Eliud Kipchoge (in white vest) and his team of pacemakers running as part of Ineos 1:59 Challenge in Vienna (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge has covered the 42.2km distance of the full marathon in 1:59:40, breaking the two hour-barrier.

The result was achieved in near perfect weather conditions – save 90 per cent plus humidity and a spell of rain – at the Ineos 1:59 Challenge in Vienna today (October 12, 2019). People lined the carefully chosen course in the Austrian capital to see the event. The course was 90 per cent straight, evenly paved and lined by trees. For the first time in Kipchoge’s running career, his family – wife, Grace and three children – were present to see him in action.

Kipchoge is the current world record holder in the marathon (2:01:39 set at the 2018 Berlin Marathon) and reigning Olympic champion. The strategy for the run, worked back from the need to go sub-2, was executed to precision. There was a car up front setting the pace accurately and more importantly, projecting a green laser lit-line on to the road just behind which, the athletes recruited to be pacemakers ran maintaining their momentum. The course had a small corridor down the middle marked by two orange lines. Kipchoge had to stay within that to make sure the required length of the run was met.

The pacemakers were arranged in the form of a `V’ (open arms facing the wind) with the captain of a given set of pacemakers anchoring the point of convergence. This formation was the best option for aerodynamic efficiency. It reduced wind resistance for Kipchoge who ran behind the captain. Two pacemakers ran on either side of Kipchoge, slightly behind him. Every few kilometers, the team of pacemakers changed. The transition was done smoothly.  There were 41 pacemakers drawn from 10 countries assembled for the task; all of them world class athletes.

Eliud Kipchoge (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Kipchoge and his pacemakers were on target almost all through the run. At 41 kilometers, the pace car peeled off. At an hour and 58 minutes with just a few hundred meters left, the last team of pacemakers slackened their pace and let Kipchoge take the lead. At 1:59:22, goal nearly in grasp, he began pointing to the crowd in excitement. The finish was at 1:59:40.

Although this is the first time in history that a marathon has been completed within two hours, the timing will not be recognized as a world record for three reasons – Kipchoge was the sole competitor at Vienna; he not only had pacemakers but the team of pacemakers was periodically replaced to ensure they stuck to required pace and he had fluids for hydration being handed out from a bike unlike the hydration points of regular marathons (this is as per event commentary).

“ His run today won’t be ratified as a world record, but will nonetheless be remembered as one of the greatest pioneering milestones in athletics history,” a report on the race available on the website of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said.The IAAF, which is the top body for athletics worldwide, is the agency that ratifies world records.

The event in Vienna was the second time Kipchoge attempted breaking the two hour-barrier. In May 2017 at a similar project organized by Nike, he had covered the distance in 2:00:25.  The course was straighter at Vienna, the shoes used were better than the ones employed at Monza (the scene of the 2017 attempt) and Kipchoge’s nutrient intake during the race was further improved, the event’s commentators pointed out.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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