Eliud Kipchoge Smashes Running’s ‘Last Great Barrier’ With Sub-2-Hour Marathon Kenyan runner completes race in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line in Vienna after running a 26.2 marathon in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds. Photo: alex halada/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images By Joshua Robinson Updated Oct. 12, 2019 6:32 am ET VIENNA—Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge became the first human to run a marathon in under two hours, covering the 26.2-mile distance in a once inconceivable 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds during a specially-tailored event in Vienna on Saturday. The race against the clock, backed by the British petrochemicals billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, unfolded on a 9.6-kilometer (6-mile) circuit of perfectly flat, tree-lined road, handpicked for this attempt. Although it was the quickest marathon ever recorded, the effort won’t count as a world record because it didn’t come in a race setting and he relied on rotating pacemakers. But for all the assistance he received over seven months of preparation and nearly two hours of running, 34-year-old Kipchoge waved off the pacemakers with some 500 yards to go. It was clear to him then that he wouldn’t simply break the two-hour barrier but shatter it. His face creased into a grin and he finished solo, flashing thumbs-up at the fans, and pointing at the giant clock above the finish line. Kipchoge jumped into the arms of his wife, who had never seen him run a marathon in person, and was then immediately hoisted onto the shoulders of his team, waving the Kenyan flag. “I’m expecting more athletes to run under two hours after today,” said Kipchoge, the winner of eight major marathons and three Olympic medals. A sub-two-hour marathon wasn’t even considered possible until within the last two decades. As recently as 2002, the world record was still outside 2:05. Which is why, perhaps, no target in running had garnered this much hype since Roger Bannister broke through the 4-minute mile in 1954. “It’s the last great barrier in athletics after the 4-minute mile and the 10-second 100 meters,” said Ratcliffe before the 8:15 a.m. start. “I’m expecting more athletes to run under two hours after today,” Kipchoge said. Photo: leonhard foeger/Reuters Compared with Saturday’s production, however, Bannister’s dash around an Oxford track 65 years ago seemed downright prehistoric. With a budget estimated in the millions, the 1:59 Challenge had all the trappings of major modern sporting event, which Ratcliffe’s Ineos company knows a thing or two about. He also owns a dominant pro cycling team, the British America’s Cup outfit, and the OGC Nice soccer club in France. (Ratcliffe has been accused of trying to burnish Ineos’s environmentally unfriendly image through sports, but he insists these are just passion projects.) On Saturday, his sponsor banners lined the course. Techno music blared from loudspeakers in the early Vienna morning and camera crews captured the action for a YouTube live stream with an audience of more than 450,000. This was Kipchoge’s second attempt at going below the two-hour mark. In 2017, he had been one of the three runners in the Nike -backed Breaking2 event, a stunt coordinated at the Monza motor-racing circuit in Italy. On that occasion, Kipchoge ran 2:00:25, nearly three full minutes faster than his personal best at the time. Since then, he has set the official world record with a 2:01:39 clocked last year in Berlin. “The biggest difference is the mind-set,” Kipchoge’s manager Valentijn Trouw said before Saturday’s race. “In Monza, his personal best was still 2:03:05 so he needed to prepare his mind to go three minutes faster than he had ever done before.” This time, with Kipchoge needing to cut just 26 extra seconds, organizers were eager to make the run feel less like a “science experiment,” as Team Ineos chief executive Fran Millar put it, and more like a big city marathon. The idea was to have Kipchoge run on city streets, with as many noisy fans as possible along the barriers. Everything else about the event was stage-managed in forensic detail. Ineos leaned on experts from its sailing team for weather forecasts and consulting coaches from its cycling team for aerodynamic advice. Cleaners swept stray leaves off the course all morning. And through the run, Kipchoge’s pace car even projected a green laser display on the road showing the target pace and his pacemakers’ line. All he had to do was follow it. “I was really calm and trying to go with the pace, not to be crazy, not to be slow,” Kipchoge said. Nothing about the event was more carefully engineered than Kipchoge’s sneakers, a pair of white Nike Vaporflys, perhaps the most discussed footwear in sports. Widely believed to improve performance—to the point where there have been questions over their legality—the sneakers with carbon-fiber plates in the sole have featured in the five quickest official marathons in history. All five took place in the past 13 months. “I think the hardest time of my life was between 5 o’clock and 8:15,” said Kipchoge. Photo: Jed Leicester/Associated Press Kipchoge’s pacemakers also wore them, in hot pink, as they rotated in and out, seven at a time, to reduce drag and keep up the hellish 4:34-mile (or 2:50-kilometer) rhythm. With metronomic regularity, they checked off every kilometer of the race between 2:48 and 2:52. The team of 41 handpicked helpers, including five alternates, brought together major marathon winners and Olympic champions, like the 2016 gold medalist in the 1,500 meters Matt Centrowitz. The challenge for them wasn’t so much in maintaining a high pace for their 5-kilometer stints—Centrowitz called it a “glorified workout”—but rather sticking to the inverted-V formation and nailing the changeovers. For Kipchoge, the toughest part came before he took off at anywhere near his frenetic pace. Awake at 4:50 a.m., he went through his morning routine and a bowl of oatmeal, finally feeling the pressure of everything: from Ratcliffe’s massive investment to a Friday phone call from the president of Kenya. “I think the hardest time of my life was between 5 o’clock and 8:15,” he said. Not that Kipchoge ever showed it. He is a competitor of preternatural calm. Softly-spoken, unflappable in his stride, Kipchoge described his task in the philosophical tones of a Zen master. Asked before the race which section might prove most important, he said, “All kilometers are really critical.” Referring to the recent ban of a Nike-backed coach for doping offenses, Kipchoge said, “In a garden, there are flowers and there are weeds. In Vienna we are talking about the flowers.” Newsletter Sign-up And finally, asked a possible future attempt on the world record in race conditions, he offered, “Above all, I am from Kenya, where you are taught not to chase two rabbits or one of them will escape.” The few times Kipchoge allowed himself to get carried away were when he compared the achievement with walking on the moon. In fact, the only lunar thing about this was Kipchoge’s running style. On Saturday, he appeared more loosely bound by gravity than most.