Chasing Immortality: The Sub-2 Hour Marathon

Within days of winning his fourth London Marathon in 2 hours, 2 minutes and 37 seconds, the second fastest time in history, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge was setting his sights once again on the holy grail of distance running – the sub two-hour marathon.

Kipchoge, the current world record holder with a time of 2 hours, 1 minute and 39 seconds, has already had a shot at smashing the landmark time that requires an average pace of 4 minutes and 35 seconds per mile for 26.2 miles (2 minutes 50 seconds per kilometer).

In 2017 he participated in the Nike’s Breaking2 Project in Monza, Italy, covering the marathon distance in an incredible 2 hours and 25 seconds – just 26 seconds short of the historic mark.

Kipchoge’s second attempt is schedule for late September or early October 2019 in the UK, and this time sponsored by Britain’s richest man, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire owner of the multinational chemicals company, Ineos.

The specifics of where, when and how the Ineos 1:59 Challenge, as it’s to be known, have still to be revealed. However, Kipchoge told Sky News that a flat course with little elevation, run on a cool day with a temperature of 12oC would give him the best possible chance.

‘I will work to a programme with my coach. What will be different this time will be my mentality. I’ve learned that if you believe in yourself and train for your goal you can achieve it,’ he said.

‘This time I will try to work not harder, but smarter. I always say that 100% of me is nothing compared to 1% of the team. The team is absolutely crucial if I am to achieve this.’

It’s expected that among the team will be a group of pacemakers – an aid that would make a new record ineligible under International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules. Not that Kipchoge cares about that:

‘It’s not about the IAAF, it’s about history,’ the Olympic champion, who has won an extraordinary nine consecutive World Marathon Majors, told the Guardian newspaper. ‘I really want to leave a big legacy.’

Observers would argue, that perhaps the greatest runner of all time, has done enough to cement his legacy into the annals of distance running folklore. But what is certain, success at the Ineos 1.59 Challenge, will earn Kipchoge a place among the marathon Gods and running immortality.

Images: ©Paul Child/Reuters; Sports Industry Group

Words: Ian McHarg