Readers Roundtable: Breaking2 Women’s Equivalent

Eliud Kipchoge was closer to the sub-2 barrier than many expected him to be.

Part Nike marketing stunt, part science experiment, part spectacle of athletic greatness, three world class distance runners — Zersene Tadese, world-record holder for the half marathon, Lelisa Desisa, two-time Boston Marathon champion, and Olympic marathon gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge who ran last year’s London Marathon in 2:03:05 — attempted to run 26.2 miles in under two hours.

Ultimately it came down to Kipchoge, surrounded by a team of pacers, chasing a pace car around an Italian Formula One race track as the clock approached 120 minutes, then missing the goal by a mere 25 seconds.

But alas, the Breaking2 experiment was not without controversy. Some of the more controversial aspects included:

Did you watch Breaking2 or follow the coverage? How do you see it: good or bad for the sport of running or somewhere in between? What do you think is the equivalent barrier to sub-two hours for the women’s marathon? 

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Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. Watched it and was thoroughly captivated by the amazing spectacle of a supreme athlete testing the limits of what is possible for the human body. Men or women didn’t come into it for me. Although it was largely a 2 hr ad for Nike, the coverage was pretty well done, and as time went on it became apparent that we were witnessing something amazing. It gave me chills, especially the pacers encouragement over the last lap – it wasn’t a race, it was a team effort to gain every ounce of extra capacity out of the situation. Completely marvellous.

    1. Wow! You’re kinda making me sorry I skipped it. I didn’t imagine it might actually be interesting.
      (I suppose I could go find it, although it would lack some of the drama.)

      1. I thought the same thing (cynic alert!) but I watched the last 10 minutes or so the next morning and ut really was neat. Kipchoge showed no pain until the very end – what an impressive guy!

    2. There was no way I was staying up until 2am! Ha! But if it was on in the day time I would have watched it with my kids. It’s interesting that the idea of it being an ad discredits it for some people. I admit that it heightens my bs detector knowing that it was not just sponsored by but more or less produced by a sponsor.

      1. I watched it the next day. The coverage was indeed one huge super-scripted ad for Nike, but it was fascinating to watch Kipchoge gut it out. It was funny that for all the blah blah about the scientists who took so much credit for the performance, and about all the other preparations and the super aerodynamic clothes etc., they never once mentioned the giant scoreboard thing acting as a windbreak on the pace car.

        Also fascinating to learn that Kipchoge somehow made it to a 2:03 (right?) without ever setting foot on a treadmill or in a lab…

        It would be interesting to see a women’s version of the same event – perhaps to break 2:15? – but I’m more interested in races than highly managed one-off attempts like this.

        1. I watched the next day and even convinced my family to watch some of it with me. I think the whole Breaking 2 project has been totally fascinating. Sure, Nike is trying to sell stuff with it. So what? It’s still an amazing thing to try to accomplish and good for Nike for sponsoring it. The coverage was *much* more interesting than I expected and largely held the interest of my non-runner family, including two kids, though they didn’t watch the whole thing. I expect two things to come of it. One, we have no idea what sort of spin-off technology is going to result from this. Two, I think a mental barrier has come down even though Kipchoge didn’t break 2 hours. Apparently Roger Bannister ran 4:02 under non-standard race conditions a year or so before his sub-4 mile and he’s said the experience of coming so close helped him believe it was possible. I wish I could think of a women’s equivalent that could capture the imagination like Breaking 2, but I can’t. Regardless of the controversy, watching Kipchoge make this attempt was incredible.

          1. Bannister ran 4:02 with the help of three pacers, so officials didn’t allow it to be set as a record. As you say, though, that race gave him the confidence to break 4!

  2. This was fun to watch, but I didn’t put too much investment in it. It’s one of those things to draw spectacle, and although those runners are amazingly talented, even if they do eventually break the barrier in this way, it will not feel official to me. I must confess, I do think that it provided a source of encouragement and belief that runners have not reached the upper limits. The impossible is still achievable.

    No idea what this means for women, I hope we don’t have this race actually. I just don’t think it will do much for our sport.

  3. A sub-2 for women: I’d like to see if any woman could best Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15. Youd think if the likes of Mary Keiteny could smash it in a manufactured perfect marathon setting then it might remove some of the shadow over Paula’s record that’s formed over the years. (I want to believe, but no ones come close. It’s just hard to hang on to hope after so many disappointing revelations.)

    1. Two women have run 2:17 this year, plus Paula ran in the 2:17s in 2002 and 2005 (with the 2:15 in 2003). I’d say 2:17 is the barrier right now. That said, other than Paula, no non-African woman has gone sub-2:19, so in a way I’m more interested to see if our really strong American contingent can put that away (2:19:12, Mizuki Noguchi, 2005; 2:19:36, Deena Kastor, 2006).

