Breaking 2: Why It Didn’t Happen and The Work Ahead

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There were 2 major contenders, Nike and adidas, that officially announced their efforts to achieve the sub 2 hour record. One down, 1 to go. Nike just made good on their promise to attempt to break that 2 hr mark. Results are in and there is a question. There was no information on drug testing. Can we take their word for it? Considering the result – maybe.

Let’s mention two things before we go further:

  1. Nike’s attempt to break the 2 hr marathon was about marketing new Nike shoes.
  2. This article is about marketing a scientific interest in achieving the sub 2hr marathon
  3. adidas’ effort is also a marketing one

And of course there is a ‘new and improved’ shoe involved and it will be available later this year. While I’m being a bit sarcastic, it must be said that we do need better and improved shoes and it’s good to have so many options and companies willing to invest so much resources into the research and development, into the production and marketing – it is no easy feat. That said, it is healthy to keep in mind what shoes can and cannot give us.

Nike’s attempt was admirable and applaudable and it was fun to watch. It takes guts and often considerable resources to make a bold statement and proceed with the project. But this specific project should have been about athletes, their talent and skill, and not the shoes. There was too much emphasis put on how these amazing shoes will provide everything but the wings, most of the articles out were focused on the shoes. But are shoes still amazing if they are placed on the feet of a runner that couldn’t deliver not because he is not good but because he was chosen for the wrong race? Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese suffered the consequences of that poor choice. According to Dr. Romanov they were not equal competition to Kipchoge. But then again, could that have been the plan?

It Didn’t Happen Because…

To all the hopeful marathon fanatics out there – it is possible and we might see it sooner rather than later! Here’s the reality that we are working with – there are currently around 180-200 athletes in the world (based on officially published data and footage) that are physically capable of achieving this breakthrough. A smaller group from that couple of hundred runners could actually do it. So there it is – it can happen!

But it didn’t happen this time, and essentially it can all be narrowed down to this:

  • There was no attention given to improving technique, no psychological training and zero focus on perception – things that are at the heart of athletic excellence
  • There was lopsided emphasis on physiology – something that’s predetermined by genes and cannot be changed. Elite runners are elite because they are already on another level, they were born this way (Lady Gaga is smiling somewhere now).
  • There was focus on economy and efficiency – things that are the outcomes, the results of the combination of the above mentioned, but how do you improve the result without improving factors that produce that result?
  • There was too much pinned on the benefits of the shoes, the track, the artificially created conditions.

The Chosen Runners

First thing is first – according to Dr. Romanov’s calculations based on publicly available data and footage, only one of the selected three had a fighting chance – Eliud Kipchoge. If you look at their statistics, the numbers show that Desisa and Tadese shouldn’t have been expected to break 2 hrs. Kipchoge displayed a better focus all the way to the finish line.

There is a number of athletes that could’ve been and should’ve been selected in their place, but I guess it’s understandable that since this is a Nike project, the pool of athletes was limited to those sponsored by Nike. And here’s your problem #1 with this project. Yes it’s understandable but, again, it points to business and marketing, when it should be about a scientific pursuit of excellence in athletics that is not strangled by brands and their investments. It would have been a more progressive approach to invite other brands and their sponsored athletes to participate and work out the scope of involvement.

Now if Wilson Kipsang and Kenenisa Bekele were competing – that could have yielded some interesting results! Bekele being Dr. Romanov’s favorite here.

The Running Shoes

This project was about these new shoes and it can now serve as a good example of the limits of any shoe. After all that considerable investment and all this intellectual investment into the intricate design of these shoes – the shoes made no significant difference. Actually they made no difference at all. I was hoping that we’ll see a “belief” factor at play but no. The athletes either didn’t believe at all that the shoes would make them faster or did believe and yet it made no difference. Either way – fail. But they will be available, correction – their less appealing general public version – will be available this summer for $250 and I’m sure sales will do just fine regardless.

The Running Conditions

Some excited celebrities went as far as to compare this project to placing a man on the moon. Ah…. no. Nothing like it. If only because these guys going in the outer space do not have an armada of ships in front of them to protect them from occasional debris, nor do they have pacing ships, etc.

There is nothing exciting about this artificial setup. It is nothing like the real deal. Even the shoes were “designed specifically to suit the exact surface and conditions of the Formula One race track in Monza, Italy” where the athletes made their sub-two attempt. Wow, stop the presses, are you kidding me? I’m sorry, what was the point of this attempt again? Right – selling shoes.

The Work Ahead

And there is plenty. But no it doesn’t involve specially created shoes, windless artificial environments, breathing masks, etc. Before there can be real benefit derived from these, there must be a solid foundation that involves better training, better coaching, better understanding of what complete training process involves and how to create better training regimen in order to groom a champion and not just rely on his or hers talent. Too many athletes break down at a very young age without ever realizing their potential. Too many peak and fade away well ahead of their time.

Hopefully, adidas will step up their game having now witnessed what Nike’s attempt produced but considering they’ve already been at it for a while it is doubtful any changes that could yield significant results can be made in time for their public attempt.

In order for any runner to break through to another level, they must understand that it can only happen if they improve their perception and technique. There are limits on many things but these two areas have no limits.

That ‘zone’ that everyone knows about, that elite athletes write about in their memoirs, where they effortlessly set world records but it just happened, they couldn’t do it voluntarily afterwards. That zone, that special state is achieved by improving perception. Of course, being on elite level their perception is already way above an average runner, but compared to physiological aspects, perception has layer upon layer of levels and can be continuously improved.  Similarly, technique can continuously be fine tuned. Technique is that gateway that either prevents an athlete from expressing his or hers full potential and hinders natural abilities, or provides the best outlet for the best expression possible and we all benefit – we get to bask in the glory of magnificent athletic achievement.

This process of developing perception and improving technique is incredibly fascinating and is a never-ending source of personal discoveries and continuous progress and growth. But many just hammer away those miles.

Food For Thought

Sometimes I wonder, what if while we are passionately discussing this and arguing over what’s possible, there is a person somewhere out there that quietly runs a 1:55 marathon once a week because it’s a fun thing to do. But we don’t know about it because that person didn’t enter a race and nobody is there to clock that breathtaking event. If nobody witnesses the event – does it change history?

According to Dr. Romanov if we take our terrestrial gravity, other forces, body and mind into account, it is possible to run a 1hr 27 min marathon. But chances are it will take us a long while to get there, like another 200+ years… Unless we are willing to switch the focus off the shoes and onto the things that really make a difference!




About the author(s)


Lana Romanov runs the Running Forum and hosts monthly Webinars with Dr. Romanov