In a move that puts every one of our New Year’s resolutions to shame, Nike has announced plans to not only smash the current world record for the marathon (2:02:57, held by Kenyan runner Dennis Kimetto) in 2017, but also break the two-hour barrier that even the most hopeful running pundits expect to hold up until 2075.
The project, named Breaking2 by the fitness apparel giant, has enlisted three of the world’s top distance runners to participate: Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea. This spring, on a yet-to-be-named date and course, each of the men will attempt to cover 26.2 miles at a breakneck pace of 4:34 minutes per mile.
Should we be inspired by this test of mental fortitude and human endurance? Or skeptical of a sneaker company’s publicity stunt? Most scientists and exercise physiologists would probably vote for the latter. In an article published on his site, Ross Tucker, Ph.D., argued that, without doping or the emergence of a new population of super-runners, recording a sub two-hour marathon in the foreseeable future was highly improbable.
That being said, Kipchoge, Desisa, and Tadese are working with every advantage. First, besides being among the best runners on the planet, the athletes were identified by Nike’s 20-person team of physiologists, engineers, coaches, and designers as having the most potential to improve their already winning times. The men will skip the 2017 marathon season to work with the staff to fine-tune their training, hydration, and nutrition. Nike will also be sure to take great pains in choosing a course and climate that offer the most advantageous temperatures, humidity, geography, and wind conditions — factors that anyone who’s ever raced a local 10K knows can make or break a personal record. And, of course, access to Nike’s state-of-the-art training facility in Beaverton, Oregon, plus an unlimited supply of the latest gear and apparel don’t hurt the athletes’ chances of making history. We’ll remain cautiously hopeful.