Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge on Saturday made history, smashing the mythical two-hour barrier in a marathon on a specially prepared course in a vast Vienna park.

With a time of 1hr 59min 40.2sec, the Olympic champion became the first ever to run a marathon in under two hours in the Prater park with the course readied to make it as even as possible. The 34-year-old already holds the world record for the distance with a time of 2hr 01min 39sec, which he set in the flat Berlin marathon on September 16, 2018.

It was a stunning human achievement, no doubt. Kipchoge himself compared it to being the first man on the moon.

17 seconds for every 100m... for two hours: Kipchoge’s remarkable run leaves Twitter awestruck

But in Vienna, he was running a race against himself essentially as there was no other competitor in the specially simulated run that was not a race.

He was accompanied by a posse of 41 pacemakers, who took turns to support him, and a car in front of them setting the pace. Because of the way the run was set up and paced, the International Association of Athletics Federations will not validate the time as a world record.

Of course, success was not guaranteed. After all, he had come close to breaking the two-hour barrier when he was 25 seconds too slow in another staged run, at Italy’s Monza race circuit in 2017.

But in Vienna, there were several factors that make the entire effort a planned exercise in technical running than a sporting achievement. The event itself was called “INEOS 1:59 Challenge: Eliud Kipchoge Sub-2 Hour Marathon” with British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, the founder of the main sponsors, Ineos, taking a personal interest.

All the major factors that make marathons challenging were in some way altered to ensure the runner’s convenience.

The running surface had been partly retarred and readied with other features such as a banked corner that could save time and avoid injury. Pacemakers took turns to support him throughout the 42.195-kilometre (26.219-miles) race. They included 1,500-metre Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz and former world champion Bernard Lagat.

The course comprised a 4.3 kilometre-long straight alley, which the Kenyan ran up and down several times amid dry but foggy weather.

An article in The Atlantic elaborates further on how the run was tailored to perfection.

Parts of the road were marked with the fastest possible route, and a car guided the runners by projecting its own disco-like laser in front of them to show the correct pace. The pacesetters, a murderers’ row of Olympians and other distance stars, ran seven-at-a-time in a wind-blocking formation devised by an expert of aerodynamics. (Imagine the Mighty Ducks’ “flying V,” but reversed.)  

— The Atlantic

Moreover, Kipchoge himself was wearing Nike shoes that he would not have worn in competition. He was using a pair of Nike Vaporfly which are yet to be released in the market.

According to an article by Wired, researchers who performed external validation of Nike’s internal tests confirmed that the shoes did provide a significant advantage in a controlled study.

He also had access to his carbohydrate-rich drink with a cyclist riding alongside the group, The Atlantic article continues.

While none of this changes the fact that Kipchoge is the first human to run a sub-two hour marathon, the orchestrated effort is a reminder that this was an exhibition and not a competition.

The world record holder may have many more chances and eventually end up breaking the two-hour barrier in competition some day. As things stand, the “best moment” of his life is historic but will not be an athletics world record.

But it is a barrier breached, nevertheless.

With AFP Inputs