break it.

"It's the same process for everyday runners. Whether you achieve or miss your goal, you have to forge ahead and take the lessons out of the experience to learn from them so you can become a better runner next time."

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill on Twitter