As men’s marathon times have gotten faster in the past decade, there has been a lot of discussion, several books and countless social media posts about the possibility of someone, some day breaking the still mostly unfathomable 2-hour barrier.
The discussion often focuses on whether it’s humanly possible and, if so, what kind of training advancements, racing conditions and gear innovations would it take to get there. Well, Nike not only thinks it’s possible, it’s also going to put three of its best marathoners—Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea—in position to break it in 2017.
Nike only announced limited details of its “Breaking2” program, but it is likely those three athletes will run 26.2 miles in a time trial setting sometime in 2017—either on a track or closed road course—but not affiliated with an actual marathon race. The brand has proclaimed this program, known as “an innovation moonshot designed to unlock human potential.”
“This great story reminds us that inspiration—complete belief in an impossible goal—is at the core of human potential,” Nike announced in a release today. “After all, as Bill Bowerman, Nike’s co-founder and legendary track coach, once said, ‘The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race, it’s to test the limits of the human heart.’”
The current world record in the men’s marathon is 2:02:57, set in September 2014 by Dennis Kimetto at the Berlin Marathon. That was the third time the record had been lowered since Ethiopian great Haile Gebrselassie first broke the 2:04 barrier in Berlin in 2008.
To break the 2-hour barrier, a runner would have to run 3 percent faster than the current record, running roughly 7 seconds faster per mile and average about 4:34 per mile.
Kipchoge, 32, considered by many to be the world’s top marathoner, ran his PR of 2:03:05 last April at the London Marathon. Since 2014, he has won five marathons at 2:05:00 or faster and won the gold medal in the event at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2:08:44.
Tadese, 34, has only run 2:10:41 in the marathon, but he holds the world record for the half marathon (58:23) and won five world championships at that distance. He placed eighth in the 10,000m at the Rio Olympics.
Desisa, 26, ran a 2:04:45 marathon in his debut at the distance in 2013 and won the Boston Marathon in 2013 and 2015.