1:59 Marathon Updated

Ten ways YOU can get faster for real

Among the top fake news stories this week, a Kenyan man was celebrated for breaking the two-hour mark in the marathon. Not to take anything away from Eliud Kipchoge — obviously a tremendous athlete who did run 4:34 pace for 26.2 miles — but the race will not count as an official marathon record with the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Why? Because it was held on a closed course, using an electric pace car with a lighted clock, and a field of about 41 rotating “rabbits” — runners who are just there to help the designated record-breaker keep the pace. These rotating 41 world-class runners also broke the wind in a V-formation, allowing Kipchoge to draft off them. They even used laser beams from the pace car to keep Kipchoge’s pacers in the most wind-efficient formation for him to draft.

It’s reminiscent of cyclists setting land-speed records with pace vehicles on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Just last year a woman went 183.9 mph on a bicycle in this manner but this qualifies as more of a stunt than an official sports benchmark.

It’s only the latest in a series of marketing and gaming gimmicks built around the eventuality that someone will someday soon run an official sub-two-hour marathon. Because it will happen. It’s just a matter of who will do it and when.

For 22 years I’ve been predicting someone will break the official IAAF-sanctioned two-hour barrier for the marathon. Even wrote a book about it and mused that it could happen at the Boston Marathon.

The sponsor of this latest made-for-media event is INEOS — one of the world’s largest producers of chemicals, oil and gas. This is one of the big problems with the 1:59 agenda: Big money got in the way. Last time it was Nike that in 2017 made a media splash with its “Breaking2” event which fell short of the mark but got the company millions worth of free advertising for its new shoes in the process. Kipchoge ran 2:00:25 in that unreality show.

The larger question actually is, who cares? What does a sub-two-hour marathon mean for most people wanting to get in better shape, or run a better 5K, 10K or marathon themselves? It means nothing. While elite marathon times get faster, and stunts like this serve as unofficial outliers, the average finish time for marathoners in the United States continues to get slower, with most finishers barely cracking four hours.

What can you do to improve? If you are as unimpressed with this ridiculously artificial 1:59 marathon as I am, but want to improve personally, the best thing you can do is improve your health, nutrition and training. That is, unless you have 41 super-fast friends, a laser-outfitted electric car and your own 26.2-mile course. And of course a pile of money.

Here are some articles to help you on your way to your own personal best:

MAF 180: Personalizing exercise heart rate

The running trifecta

5KM race prediction from submax performance tests

Original Research: Marathon race prediction

Carbohydrate Intolerance – Its Implications in Health and Fitness

Reductions in training load and dietary carbohydrates help restore health and improve performance in an Ironman triathlete

Reduce your running risks

Rethinking the roles of carbohydrates and fats for performance

Get fast without speedwork

Reduce your running risks

22 Comments

  • Leon says:

    “fell short of the mark but got the company millions worth of free advertising for its new shoes in the process“

    Now you are using this awesome event for your own marketing purposes & ezposure, same Nike did.

    Too much bad mouthing going on here. He still broke 2 hours on his own esteem.

  • John Brady says:

    I concur with every one of the comments regarding your completely unfounded negativity. This effort at no level pretends to be a new World Record (to the point where every analysis seemingly has to reiterate all the elements that disqualify it as such). It’s not like they applied for WR status and were rejected – that’s the fake news.

    So sure – lots of PR money’s spent here by Nike and Ineos … Sure we’d love to see it run barefoot but a shoe company’s not getting behind that anytime soon.

    Yes – some dubious tech here but unless the IAAF bands the damn things (like they did for the track athletes with amputated lower legs that are one big “carbon plate” prosthetic) then you’re going to see this tech spread to other brands as it already has (Hoka, NB) … So the shoes aren’t a cheat until they are banned.

    Kipchoge hasn’t been shown to be using banned substances.

    What about the pacers – again they’re legal on the track and the road – it’s nothing to do with Kipchoge. If Bekele stays injury-free they he’s about the only guy who can pace Kipchoge the whole way next time Berlin roles around (or vice versa). “Mere amateurs”, some wearing the shoes you hawk, use pace groups every stinking marathon they run. And if a pacer wants they’re free to sprint for the win in IAAF races.

