For the casual observer, the IEOS 1:59 Challenge is just a race in which one man is trying to run a marathon faster than any human ever has. That in itself is no mean feat and is the summary of the event.
However, INEOS 1:59 is a lot more complex than the time score. If anything, the time score itself will not even be recognized by the world athletics body (IAAF) as a competition record because it is not. The reasons it is not a competition record are the ones that make the challenge noteworthy and the ones that explain why it may be possible for the first time ever for a human to run a marathon at almost 6m/s!
From a different perspective, the INEOS 1:59 Challenge should put some people to shame if not be a wake-up call. Read on.
The Man: Eliud Kipchoge
The only competition-legitimate component of the challenge is Kipchoge; a world-class athlete at the top of his game. He has trained hard and long for this race; both physically and mentally. He has proven himself before and made everyone have reasonable belief that only he can pull through the challenge. Even if he fails, his stature won’t lose any shine. The win is in the try.
The Track: Vienna’s Prater Hauptalee
Vienna sits 150m above sea level while Eldoret is 2000m. The high altitude in Eldoret will encourage Kip’s body to make more red blood cells which will also be more efficient in taking up Oxygen. (There’s less Oxygen at high altitudes and more at sea level.) On the race day, this will translate to a boost in his performance.
Besides the altitude, organisers have selected a tree-lined route (to shield from the effect of wind drag) which is almost 90% straight and flat. This will allow faster speeds.
Other considerations were the time difference between Kenya and Austria, just one hour and therefore not expected to disrupt his body clock. Keeping Kip’s physiology undisrupted was the reason he was flown in a chartered business jet from Eldoret rather than on a commercial flight.
The Date: Unknown
It is not yet known exactly when the race will take place. A tentative date is October 12th. The actual time will be announced only the day before the event. This is not for some superstitious reasons. It is to be sure the perfect weather conditions exist to support the Challenge. Ideally, the organisers are hoping for an air temperature of 8-14⁰C, a humidity of <80% and wind speeds of less than 10km/h. These are not conditions humans can create but meteorologists can observe certain patterns and give a good accurate bet. Even then, the event will be cancelled if these conditions significantly change within minutes to start time.
Food, Drink, Training and Rest
Working with nutritionists, sports physicians, physiologists and trainers, Eliud Kipchoge has been and will continue to monitor his every ounce of calorie intake and expenditure, sleep, rest, and mind in the run up to, during and after the race. He’s following a tight and scientific regimen that will prepare every inch of his body to give its best.
The Shoes: Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%
Kip’s shoes are not on sale on the shelves: they are custom-trimmed to provide a perfect fit. The shoes are engineered to provide a spring on the foot with every stride, absorb less moisture when it rains or from sweat and provide the strength and grip needed during the race while remaining super-light. Similar shoes on the shelves start from $250 a pair.
Besides shoes, his running kit has been designed, again by engineers, to provide the best balance of insulation and ventilation without much wind drag. Special bands on the arms and legs also work to reduce unnecessary muscle movements so as to conserve energy. They won’t tell you this publicly but even his underwear is specially tailored; to limit unnecessary movements and provide maximum comfort.
The Race: Physics, Psyche and Physiology
On the actual race, besides all the above science tapped in his favour, Kipchoge will be running behind a lead car throughout the race. The lead car is to reduce the wind drag on the runners. Behind the lead car will be a pack of elite pace-setters, some of them gold medalists, arranged in a formation that gives Kip the least wind resistance. These pacesetters, 41 in number, will take turns to ensure Kip maintains a certain average top speed. The lead car will project a target pace on the ground in real-time throughout the race. In between, he’ll be given just the right fluids, paced up or slowed down as determined by tens of professionals monitoring him by the second.
In a normal marathon, all these are not allowed hence the reason this will not be an official race record.
The Sponsors: Sir Ratcliffe, INEOS, NIKE
INEOS is a British chemical company owned by Sir Ratcliffe while Nike is an American sports apparel company. Both companies exist because of science. They research, innovate and produce goods that have solved human needs across the world. Together, they employ about 100,000 people around the world and collect four times our national budget in revenues.
For them, this Challenge goes beyond marketing (of course it’s a huge marketing campaign). It is putting hundreds of scientific theories and products to test. It is reaching new frontiers and tapping on the vast resources every human being has; imagination, resilience and hope.
So why is INEOS 1:59 phenomenal? It is because it pays tribute to things that have recently been set aside as not so important in Kenya. Education is chief. INEOS would not be possible without the efforts of engineers, doctors, programmers, physical trainers and a host of other professionals. There’s no substitute to knowledge and Science offers the most structured way of learning and mastering our world and abilities. As politicians jump on the opportunity to wish Eliud success, they ought to ask themselves how they are enabling Kenya have the kind of professionals making INEOS 1:59 possible. Are they giving opportunity to excellence and professionalism over mediocrity and cronyism?
The other lesson INEOS 1:59 teaches us is planning and organization. Eliud, Ratcliffe and Parker will not just wake up to INEOS 1:59 on Saturday 12th to make headlines. It has been deliberate and heavy lifting for everyone in the team. During this time, Kenya as a country would have grabbed the opportunity to run her own campaign around INEOS 1:59 on any of a number of themes; but that has not been the case. Again, it should bother people in government what vision they have for the country and what they are doing about it before they start yapping congratulatory messages to the hard work of other people. Are they making the policies that will create the conditions that allow the Eliud in each of us achieve the ‘impossible’?
Last is collaboration. When we come together, great things happen. This is one such time. Things are only impossible because we have not imagined them or we have but have not the knowledge, collaborations and plans to make them possible.