06 May, 2017

The barrier is still intact

The verdict has fallen. The two-hours barrier for men’s Marathon is still unbroken. The Nike Breaking2 event took place early this morning in the automobile race track of Monza in Italy. The track of Monza was chosen because of its gentle corners (after all it’s just a 2.4 km track and so corners do count) and for its rather clement weather conditions (at this time of the year).

The famous race-track of Monza

It was a race where fresh pacemakers have been present throughout (as I had predicted in my recent post). Drinks were delivered by scooter so as not to slow-down the runners. And of course the special Nike VaporFly shoe did play an essential role. 

The pacemakers were also an active wind-screen

The three champions selected for the attempt met with various fortunes. L. Desisa could not keep up with the pace and ended with a 2:14:10 time almost 10 more than his personal time. Z. Tadese, who is in fact a semi-marathon specialist, did improve his personal best by a full three minutes with 2:06:51 still way off the 2 hours mark. The only one who gave the barrier a real scare was the current olympic champion E. Kipchoge. 

E. Kipchoge at the end of his 2 hours effort

His time of 2:00:25 is more than 2:30 better than his official personal record of 2:03:05.  If somebody could break that mythical barrier that person could only be Kipchoge. A specialist of 5000 m, he was world champion in 2003, silver medalist in 2007, olympic medalist in 2004 (bronze) and 2008 (silver). He possesses the basic speed that could allow him to break the marathon world record under “normal” conditions. At 33 years of age he has the requisite maturity for this. 

The official site of the IAAF gives an analysis of the race (but still the record cannot be homologated under the existing rules). The runners passed the 10 km point in 28:21 and the half-marathon in 59:57. A sub2 time was starting looking iffy at that point and that was confirmed by the splits at 30 km (1:35:20) and at 40 km where, given the time of 1:54:00, it was clear that only a superhuman effort could catch up with the delay. One can criticise the irregularities, in view of the standing rules, of the attempt (and I am one among those who did so) but still the effort of Kipchoge is historical. In some sense it is even better than a sub-2 time. Had he broken the barrier we could have waved that away saying he got excessive help from the staging of the event. Having come close and failed lends to his effort a human dimension.

PS  Ross Tucker (of Sports Scientists fame) suggests that if one reads a single article on the Breaking2 attempt that should be the one by Sarah Barker. I read it and I agree 100 % with him. So, if you read just two articles on the Nike attempt (well, if you have gone this far, you have certainly read mine, so that counts as one already) go and read her article in deadspin.
And, by the way the link in Sports Scientists points to the excellent analysis of Ross. Look, make it three and read that article too. It's great reading.

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