How Eliud Kipchoge Ran A 1:59 Marathon

How Eliud Kipchoge Ran A 1:59 Marathon

During a weekend of broken records, one stood out more than the IRONMAN Kona course record: Eliud Kipchoge smashed the 2-hour mark on the marathon, with a final time of 1:59:40! Part of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, this was Eliud’s second attempt at a sub-2 hour marathon, having made the attempt in 2017, but coming up short with a final time of 2:00:25. Let’s analyze how Eliud finally broke 2 hours.

Who is Eliud Kipchoge?

Eliud Kipchoge was born on November 4, 1984 in Kenya, and stands at 5 ft., 6 in. (1.67 m.) and weighs 115 lbs. (52 kg). He’s excelled in most distances, but has dominated the 5K and marathon (26.2 miles), and won 12 of the 13 competitive marathons he’s entered. He’s married with 3 children, and lives and trains in Kenya.

Marathon Records

Officially, Eliud is the fastest runner ever, having set the world record in Berlin in 2018 with a jaw-dropping time of 2:01:39. Unofficially, during the Nike Sub-2 Hour Marathon attempt in Italy in 2017, he ran 2:00:25. In addition, he’s an Olympic Gold Medalist for the marathon at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“Berlin was about running a world record, Vienna is about running and breaking history, like the first man on the moon.” – Eliud Kipchoge

The Course

For the second attempt at a sub-2 hour marathon, the course was in Vienna, Austria on a flat, 9.6 kilometer road. It was a closed course, meaning no other runners were allowed, except Eliud and his pacers. More than 90% of the course was a straight line. In addition, portions of the road were painted with lines, showing Eliud the fastest possible path to run. Finally, the temperature was in the 40s F, with humidity at 90%, so near perfect conditions for this challenge. 80% humidity is the ideal number.

The Run Set-Up

Eliud ran with a flock of rotating 42 pace setters, some of whom are the best distance runners in the world. They ran behind an electric timing car, which drove at 4:34 miles per hour. The pacers wore black jerseys, and 5 of them ran in an inverse-V formation, with 2 more behind him. This formed a protective, aerodynamic pocket around Kipchoge.

The electric timing car used a pattern of thick green laser beams, projected onto the street. This helped them know where to run. At certain points on the course the 7 pacers would rotate out, and 7 new ones would enter.

Water stops are a key part of a traditional road race, and runners can get fluids and nutrition. However, they will need to slow down to do so. For the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, they had key people on bikes pedaling in to deliver Eliud a carbohydrate-rich cocktail of gels and fluids. By doing this, he didn’t have to slow down.

The Run Pace

Eliud covered the 26.2 mile distance (42.195 kilometers) in one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds. That pace averaged out to 4:33 minutes per mile (2:50/km). The speed was 13.1 miles per hour (21.1/kph). He held that pace consistently over the entire 26.2 miles.

Here’s a closer look at his 5K splits (3.1 miles):

How Fast is That?

Breaking down Eliud’s incredible achievement of a sub-2 hour marathon, the average marathon time is 4 hours and 22 minutes, which is a 10 minute mile. The average Boston Marathon time is 3:54 (8:55/mile – note: that’s the actual race, not qualifying times).

The IRONMAN record for a run is 2:44 (6:15/mile), and the total time was 7 hours and 40 minutes. To run at that pace after roughly 5 hours of swimming and biking is incredible. For the 2016 Olympic Triathlon champion, his 10K run was 31:09 (5:01/mile).

Eliud needed to run 100 meters in 17.08 seconds, which he did 422 times. Again, his speed was 13.1 mph (21.1 kph). Only five of the 51,363,611 5K races completed have been faster that his target pace.

Why is This Important?

Going back to 1954, Sir Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile with a time of 3:59.4, while running on a track in Oxford University in England. Since then, over 1,400 runners have achieved the sub-4 minute mile, including the fastest at 3:43:13.

In 1991, a Mayo Clinic paper said under 100% ideal conditions, a world-class runner could finish a marathon in 1:57:58. The marathon would be a traditional one, with other participants and water stops.

“I want to tell people that no human is limited. You can do it, and I am expecting more athletes all over the world to run under two hours after today.” – Eliud Kipchoge

Through all his years of competition, all the victories and medals and records in his career, this was the first time his family had watched him run in person.

What Can We Learn?

Following Eliud’s amazing sub-2 hour marathon time of 1:59:40, what can we learn? You must be consistent with your pace, and you need to manage your effort. In addition, you need to relax during your race and focus on each mile. Finally, you can learn valuable logistical lessons in race preparation (training, nutrition, etc.), and your support team.

Brigid Kosgei Sets a New Marathon World Record

Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, and only 25 years old, broke the women’s world marathon record with a time of 2:14:04 at the Chicago Marathon on October 13, 2019. That’s the day after Eliud’s 1:59 marathon, and the records broken at IRONMAN Kona. Her pace was 5:06/mile, and she averaged 15:53 per 5K. The previous record of 2:15:25 lasted over 16 years, and was set by Paula Radcliffe at the London Marathon in 2003.

Image: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

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