On April 28, the world was ecstatic holding breath on what the fastest marathoner of all times Eliud Kipchoge had in store for them. As expected, Eliud didn’t disappoint; he ran the London Marathon course knocking off his own 2016 record and second fastest marathon time ever run at 2:02:37 — a man simply competing against himself.
One thing not much talked about in that London race is that Eliud led a pack of the fastest top three in any marathon, much credit to the two Ethiopians.
The top three men raced 38km in sub-2:03, something unprecedented, the runners up (Mosinet Geremew) finished at 2:02:55, the fastest marathon time by an athlete who isn’t Eliud Kipchoge, second runners up (Mule Wasihun) ran a time of 2:03:16, 43 seconds faster that Gebrselassie’s 2008 world record.
There is no doubt that today’s athletes are running at unprecedent performance levels never imagined.
But the hanging question in the sporting world today remains, will Eliud Kipchoge be the first human to run a marathon under two hours?
Over a period of time, science has suggested that the best age for professional athletes to run is 27 years for men and 29 for women.
At 34, marathoners are estimated to decline in performance and even lower for sprinters because lean muscles mass decline with age.
Eliud has proven to be an outlier in this statistic. In 2017, he ran the fastest marathon time of 2:03:32 at the Berlin Marathon aged 32 years then set world record of 2:01:39 a year later at 33 and now ran the second fastest marathon time at 2:02:25 in London Marathon.
Another issue is that Eliud Kipchoge’s VO2 estimated from his world record performance is about 89.7 maximum. His official VO2 figure is not publicly available to me, Nike might be tight-lipped on it.
VO2 is the measure of the body’s ability to bring oxygen to blood cells, its analogous to the size of a vehicle’s engine, its largely part of one’s genetics but can be improved. For an average man, the score is about 40 and athletes’ average is 50. So, if Eliud has twice an average man that is extraordinary, Lance Armstrong was famous for having 81.2.
So, with these two going for him, can he still beat under two-hour mark? Two things have to happen before he retires.
First, the continued professionalisation of the sport away from its conservativeness. In 2017, when Nike ran the experiment of breaking the two-hour mark with Eliud where he ran the unofficial fastest marathon time of 2:00:25, it modified rules to make the athlete’s run faster by providing athletes with feeding bottles with moving bikes unlike IAAF rules that require athletes to pick it from stationary tables.
And, interchanging teams of pacemakers who provided athletes with cover running into headwinds (it’s estimated that running against the wind reduces the energy you expend at a given pace by about one percent) against IAAF rules).
These modifications of rules are quite progressive, they don’t violate the spirit of the marathon or provide unfair advantage to some athletes, and so, in the near future they may be admitted.
Second, the shoes technology and innovation. Nike has introduced its new running shoes VaporFly 4 percent cushioned with a foam based on aircraft insulation and also a carbon fibre plate, which gives an athlete 3-4 percent improved performance.
A further improvement to this shoe innovation will see the two-hour mark coming much on sight.
So, will Kipchoge be the human to run below two hours?
Currently, he’s the only athlete who can do it but under another Nike experiment where he needs to shave only 26 secs of his previous time and not in an IAAF sanctioned race.
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