Kaptagat - As
dawn breaks over the foothills of the Rift Valley, Eliud Kipchoge's
feet beat a steady rhythm along ochre trails and his mind is still,
undaunted by a goal many think impossible.
It is the next mythical barrier in running: smashing a sub-2 hour marathon.
Kenya's Kipchoge is one of three elite runners chosen by American
sportswear giant Nike to attempt to run the 42.195km distance in under two hours, combining the latest science on
training, nutrition, psychology and sportswear.
He, Ethiopia's former Boston marathon winner Lelisa Desisa and
veteran Eritrean distance runner Zersenay Tadese are the cream of East
Africa's storied running crop and each is believed to hold the potential
to run 1:59.59 or faster.
This means shaving nearly three minutes off the current record of
2:02.57, run by Kenyan Denis Kimetto in 2014, a mind-boggling leap that
Kipchoge is convinced he can achieve.
"I didn't think it was crazy. No human being has run under two hours.
And I want to be the first human being to run under two hours," he told
AFP in an interview in the village of Kaptagat, a popular training site
in western Kenya at an altitude of over 2 000m.
Kipchoge, a former world 5 000m champion, ran the world's third
fastest marathon time of 2:03.05 when he successfully defended his
London marathon title last April.
Since switching from a stellar track career to marathon running in
2013 he has won seven of eight races in which he has competed.
Respected track and field magazine Runners World has predicted that,
based on data analysis, the barrier would only be broken in 2075, and
called Nike's bid "audacious".
"I accept the freedom of those who are pessimists," says a serene
Kipchoge. "In this world there are three types of people. Those who wait
for things to happen. Those who go with the people who have started.
And those who think about how to make things happen.
"I think it's possible to run under two hours. That's why I'm going for it."
In 1908, Irishman
Johnny Hayes won the first marathon set at the modern distance of 42.195km in a time of 2:55:18.
It took 109 years for the record to crumble to the current level run by Kimetto.
Kimetto is sponsored by Adidas, who quietly referred to their own
sub-2 bid in February with the announcement of the Adidas Adizero Sub2
Nike, meanwhile, is taking everything that is known about nutrition, training and biomechanics to optimise the runners' chances.
During a half-marathon test at a Formula 1 track in Monza in Italy in
March, the runners ingested core-temperature pills and taped on sensors
to measure muscle oxygen and skin temperature, according to Runners
Kipchoge ran a promising 59 minutes 17 seconds and was followed by Tadese,
who holds the world half-marathon record but has only ever managed to
run a 2:10:41 marathon.
"Based on what is presently known, whoever breaks the 2hr barrier
will have a favourable genetic profile (yet to be determined), an
outstanding running economy and small body size along with chronic
exposure to high altitude and significant physical activity early in
life," Nike wrote on its website dedicated to the challenge.
The race will take place sometime
in May, also at Monza, where wind, temperature and the possible presence
of hares on the track all pose a threat to optimal conditions.
Kipchoge's coach Richard Metto is also confident.
"Eliud has set a goal, 'My limit will be the sky', and that is it. Nobody will stop him on the way."
To aid their runners, Nike has created a specialist racing shoe, the
Zoom Vaporfly Elite, built to reduce weight, maximise aerodynamics and
customised to each of the three competitors.
However Kipchoge believes it is not all the fancy training techniques
and state of the art equipment that will make the difference, but the
will and confidence to succeed.
"The difference only is thinking. You think it's impossible, I think it's possible," he said.
"If I do it, and I will do it, the benefit won't only be for me ...
This thing is not about running, it is about every human being. After
running under two hours, I think I will have ... kicked out that notion
that a human being has limitations."