Frankfurt/New York: Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon on Saturday in 2 hours and 25 seconds, about 2 1/2 minutes faster than the current world record.
At a racetrack in Monza, Italy, three of the world’s fastest athletes attempted to run 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles) in under 2 hours in the latest instalment in the battle for runners’ hearts and feet. While they fell short, Kipchoge, the fastest of the three, finished in 2:00:25. The current record 2:02:57 was set by fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in Berlin in 2014.
Nike called the attempt a moonshot. The race used pace runners and a hydration strategy that disqualifies it for an official record, but the company refuted the suggestion that it’s a marketing stunt designed to showcase its new Zoom Vaporfly Elite more than the runners who wear the shoe.
“Today was history," former world record sprinter Carl Lewis said after the event in northern Italy. “When this finally happens, we’ll all look back and say man, it started today, in 2017," Lewis said, referring to the breaking of the 2-hour mark.
The record time in the marathon has been continuously dropping, but slowly — the last three-minute improvement in the world record took 16 years. Irish oddsmaker Paddy Power had put the chances for one of the runners to beat 2 hours at about 28%.
Nike — and rival Adidas — both think it’s possible to eventually break the 2-hour mark. Nike debuted the Breaking2 project in December, along with the Vaporfly. While the runners wore customized versions on Saturday, a retail version of the shoe will be available to the general public in June, for $250.
Adidas announced its “Sub2" program in February, attached to its own Adizero Sub2 shoe. The company hasn’t said when its sponsored runners will try again for an under 2-hour race, but its shoes will reach stores later this year.
The two companies are in an increasingly tight race for runners. Running is central to Nike, which was founded by legendary University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and one of his athletes, Phil Knight. The sport is still its largest moneymaker at $5 billion in annual wholesale sales, but sales growth has been slowing, in running and across the board.
Meanwhile, Adidas — traditionally a soccer company — has found new success with its Boost running shoe. The company’s revenue growth has averaged 15% over the past two years — double Nike’s rate.
Nike is also trying to find a new marketing strategy. Traditionally, Nike has spent lavishly on deals with the world’s most popular athletes and on print and television advertising. Given the rise of social networks experts say it’s not clear how effective that is anymore.
The event was closed to the public, with just a handful of selected fans and an army of support staff on site, but was shown online. The race generated thousands of tweets and Nike promoted it also on Facebook and Instagram.
The broadcast included about a dozen 2-minute Nike commercials, but these were not outright promoting gear but documentary-style portraits of the runners and the project.
Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese ran on the 1.49 mile asphalt loop at Autodromo Nazionale Monza outside Milan. Nike chose the site for its low elevation, minimal wind and an average temperature of 53 degrees Fahrenheit (12 Celsius). The runners were lead by a Tesla that laser-projected a green line in front of them to indicate the ideal speed.
“The whole thing is a commercial, but I’m completely cool with that," Allison Krumm tweeted, adding that “takes nothing away from the attempt.’’ Bloomberg