Nike revealed the news this week that they are on a mission to break the 2 hour marathon barrier and are training three top athletes (Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea) to take on the challenge. For an outline of the plans which have been revealed so far, read this summary from Runners World: Sub 2hr Marathon.
There seems to have been mixed reaction to this attempt, and I can see why... Going sub two hours for a marathon is a phenomenal human achievement, and one which when/if it happens will be history making. So it is understandable there is some excitement and intrigue around Nike’s plans. However there are a few things that don’t sit easy with me and are factors which others have also identified. First is the time scale – Nike is stating this will happen in Spring next year, which seems very sudden. You would presume there has been lots of work going on behind the scenes for months, but to announce the plans under such a short timescale will raise questions over what is actually going on. Nike’s association with the Oregon Project and doping accusations is not a good background. Secondly, it appears the marathon itself will not be a known event, but instead a specific course/route chosen by Nike which will undoubtedly have as many factors controlled as possible in order to make the sub 2 hour time more achievable. Personally I would rather see the record broken in a conventional race setting.
Lastly, is the question of whether turning these athletes into essentially a scientific experiment and them almost becoming 'lab rats' is actually stripping the enjoyment from the sport?
Nike and the three athletes have certainly put themselves under some intense pressure and scrutiny over the next few months. As a runner working hard to try and run a sub 4hr marathon the concept that someone could run the same distance in literally less than half the time is mad! Is it actually possible though? We will have to wait and see..