At 7:45 a.m. in Monza, Italy, Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line of a marathon in 2:00:25. It was the fastest a human has ever run 26.2 miles, and it smashed the current fastest marathon time of 2:02:57 — but it failed to meet Nike’s hope of breaking the two-hour barrier. Nike’s other two runners, Zersenay Tadese and Lelisa Desisa, finished in 2:06:51 and 2:14:10 respectively.
In the Autodromo Nationale Monza, a 2.4-kilometer Formula 1 racing track, a triangle formation of six pacers strived to keep Desisa, Kipchoge, and Tadese on a 4:33-per-mile pace for the 17.5 laps. Nike assembled a team of 30 elite-athlete pacers, dubbed “white rabbits,” and exchanged them out every two laps (or three miles) to keep the pacers fresh and running the ideal speed. A laser line projected in front of the athletes on the track was another tool to keep perfect pace. Finally, a Tesla pace car drove some 15 feet ahead of the athletes with an illuminated running clock to leave no room for confusion on timing.
Every seven minutes (or about every lap), the three athletes were handed a personalized carbohydrate drink to stay fueled and hydrated. Handing the drink to the runners, along with swapping out pacers, breaks the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules for an official marathon, so today’s times will not be eligible for a record. Still, says Brad Wilkins, director of the Nike Explore team at the Nike Science and Research lab, “World record or not, we hope this paves the way for those in official marathons to have a shot.”
When asked on the awards podium how he might make up those 25 seconds, Kipchoge shook his head and replied, “It’s not just me — the world is only 25 seconds away.”