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Sub 2:00:00, World Records and a Few Thoughts From Someone Outside the Echo Chamber

Yes, this is old news, but for me life got in the way and while my thoughts and views on this are not all that important in the overall scheme of things to anyone but me. I still want to write about how I think about it from my perspective as someone who has followed running and been a runner for more than 45 years.

First of all a huge congratulations to Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei on their fantastic athletic achievements. Which from my perspective as an ordinary runner were accomplishments that were extraordinary by any definition.

However, there was, is and will be a considerable amount of controversy regarding both runners from various segments of the running industry, insiders, hangers-ons and all those who believe their opinions should be listened to when it comes to matters related to running.

Me, I am writing this more to get a handle on where I actually stand on these issues more than to add my spouting off as if I know anything. So this post is for my personal use, if you get anything useful out of reading it, that makes it even better.

I have been reading a lot of opinions, ideas and thoughts on Kipchoge and Kosgei’s achievements and you know something at some point I just got tired of the whining, pissing and moaning about this or that in regards to how both achieved their amazing times.

However, I will focus more on Kipchoge’s breaking 2:00:00 the second time around, not because I consider it a more important achievement than Kosgei’s woman’s world record run, but more because I have been following Kipchoge’s journey for a lot longer and am more familiar with some of the issues.

That and Kosgei’s world record was a surprise to the world, but has some of the same issues that I will be writing about as Kipchoge’s sub 2:00:00.

Professional = Making Money

First of all let me state the obvious, Eliud Kipchoge is a professional athlete. Running is how he makes a good living and the fact is that he is coming to the end of his brilliant career within the next few years.

Just the way it is, he is aging and needs to capitalize his earning potential now, not later.

The old ideas about competition, professionalism, technology and who says when or where an athlete chooses to display their athletic ability are different in today’s world.

The professional athlete has more control of their professional life than they ever had.

Anyone inside or outside the running world that doesn’t want to admit that money drives where and when professional runners will now compete or display their abilities whether it is a competition or an event. Is sadly living in the past.

Kipchoge was probably offered a lot of money by INEOS to make this attempt and I would imagine has bonus clauses in his Nike contract if he did break 2:00:00 hours. Which of course we all know he did.

Completing the time trial as successfully, most likely resulted in financial security for him and his family for the rest of their lives and most likely the lives of his descendants as well for a few generations.

That is reality and most of us, if we were in that position would think long and hard about having that kind of financial security.

So I say economically, he probably made a wise decision for his family and his business associates.

Race vs Time Trial Event

As we all know once the gun goes off on race day, nothing is guaranteed.

Kipchoge has already proved his dominance of the marathon in races for almost a decade so his ability to race and win marathons was not in question.

His success as a professional athlete allowed him the opportunity to choose this time trial event where the focus would be on him successfully breaking 2:00:00 hours, not competing against other runners in a race.

Kipchoge came close last time at Monza and wanted to be the first man to break 2:00:00 hours for the marathon distance as a part of his legacy. The best way to do that is a time trial, where many factors are controlled and all the focus is on giving him the best chance to achieve that goal.

His use of a time trial to go sub 2:00:00 at least from my perspective was an appropriate way to cement his legacy as one of, if not the greatest marathon runners of all time, by becoming the first person to do it.

Technology/Shoes

Many of the thoughts and negative commentary that I have read, have been about the use of the Vapor Fly shoes and how they gave him an unfair advantage.

There has been so much attention paid to only the running shoes that Kipchoge and Kosgei wore, that other factors like improvements in data capture to improve training, personalizing training based on that data, medical monitoring, nutrition, hydration have been largely ignored or glossed over by many pundits and others who have written so much about the marathon lately.

The fact that Nike (that villainous corporation – yes, that is called sarcasm) was able to find the magic sauce formula that allows athletes wearing their Vapor Fly line of shoes to have an advantage over other brand’s offerings is a fact at this point and time. The Vapor Fly’s are the fastest shoes out there and have let runners go faster than they would otherwise.

That is a problem for other brands to either catch up or be left behind. No, I am not a fanboy of Nike and how they seem to have done things beyond the shoes at times, but the Vapor Fly line of shoes outclass anything else that is presently out there.