  4. I didn’t watch. I really didn’t care. I had already heard that even if they did break 2 hours, it still wouldn’t count as a world record because of rule violations, such as the shoes, the pacers, and the “assistance” along the course. I like to note that I read somewhere that he had 30 (thirty) pacers jumping in a various times, in addition, he had hydration and fuel delivered by a moped so he didn’t have to slow down. I would be more excited about breaking the 2 hour barrier if it was under normal race conditions and met the criteria that all other elite athletes meet in order to qualify for prize money (ex: no pacers and no assistance). As for the women, I would like to see the spotlight on them to break a record, but I doubt any company would sponsor that.

    1. Actually, through the social media coverage leading up to the event, it sounds like Nike was having its female athletes tease a similar women’s attempt.

      1. I didn’t pay that much attention to be honest. I don’t follow Nike on social media and I really don’t stay that connected (thankfully). I just hope the women’s even is actually a legal world record attempt, because why run that fast if it doesn’t count?

  5. I have enjoyed following the progress. I didn’t watch the coverage (would have if it was at a convenient time of day), but I’m impressed they got so close. I looked at it as an experiment, not a race, so I could care less about all of the controversies except one – the fact no one was drug tested. Although I guess, in the grand scheme of things magic shoes and rotating pacers might benefit an athlete as much as doping, and none of them are allowed during regular competition (maybe the shoes are? anyway, you see my point). I wonder if the athletes were subject to normal out of competition testing over the past few months?

  6. I read quite a bit of coverage leading up to the event and was officially meh about it but eventually decided it was kind of cool. Of course it’s not really a race and it shouldn’t count, but the idea of anyone actually breaking 2 hours is pretty cool. I would assume all the athletes have been in the WADA pool and tested along the way, even if they weren’t tested following competition. While there was a bigger payday in store if 2 hours was broken, all the money was coming from Nike so I’d assume they covered their doping bases leading up to it. It’d be a pretty crummy PR campaign if it turns out any of them were doping, you know?

    I didn’t stay up to watch it, but I’ll give Nike a little bit of credit for setting the race up in a location and at a time that benefited the attempt, and not worrying about primetime viewership.

    I posted some various other thoughts in responses below, but to answer the big question … I think sub-2:17 is the current women’s barrier, but I’m even more interested to see an American woman go sub-2:19. 🙂 (See my response to Salty below for details.)

  7. I’m torn! I love whoever said to view it more like an experiment than a race. And in that sense, it’s very cool! But it seems too manipulated to me to really get too excited. I don’t care about the drug testing or shoes, necessarily, but for some reason the wind tunnel effect of the giant scoreboard and the track make it less legitimate to me. I heard Kipchoge was paid not to run the London Marathon this year, which I think is pretty interesting…

  8. I watched it live with my boytoy and we were captivated the entire time, for the most part with Kipchoge. I looked at it as a science experiment, something entirely different for our sport. And it paid off because I had non-running friends on Facebook talking about it. The thing I was impressed and inspired by the most was Kipchoge’s mental fortitude. I actually think it took a lot more mental strength to do this than a racing a certified marathon. In a way, grabbing fluid and competing with someone else provides a nice distraction and breaks up the race. He had everything taken care of him so that it when it all came down to it, it was just him and his mind – not to mention his beautiful form. Watching him was so inspiring and on my long run yesterday, I even tried wincing/smiling like he did toward the end and oddly enough, I felt really good. James tried it later on his workout and he even said it felt like instant recharging. We covered this already ( but I like that he demonstrated the power of the smile on this spectacular attempt of the human body (and mind).

    1. Also, I think we will see a woman’s attempt eventually and maybe even other shoe companies (adidas comes to mind) putting on similar events. Not sure what women’s sub-2 equivalent is. Maybe they would do it just to see how fast a woman could go under these conditions. You’d think it be around 2.5% improvement off the world record like it almost was for the men.

  9. So, I hadn’t really followed it leading up to the event but happened to climb into bed at just the right time, pulled out my phone, and ended up watching the final 30 minutes or so (I’m on the west coast, so it wasn’t that late). I saw this as a science experiment: under ideal, controlled conditions with the best shoes, pacers, etc could a human male run under 2:00? I was sucked in- nervous stomach, in awe of both Kipchoge’s form, smoothness, relaxed stride… the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of their footsteps was almost hypnotic and I could almost feel the weight of the pressure that must have been on his shoulders. I was simply incredulous that he was running 4:36 pace for that long… just, wow. As far as what would be equivalent for a women’s time? Hmmm, I’d say sub Paula’s time.

  10. I read a lot about the “experiment” before but didn’t end up watching coverage until after. I think there are aspects of it that are motivating and inspiring but it has NOTHING to do with the time. It’s “easy” to do something when you have so much control over things that are normally uncontrollable. I found the teamwork, pacing, the drive for more inspiring.

    I think it’s somewhere in between in regards to helping the running world. I think it only perpetuates the “at all costs” mentality which is how the running world is where it is with regards to doping right now. It also gave Nike more power and publicity which doesn’t help their already existing monopoly over things like USATF sponsor, Olympics etc. etc.