Nike’s Attempt to Break the Marathon World Record Is Crazy, Also Very Crazy

It's gotta be the shoes. These shoes.

March 8, 2017 9:00 am

The 10-second 100-meter dash. The four-minute mile. Now, the two-hour marathon.

These are records runners much better than you and I are obsessed with. For the latter, Nike wants to be the company responsible for breaking it — with their new Vaporfly running performance sneakers.

Through their Breaking2 program, Nike has chosen three long-distance athletes to don Zoom Vaporfly Elites in a two-hour marathon record attempt in Italy this May. These runners, as Wired reports this week, are some of the best in the world: “Zersenay Tadese, the half-marathon world-record holder; Lelisa Desisa, a two-time Boston Marathon winner; and Eliud Kipchoge, gold medalist at the Rio Olympics.”

The shoes, customized for each runner, rely on an inch-thick foam sole and a carbon-fiber plate intended to propel the runner forward. (Though some believe this technology should be illegal in racing.) 

The current marathon record? Two hours, two minutes and 57 seconds.

So we’re clear, shaving off 2:58 to get under two hours is a colossal feat. The pace we’re talking about is 4 minutes and 34.23 seconds every mile for 26.2 miles. I’m getting shin splints just thinking about it.

For the historical basis of marathon records, we can look back to 1908 Summer Olympic Games in London where American Johnny Hayes set it at 2:55:18.4. Over 100 years later, the time has been cut down to that 2:02:57 record, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at the 2014 Berlin Marathon. If you balance that out, we’re looking at around a 28.8 second decrease in time every year until today.

Of course, this decline can’t continue forever. Humans will eventually hit a plateau where, barring android components, running faster is not possible. As the runners say, we have not reached that point. 

“This project is about proving that a human being has no limitation,” says Kipchoge in the above video from Wired. “Above all I want to make history.”

For those of us not looking to make history, but simply improve our personal mile time — Nike is releasing two versions of the Vaporfly to the public this June. The Zoom Vaporfly 4% will go for $250 and feature the same foam and plate tech as the Vaporfly Elites, but without the personalization. The Zoom Fly ($150) will have the plate but swap the latest foam sole for Nike’s previous Lunarlon.

So if Tadese, Desisa or Kipchoge can’t break the record in May, maybe some unknown running enthusiast out there will strap these on and break the record himself.

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