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May 9, 2017

The last thing we have to say about Nike’s Breaking2

If you’ve been to CITIUS MAG in the past week, you saw us making quite a stink over Nike’s #Breaking2 attempt. As much as we’d love to say we were doing it because Nike was handing us fistfuls of cash under the table, that would be a lie. Did we really believe it was going to happen? Perhaps. But mostly we just thought it was a very silly idea and it was brilliant fodder for a week’s worth of content.

All of us can agree on a few things that #Breaking2 was: an enormous marketing stunt, a stellar branding initiative, and a whole lot of hype. Despite all of that, by the time Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line 26 seconds behind the timing-laser wielding electronic car, you (both the royal “you” and you in particular), would be a fool to say that the event wasn’t important, a bit existential, and something we won’t see again in the near future.

The importance of the event is undeniable. Broken down to its core, the attempt was about peak human performance. We can wax poetic all day long about doing what’s never been done, or breaking the unbreakable barrier.

But for me, after it became apparent he might do the damn thing, it was about recognizing the few moments in humanity’s miserable history where we can point to a specific spot on our timeline and say “this was the day we saw the greatest a human ever was at distance running.” It was never about the barrier. It was always about finding the limits of the human machine, and we can safely say that Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese, and Lelisa Desisa were given every opportunity to do it.

For 99% of the population, your life’s work is intangible, judged by the day to day, and how you live your life. Our cultural obsession with sports is likely driven somewhat by being able to wrap our minds around a singular, tangible goal. There’s nothing as tangible in sports, other than maybe powerlifting, than what Kipchoge did on Saturday.

You can commute to your office everyday, but no matter how undeniable you are at creating beautiful pivot tables or writing immaculate lines of code, no one will ever really know (or try to know) if what you did in your beige cubicle that day was taking it to the limit in terms of what a human could do to an excel doc. Sports give us a definitive goal to aspire towards, and the pursuit of running as fast as you can, for as long as you can leaves very little wiggle room for any other argument against greatness.

Though Nike is worth billions and billions of dollars it’s not likely we’ll see them stage something like this again. They’re instead opting to focus on other “moonshots.” Maybe they can take some cues from Citius.

In regular circumstances–regular meaning without advanced robotics, waves of pacers, springy shoes, Kevin Hart, etc–we’re a long ways from breaking two. Going to the well the way Kipchoge did is ill-advised racing tactics, and many times the stakes are seemingly higher; things like Olympic medals or large, novelty checks always need to be considered. And how many more performances like that do you think a person has in them? Thinking about the aftermath of Kipchoge’s run brings out the old timey doctor in me: if he attempts it again I’m sure he’d contract a type of flu he’s likely not shake the rest of his life, if it doesn’t kill him first.

So here we are, on the other side of an honest crack at the two hour marathon. What did we learn? Well, mostly that humanity will always stop and recognize humanity. The pursuit of self-actualization is evolving, and relative. But not with this. The sub-two hour attempt was humanity’s attempt at self-actualization. If you were like me, over the last five miles of Kipchoge’s miracle run, your chest tightened, and you stared at your phone in disbelief, as a man thundered along faster than any other man had done before him, for the sole reason of showing us what was possible. It was stupid. It was kind of pointless. But god damn if it wasn’t a thing of beauty.

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