    This begs the question – what would a pure marathon look like?

    no shoes,
    no GPS watches,
    no heart rate monitors,
    no power meters,
    no compression clothing (no clothing!),
    no Kinesio tape (aero-dynamically dimpled or otherwise),
    no pavement,
    no closed course,
    no aid stations

    Just barefoot runners traversing a point to point trail across the savannah or Grecian countryside that happens to cross a few stream beds. Two guys with a watch and a flag at the start and the end – maybe the guy at the finish should have a clipboard to record finishers.

    Calling it a “Marathon” is perhaps where they were a bit misleading in that most people will consider that word to imply a race or a sanctioned event rather than a simple distance indication which is how the companies involved are using it. But vagueness-of-meaning is what advertising often hangs on.

    Get off your high horse, Phil. It was a great effort by everyone involved, especially Kipchoge – it isn’t fake unless it was not true to its mission and I haven’t seen where the runners or the companies involved are being duplicitous about how they did what they did and why.

    This was nothing but a great thing for the sport, the sport’s economic ecosystem (like your running store and your personal brand). One of Kipchoge’s stated goals is make running as popular a football (aka soccer) and F1! You can’t do that without some spectacle.

    Why can’t you just celebrate the immensity of the human effort required to run that fast for that distance?

  • Terry O’Hare says:

    Have to agree with the previous comments, phenomenal human achievement.
    As for someone breaking the record in Boston ….er no. Boston is a ‘point to point’ course with an overall altitude drop that is in excess of that required for record purposes and thus can never host a world record

  • vivienne says:

    what a sad sad article from what sounds like a very sad sad person. what happened along the way? sorry you’ve lost whatever you’ve lost to write such bitter sentiments. it might ring true to you but i’ll break the real news to you now : most will NOT agree with you. there’s a whole fantastic world out there with people doing incredible things. including eliud kipchoge. brighten up a bit!

  • Leo Sho-Silva says:

    An article like this slagging off an event is typical of social media .

  • Dallas Baird says:

    “Not to take anything away from Eliud Kipchoge”… except you’ve written eight paragraphs trying to do exactly that.

  • Scott Beesley says:

    Wow, someone’s salty.

    Eluid Kipchoge’s achievement may not go count as an official world record, but that wasn’t what this was about. This was about seeing what the human body is physically capable of.
    Eluid still moved his legs across 42.2km’s and he was driven by nothing by his own power. Yes, he had pacers and could draft off of them as well as a flat course, but anyone who has ever done any form of running would know that having a pacer in front of you while you run on some flat ground doesn’t mean much at all once you get tired. A friend of mine is a faster running than me by just that little bit – always has been and probably always will be. Sometimes I tell myself that I’ll stick with him this time, I’ll keep right on his heels and won’t let him get away. But I just can’t, no amount of drafting or pacing will make my legs move any faster.

    This achievement will inspire many to get into the sport of running or at least pursue some form of fitness – isn’t that something you yourself endeavor to do?

  • Barb Higgins says:

    I’m impressed with Mr Kiphoge…unimpressed with you Phil 😡

  • Graham says:

    Bah, humbug! And get off my lawn!

  • Cassie says:

    I am beyond saddened to see you post this article. I’ve been a long time fan, own many of your books and (used to) coach others using your methods (I’ll no longer be promoting anything with your name attached to it). I can no longer follow nor support someone who would ridicule such an amazing accomplishment by a man who is as humble as they come. That money entered the picture to help support Kipchoge’s dream and his ability of running a sub 2 hour marathon takes NOTHING away from what he accomplished. It sounds like you may be trying to attack the companies that were behind the breaking 2 / 1:59 efforts. If you disagree with Nike (a company that is actually doing so much good in the sport of running as well as sport in general) and/or if you disagree with INEOS (yes, a privately owned multinational chemicals company) – then just say that. Don’t involve Kipchoge and his very legitimate, inspiring, amazing, incredible accomplishment. Which, by the way, has inspired every single runner I’ve talked to so far, ranging from 2:50 marathoners to 4:45 marathoners and those who’ve never even run a marathon – every single one. It’s inspiring, don’t you see that? Incredibly inspiring. It’s the motivation many people need to get up and go try to push their own limits. Which is exactly what Kipchoge was hoping for – that we’d all go out, run, and push our own limits. Plus, it did answer the question of “Can it be done?”. Now we know the answer is yes, yes it can be done. That is huge.

