Kipchoge becomes first in history to run sub-2-hour marathon: How did he do it?

Adam Baines looks at just how Kipchoge smashed the marathon record

Adam Baines
5th November 2019
On 12th October, the current world-record holder of the marathon, Eliud Kipchoge, slashed his personal best even further by completing a marathon in 1:59:40, becoming the first person ever to run sub-2 hours across this distance. To achieve this time, Eliud had to average at 4:34-mile/2:50km pace.

This was not like the Berlin Marathon though, where he set his staggering world record of 2:01:39, nor was it like any other marathon he had ran before (except for his relatively ‘unsuccessful’ Breaking 2 project in 2017). This was a special event, the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, in which all external elements critical to an athlete’s performance were streamlined and improved, giving Eliud the best chance to break the 2-hour barrier. But what this also means is that Kipchoge’s record time in this race is not legal under IAAF rules, as his support given exceeded the threshold allowed.

So, what made Kipchoge’s time possible?

The course:

Vienna was chosen for its weather conditions, course design and its time difference between itself and Kenya, where Eliud trains. The organisers had also been allocated a nine-day window, from 12th October-20th October, in which they could run the race on whichever day provided the best conditions. Vienna has stable and ideal temperatures, low humidity levels, excellent air quality and, on the day Eliud raced, a low chance of rain (10%). The course was very flat, its elevation ranging from 1.8 to 4.0 metres, making running at a constant pace easier. Finally, the 1-hour time difference between Vienna and Kenya meant Kipchoge would have a very low chance of suffering jet lag.


The pacemakers:

“100% of me is worth less than 1% of the team” is Eliud’s attitude towards running. It is in this race especially that his pacemakers were crucial. In normal marathons, pacemakers start the race with the other runners and stay with them for as long as is needed. But in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, there were 41 pacemakers taking part, with each group of pacemakers being switched every 5km to ensure they were fresh. This allowed pacemakers to help Kipchoge up until the end of the race, whereas pacers in IAAF standard marathons usually drop out by 30km. The pacemakers, running in a V-formation, shielded Eliud from any prevailing winds, and with the help of a car projecting a laser in front of them, they kept a constant pace for Kipchoge to maintain.


Kipchoge’s fitness:

Training in Kaptagat, Kenya, Kipchoge consistently runs 100+ miles per week at over 2000 metres above sea level. His training in the last several months has been tailored specifically to this race, so physically he was very prepared for it.


Kipchoge’s mentality:

To conclude, Kipchoge’s belief that “no human is limited” most certainly helped him achieve his time. His mental strength and fortitude demonstrate how we can break barriers when we don’t put limits on ourselves, and how we can always strive to be better.

On 12th October, Kipchoge didn’t just show us what the body is capable of: he showed us the power of a mind which places no limits on itself.

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