How Nike Wants to Run a 2h Marathon

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As you probably know Nike is trying to break the 2h limit for the marathon. As I’ve written in a former post I don’t think it is possible to do it in 2017. However I also mentioned that based on the calculation by Mike Joyner a time of 1:57:58 is doable in theory. But only if the athlete and the conditions are perfect. By now we know a couple of things Nike’s going to do in order to increase the possibility of success.

Where & When

The project team was searching all over the world for an ideal spot to try the record. The requirements for the course are pretty high: As flat as possible, not too many curves, a fast surface, protected from the wind and not at a high altitude. They found a good course at a 1.5 mile long side track of the famous Monza speedway in Italy.

It’s not yet clear when the record attempt is going to take place. Nike only stated that it will happen in spring 2017. Of course the weather conditions and temperature are huge factors. So spring seems reasonable on a cool day with great wind conditions. Also in April and May the humidity is relatively low and it’s often cloudy preventing direct sun radiation.

Nike announced that the record attempt will take place in early May, most probably between May 6-8.


Of course this is Nike’s speciality and it’s not a surprise that they came up with some innovations. Nike developed a new, optimized and ultra lightweight running shoe the three athletes will use for the record attempt. It’s called the Zoom Vaporfly Elite  and will also be available to buy for the rest of us.

The new running shoe features not only lightness but also a new midsole that absorbs the energy of impact and gives it back on the next step.

The runner’s apparel is optimized for ventilation, compression as well as aerodynamics.

Nike's running clothes used for the record attempt

Nike’s running clothes used for the record attempt

Race Nutrition

Hydration and nutrition are also very important aspects of any endurance performance. The circuit in Monza makes it easy to provide drinks to the athletes on a regular basis. Nike wants the three runners to drink every 1.5 miles which is quite a lot. In training all three runners didn’t manage to drink the desired amount of the top-secret mixture Nike is providing. Especially Desisa is having troubles with sugared drinks as he is more used to drink pure water.


Marathon runners don’t use slipstream as often and regular as athletes in road bike races. With an efficient wind protection strategy it should be possible to strip another 100 seconds from the record. In theory at least. Nike plans to run with a couple of pacemakers that will change during the run. This alone is reason enough that whatever time they run, it will not be recognized as an official record.

As you might know running at a constant pace is crucial for a good result. To achieve a faster time than 1:59:59 the runners need to run at a pace of 2:50 per kilometer right from the start. That won’t be a problem in the first 15-20 miles but if they have enough energy for the second half at a pace of 17 seconds per 100 meters is at least to doubt.

Mental Toughness

Apart from the ideal conditions and athletes at the top of their game, it will be interesting how much the mental toughness and the pure will to achieve the record plays into the performance. Are the athletes able to dig deep and mobilize just enough energy to suffer through the last miles? We will see. The pride of being the one athlete who is always remembered in running history as well as probably a high monetary motivator might boost the mental side of things.

So what do you think? Are we going to see the first sub 2h marathon in history this spring?

Happy running

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