Humans have still yet to break the 2-hour marathon mark, but they’re getting close with the help of sports science and technology innovation.
Nike’s attempt to break the record fell just short on Saturday, as world-class Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge ran 26 miles in 2 hours and 25 seconds as part of a laboratory test of sorts that doubled as a marketing play by Nike.
Called Breaking2, Nike worked for two years to prepare for Saturday’s race, investing time and money into research related to shoes, training, nutrition, recovery, and other elements of long-distance running.
Nike, headquartered just outside Portland, Ore., streamed the race live on Facebook and Twitter. It took place in a controlled environment around Monza’s Formula One course in Milan, Italy.
“It’s the perfect place to test everything we’ve learned,” Nike wrote.
— Nike (@Nike) May 6, 2017
Nike had three runners attempt the race, but Kipchoge was the only one with a real chance of breaking the 2-hour mark. His 2:00:24 mark is the best-ever, but technically not an official record because Nike used a throng of pacesetters throughout the race. Nike also had an electric car that projected a green line which showed ideal pace.
There were other tech-fueled aids for the runners, including special carbohydrate fluids and shoes with carbon-fiber plates.
Here’s a tidbit from Nike that details the science behind the preparation:
Before the team could work with the athletes to refine their training and conditioning, we needed to understand their current training schedules. In order to do so, our science team met the athletes and their coaches at Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. At this first team camp, the science team provided each athlete with GPS watches and heart rate monitors to begin tracking the training load of each athlete. In addition, each athlete was connected to internal Nike performance prediction analysis software. This helped to facilitate individualized athlete learnings, as well as forecast future running performances.
Next, the science group teamed up with the product group and went to the athletes’ home training grounds in Kenya, Ethiopia and Spain. They tested and integrated insights across the Nike Breaking2 project, gathered new data and observed first-hand the athletes daily training regimens and lifestyles, constantly looking for avenues where support could be provided.
At the first team camp, the science team introduced hydration and nutrition strategies, which have been regularly adjusted month by month. Skin temperatures and sweat rates were monitored. Fit details for the revolutionary Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoe and race day apparel were obsessed over. And the closer we get to the attempt, the more important temperature becomes for our team.
For the success of Breaking2, the most important temperature reading is the difference between the body’s internal core temperature and skin temperature. This is known as the temperature gradient.
The official world record for the marathon remains 2:02:57, which was set in 2014.
You can watch the race here: