Breaking4: How Nike inspired my lofty sub 4 hour marathon goal
A few weeks ago three elite professional marathoners completed 26.2 miles around the Formula One track at Monza in Italy. The fastest, Eliot Kipchoge completed this in 2:00:25, a mere 25 seconds from breaking the two hour barrier, one believe to be untreatable for years. Though none did reach this incredible goal, their results were still incredible in that this was two minutes faster than the world record. Though this attempt did not qualify as a record due to the use of pacers, the results were inspiring and illuminating as they showed that the limits of human endurance are higher than believed. They even inspired me to set my own lofty goal for the marathon.
For over a year, Nike scientists, designers, and professional athletes have been working together in Nike’s labs as part of the Breaking2 project, the project aimed at breaking the fabled two hour marathon finish. Combining top athletes, new shoe science, and training science and techniques, a multitude of improvements were made to optimize the chances of breaking two hours. Nutrition was optimized, several iterations of shoe were tried and tested, and the runners were hooked up to so many tubes they made Dr. Freeze look poorly connected. Being Nike, of course new shoes were created and heavily marketed, but I still commend them for setting an audacious goal and working so hard toward it. The athletes had to know that the goal was nearly impossible, but they dedicated over a year of their lives training with high intensity toward it, giving up other races and potential prize money during the process. This single minded work toward a goal inspired me to set a similar single minded goal to work toward, focusing singularly on it and training hard with it in mind.
In October, I will run the Chicago Marathon. I was supposed to run it last year but due to an IT Band issue in the months leading up to it, I had to defer my entry to this year. It’s possible that the 13 mile run I decided to do after two weeks of not running when our twins were born was the cause. It’s also possible that refusing to stop running, going past the point of pain with the sore muscle didn’t help. Regardless of the cause, my refusal to properly treat it until too close to the marathon meant I would have to wait a year to run.
I’m never going to be an elite runner, this I know. I didn’t even start running until nearly 30 and only began in order to get healthier and see how far I could push myself. It’s only lately I’ve begun to worry about speed and pace and push myself more that way. Even still, I’m never going to be a 5:00/mi runner, even for a mile, let alone 26.2. Even a Boston Qualifying pace is a distant dream at this point. Instead, taking a page from the Breaking2 project, I’m setting a goal for myself at Breaking4. I want to break 4 hours at the Chicago Marathon this fall and I’m going to focus on this goal alone. No distractions or excuses.
The three marathons I’ve run, New York, Belfast, and Chicago had different goals, but pace wasn’t really one of them. New York, my first, was just to finish and look moderately alive for my friends and family who came to support me. Belfast was to maintain a pace past the 18 mile mark where I tailed off to just slightly beyond walking in New York. In Philadelphia, the goal was to finish strong, and push past the emotion I was feeling as we found out we’d be having twins only a week or two earlier. In truth, I had secretly set a time goal and was able to keep on pace for it until about mile 20, but then just couldn’t hold on. This is my biggest fear about Chicago and the one I intend to train the hardest to beat. No breaking when things get hard after hitting the wall toward the end of the race.
I won’t have the benefit of special nutrition, though I do enjoy the sports jelly beans and in my last half marathon they did get me hyper at mile 10. I won’t have training specialists besides the training schedule I printed from online. I won’t have special shoes designed to give me a 4% boost in running efficiency. I don’t even know my lactic threshold. I do however, plan to be smarter about my training then ever before and know when to push it and when not. I will be better about doing my long runs on both Saturday and Sunday, using Saturday’s run to practice pace and Sunday’s long run to practice running tired and fatigued. I will not push myself to run at my top pace for the first 12 miles of the marathon while I’m feeling good, leaving nothing in the tank for miles 18-26. I will use my running watch intelligently to measure performance and practice pace, but I won’t be a slave to it. I will instead, listen to my body.
I might not have a rotating crew of pacers or a Tesla sedan with a clock on top and laser projectors showing my pace line, but I am going to shatter my personal goal even more so than the Breaking2 runners. Those around me in the marathon won’t know that I’m focused and determined to break a goal just as daunting as the Breaking2 project, but inside I will have the same determination and effort as those runners. It might not make the news either, but if I do succeed, it will be my biggest running accomplishment to date. They might even design a show after me.