  • Carol J says:

    I am in the camp of the above posters, and while I see your point of “closed course, pacers, laser paths..isn’t the same as a record setting race, I also think the feat is AMAZING and it will open the door for who and when (officially) – like you stated above. Let’s embrace that!
    Additionally Phil, you note that the “average marathon time for finishers in the US continues to get slower”, is it because we are getting slower? or because there are many more less fit/less experienced/less serious/beginner athletes jumping into marathons and doing them > 4 hours? I think it is the latter. On a note of praise. I’m a longtime, “mature” age grouper endurance athlete (off-road triathlons), I’ve begun my MAF training and already seeing results in my run time… added .25 miles to my 3 mile test in 1 month – same HR same time within 00:48. I’m sold.

  • Sergio says:

    I am ready to bet that Mr Kipchoge will run official marathon in sub 2 hours in the next 2-3 years! I doubt it will be in Boston. May be in Chicago?

  • Christian O. says:

    Phil,
    why use the expression “a Kenyan man…”? As much as I like your work, and holistic approach to running, I do not agree to what you have written. You come out as bitter and twisted because somebody managed to beat this record. Who cares that is unofficial. Eliud Kipchoge is the greatest runner of all time and you should pay respect to him.

  • L D B says:

    Fake News. Cheap publicity stunt. Seeking to gain attention and cash in on the back of someone else’s hard work and success. Yep its your email I’m talking about Phil. Disappointed to see you fire that email off. I imagine that this event will inspire more people to take up running than you are ever likely to do. Off to hit the unsubscribe button.

  • Gary Brackett says:

    I care!

  • Greg Macken says:

    I get That everyone needs a hot take these days to get their stories read but this is ridiculous. I guess It worked though since I have Never read anything else by you before this. However, I wont Be looking for your future writings, you couldn’t have gotten this any more wrong.

  • Brett D says:

    The dismissive tone of this post was unnecessary. It was an accomplishment that no one else has done before, and it is impressive even if it doesn’t conform to IAAF standards. I don’t think anyone (other than maybe Kenenisa Bekele) looks at Kipchoge’s accomplishment and thinks “if only there was a car pacing me and I was surrounded by elite athletes I’d be able to run under two hours.” Did you not see any positive outcome to this that you could have applauded and expanded on for your customers?

  • Steve Troxel says:

    PHIL! Who Cares? Only like every single one of my running buddies! I love you, but you sound like you’re upset that we got a kick out of this stunt. Of course it is not a record. But it sure is cool and fun. And you don’t have to say it, but I sure will, Eliud is a pretty good champion of our sport.

    • Mel says:

      Steve Troxel,

      I so agree with you…This is science and so much fun. Of course the normal weekend warrior can do any of this but I absolutely love it.

  • Don Mann says:

    While I do read and follow your site, I do not agree with your assessment on the sub two hour marathon time set by Mr. Kipchoge. Yes, it was assisted but it also shows what the human body is capable of. As a 4 hour marathoner I am amazed and do appreciate this test of human performance. It may not be an official marathon record but it is an amazing accomplishment

  • Dana G says:

    That is really sad that you would write such an article with degrading terms such as “rabbits” about world class athletes and Fake 1:59 when so much work, sweat, training, and heart have been put into this accomplishment by Eliud, an incredible human being and amazing marathoner, and his team mates. Besides, if you check your facts (and I am surprised that you didn’t think about it)- that your “muse” that the sub 2 record would be set in Boston would not have been considered a world record by the IAAF because Boston Marathon is not a world record course. I am not sure I can continue to follow you when you are so fast to post these negative sentiments about a great accomplishment for running and runners of all abilities. I am a middle aged woman who can hardly run sub 2 for a half and yet watched the event live and was in awe of Eliud, the pacers and the event.

  • Adsm says:

    “If you’re as unimpressed as I am with this…” nope, I’m gonna stop you right there. I’ve been following you and your training for years, but pacers or not, closed course or not – this was superhuman. He held a 4:34 pace for 26.2 miles. It’s not an official world record, but he did it. Why try to rain on that parade? Has anyone else been able to do that? No. Will this break a mental barrier many people have? Yes. Is it impressive? Amazing? Incredible? Yes.

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