Nike and the Breaking2 gimmick

Friday, 16 December, 2016

If you’re interested in running, the news of the year was the announcement on Monday that Nike plans to “enable” a sub two-hour marathon time. Breaking2 is what it calls the project. Sarah Barker of Deadspin isn’t buying, however. It’s a gimmick, she says:

“They’ve identified East African talent upon whom they’re going to thickly apply advanced science, including nutrition, hydration, and shoes (strong retail potential amongst sub six-hour marathoners!), and set them loose on a cool, windless, sea level course with speedy pacers galore.”

And she’s not done: “This isn’t Roger Bannister and John Landy competing to break the four-minute mile; that record was within reach, and attained on a normal track during a relatively normal meet. Nike entering the race only confirms what we already knew: it’s about ego and the tremendous things money can buy, rather than athletic competition.”

Barker’s bottom line: “With details lacking and IAAF standards out the window, a downhill, wind-aided course, genetic manipulation, spring-loaded shoes and other such time-saving factors have been posited to get the job done.”

For Ross Tucker at the Science of Sport, those “spring-loaded shoes” could be decisive and he cites the athletic achievements of Oscar Pistorius to make his case: “Let’s say we could make a shoe with a stiffer material, or a spring, so that less energy is lost on compression of the material and the runner gets more return (remember, for instance, that carbon fiber blades lost only 8% of their energy compared to the able-bodied limb losing 54% of its energy — this illustrates the concept that drives a reduction in the O2/physiological cost).”

In other words, says Tucker, springs in the shoes, “which reduce the physiological cost of running by around 4%, could be enough to help a runner go from a 2:04 to a sub-2 hour marathon.” So, if you’re willing to set aside the rules, and belief in credibility and physiology, a sub-two-hour marathon will happen next year. Nike has the money and it’s persuaded three high profile runners — Eluid Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese — to miss out on the Spring marathons next year to give the barrier a shot. They’ll have a spring in their step, no doubt.

Nike runners


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