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May 3, 2017

Breaking2 is important and I think it will happen

On a crisp morning this weekend in Monza, Italy, a handful of men will attempt to accomplish something that hasn’t been done: travel at a velocity of about 13.11 mph for 26.2188 miles. If they accomplish this (I think they will), it won’t be counted as a IAAF ratified world record. I’m okay with that and think this experiment is still worth it.

Why it is important:

I understand that a large push for this specific attempt is to help sell running shoes. This pursuit is relatively harmless. There are some out there who claim racing for time only hurts the sport, and that we should focus rather on a more “pure” competition-centric environment. I contend that this focus on championship racing does not always end well and doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems we think it will. Pushing yourself to run faster and compete at a higher level has always intrigued our specific race of mammals, and there is something intrinsically cool about ideating something that has never been done and then going out and doing it. Call it the Steve McQueen effect.

In addition, we are getting to watch some of the world’s best male long distance runners focus on a single goal that we, as a micro-culture, aren’t quite sure can be accomplished in this decade. This is the ultimate corner bar table debate, actually realized, with the help from resources by Nike. Would I prefer that Kipchoge, Bekele, Kimetto, and Kipsang square off at Berlin, with a huge bonus chipped in by both Nike and adidas for whichever athlete breaks 2 hours, paced precisely through the 20-mile mark? Sure. But I’m not writing the check here so the current event will have to do.

Why it can happen:

I contend that we are closer to sub-2 than some may think, at least in Nike’s experiment scenario. One of the most significant advantages (which makes this speed attempt non-ratifiable) is the use of pacers, specifically taking pacers off the course and putting them back on, similar to changing lines in hockey. The reference to velocity above is what I think will be a key factor in the record attempt. An even pace could play a significant role, and will teach us a lot about the role of splits–specifically as it pertains to running economy–as tested in a race-scenario setting. Some of the fastest marathons yet (on legal courses and without the unified goal of running an exact time) have been a little squirrelly, as evident by the chart here (along with the Breaking2 proposed splits:

Above all, the chart highlights the following: these are human beings with human bodies running this race. There are a lot of unknowns. Things like their diet, their sleep the few nights before, any nagging injuries they may have, or even stuff we don’t know a lot about yet may play a role in how this thing unfolds. And that’s why we’re doing this! We don’t know, and we are trying to figure it out.

When it comes to approaching something that hasn’t been done before, it’s exciting. We will speculate and pontificate because people care about it, myself included.

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