A year ago, National Geographic released a documentary on Nike's Breaking 2 project where 3 world class athletes - Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese - attempted to run a full distance marathon: 42.195 km in under 2 hours.
This had never been done before and for most mortals, it was not even in the realm of being challenged. It was impossible. But, for the 33-year-old Kenyan Kipchoge, who believes in the philosophy that 'No human is limited', the 2 hour benchmark became an obsession.
Everything he has done since 2017 has been to breach the 2 hour barrier. The world record of 2:02:57 seconds was not even his target. He knew that if he trained properly, he would obliterate it - which he actually did this weekend at Berlin, winning his 10th marathon (out of the 11 he has run) - and so he was least bothered by it. He wanted to go sub 2 hours and that thought became a journey in itself, a journey which no human had even dreamt of, let alone undertaking it.
Kipchoge, born in 1984 in Kenya, was raised by a single parent and had an arduous childhood. He started running only after he had graduated and took up middle distance running. Soon, he was winning medals at the Junior world events and had made the transition into the senior events. He won a gold at the World Championships in 5000m and backed it up with a solid bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Multiple medals and events followed, but Eliud was still not at the apogee of his career.
The graph started skyrocketing only when he missed the London Olympic qualifications and decided to start running marathons in 2012. After a couple of half and full marathons, Kpichoge clocked 2:04:05 in 2013 in Berlin, then the fifth fastest time in history, only to be beaten by William Kipsang who set a world record timing of 2:02:57. But, Eliud had made an indelible mark in his first major marathon. There was more to come.
Fast forward to 2016, he won his 2nd London marathon in the second fastest time in history and two months later won the Olympic gold in Rio. Now, only the world record was out of his grasp. But 2 months after the Rio games, he was a part of a project which changed everything for him, his perspective, his capacity, his training and even his status in the world of marathons.
Nike approached him for a 7 month long project to attempt to run the full marathon in under 2 hours. The world record went out of the window, he now had to reduce more than 3 minutes from his overall time, that meant an average pace of fewer than 3 mins per km. Although the run was going to happen in perfect conditions on a perfectly flat track with the assistance of pacemakers, the enormity of the task could not be underplayed. It was still going to be some feat if they could pull it off.
Kipchoge finished the race in 2:00:25 hours and missed the target by a mere 25 seconds. But such is the character of the man that after the event at the press conference he said, "the world is just 25 seconds away". This put him into a different league of his own and changed his mindset completely while running future marathons.
Now, he didn't run them to win in record time, he ran them to annihilate the course and set times which were not even thought of. And it all came to fruition this weekend in Berlin when right from the offset his only competitor was the clock. No other person even tried matching him and he was out of sight in the first mile itself. He had 3 pacemakers to run with him and the plan was that they would run with him till the 20th mile (out of the 26.2) to set a very high pace.
But such was the pace, the got caught out very early and Kipchoge ran almost half the race on his own and at some pace. He clocked 2:01:39 hours and made a complete mockery of the previous record by taking 78 seconds of it. Just to put into perspective, this is the second biggest margin in terms of breaking the world record after 1967 when it got bettered by more than 3 minutes to 2 hours and 15 mins.
It's a matter of time before the Kenyan, possibly the best marathoner of all time this world has ever seen, goes under the 2 hour barrier. But what is more impressive is his attitude and his story. Here is a man, who after crushing all records still goes back to Kenya and trains with his local team at the academy he set up and never misses his turn to clean or wash the toilet or do any other chore.
His belief in himself and his philosophy along with his saying: No human is limited, is what makes him a true champion and I have no doubt that he will break the 2 before he retires.Published 18 Sep 2018, 08:34 IST