Project Breaking2: Nike’s attempt to change history

Nike believes it has cracked the formula to break the two-hour marathon barrier. Will it happen?

Meryl D'Souza January 11, 2017

In September 2014, Kenya’s Denis Kimetto made history by clocking a world record 2:02:57 to win the Berlin Marathon. To give you some perspective so that you can truly appreciate that timeframe:

  • The official distance of a marathon is 42.1 kilometres.
  • Kimetto’s pace was at about four minutes and forty-one seconds per mile.
  • By contrast, the average marathon finish time for men in 2013 was 4:16:24.

Last month, after nearly three years of preparation and research, Nike announced project Breaking2 with just one goal in mind: to break the two-hour mark in a special marathon planned for the spring of 2017. Nike isn’t alone in its quest to break the barrier, their rivals Adidas have been working on the same goal for the last three years. 

In the aftermath of Kimetto’s achievement, David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, argued that he has not seen anyone tested who is currently physiologically capable of achieving the sub two-hour marathon goal. Other marathon specialists and scientists previously concluded that a sub two-hour marathon would not be likely until about 2075. 

Interestingly, in 1991, Mike Joyner, an anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, published a paper in the Journal of Applied Physiology where he used physiological variables to calculate that the best athletes should be able to run a full marathon in 1:57:58. That’s a long way from Kimetto’s record.

Shaving a whole two minutes and 58 seconds off the Kenyan’s best is not going to be easy. So how exactly does Nike plan on doing it?

Well for starters, the company has recruited Olympic gold medallist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, two-time Boston Marathon champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, and half-marathon world record holder Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea. From the three, Kipchoge has the fastest recorded time at 2:03:05 from the 2015 London Marathon.

In addition to that, Nike claims it has been working on a footwear solution for this project since 2013. The American corporation has also brought in world-class experts across biomechanics, coaching, design, engineering, materials development, nutrition and sports psychology and physiology to help reach the Breaking2 goal.

For those of you who feel that this is nothing more than a marketing stunt, it’s worth noting that the three athletes have opted out of racing at marathons in London and Boston, which carry six-figure paydays for winners, to focus on Nike’s project.

Moreover, Nike hasn’t decided where it will stage the event but said it won’t be eligible for a world record. For the athletes and Nike, this is more than just a record. It’s a place in history.