Yes, I do believe that they give athletes, both elite and non-elite who wear those shoes an advantage over other brands present offerings.

As a middle of the pack runner…I do not have a problem with it and no, I do not own a pair of shoes from the Vapor Fly line.

Should there be limits set on what kind of shoes that can be used in competition?

Yes, I believe that there should be, since I don’t want to see elite or non-elite runners wearing pogo sticks. I am confident that the other brands will eventually catch up and possibly surpass Nike in the great shoe race – it has happened before and will again.

Competition is good for innovation.

However, for sanctioned competitions, I believe that limits need to be set. I like some of the suggestions that Sam Winebaum did make over at Road, Trail, Run. His ideas to my way of thinking make sense. Although I might set a limit on the number of carbon plates to one, set reasonable limits on piston style cushioning and continue the ban on true springs that is currently in effect.

At the same time I do not want to see running shoe innovation stymied by a set of draconian rules that limit improving running shoes.

Especially, since in running, trickle-down theory does work and what initially might be something used by elites, trickles down to us everyday runners pretty quickly due to the current rules – even if those shoes might be relatively expensive. So we get some of the advantages of the better shoes too if we can afford them.

Besides, I have no wish to go back to running in the shoes that I ran in when I began my running career or even the ones I ran in 10 years ago.

Quite honestly there is not much question that shoes and other technologies helped both runners to be successful, but how much is an open question and the important factor from where I sit is that Kipchoge and Kosgei both did the work to get there and then perform at the highest levels.

After all, a pair shoes sitting in the box don’t do crap, they have to have a human capable of maximizing their advantages.

Doping

There have been no suggestions of doping on the part of Kipchoge throughout any of the reports I have read, which is refreshing.

Although there have been a few innuendos and shade thrown his way, because of the business relationship he had with INEOS and their less then stellar reputation with their cycling team.

Then when you add in his Nike sponsorship and even though he was never part of the Salazar puzzle, Kipchoge is still closely associated with Nike and their corporate mindset that seemed to condone pushing as close to the rules as possible in order to have a competitive edge.

Even so, Kipchoge has the reputation of not doping or being associated with doping to the best of my knowledge.

With Kosgei there are many more questions to be answered, especially since she has missed at least three reported tests and her manager’s reputation with other athletes who have been tested positive is a major part the question that many have.

At this juncture there is no definitive proof that either athlete was doping and I truly hope that proves to be the final verdict.

Although I am a bit much more confident about Kipchoge than I am Kosgei at this point and time. It comes down to sometimes you are judged by the company you keep, whether that is fair or not doesn’t matter.

Pacers

Let’s be honest, both runners used pacers to achieve their times.

It was just that Kipchoge’s phalanx of pacers were done in a sophisticated manner and there were so many of them. That he would be using paces was well publicized prior to sub 2:00:00 effort, so it was no surprise.

As planned, his pacers floated in and out to ensure that he maintained his pace. This had to be done because the pace he was running was one that normal pacing allowances would not work, they simply couldn’t maintain the world record pacefor that kind of distance.

In Kosgei’s World Record, she had two male pacers who were able to help her achieve the record, but they did not receive the publicity that was given to Kipchoge’s pacers, plus they were capable of running at that pace for the entire marathon distance.

Other elite female runners in Chicago were also paced by male runners, so while that is a factor, it is something that was known would happen prior to the race as well.

Pacing is part of racing at the elite level and even us “regular” runners use pacers to achieve the times we want. Go to many big races and there are pacers for certain times quite publicly (they carry big-ass signs with the time they plan to finish) and are considered a part of the race for many non-elites.

It was more how Kipchoge used the pacers that people have so much issue with. Personally, this was not a race, it was a time trial to show case Kipchoge’s effort to break 2:00:00 and I don’t have any issue with him using pacer the way they did.

I actually have more of a problem with Kosgei being purposely paced by two male runners in a competitive race that resulted in a World Record than I do with Kipchoge being paced in a made for TV event.

The Reality is That

I have read a lot of the commentary about both Kipchoge and Kosgei’s achievements and am tired of the “holier than thou attitudes” some seem to be bringing to their commentary about both Kipchoge’s sub 2:00:00 and Kosgei’s apparent woman’s world record at Chicago, although some of the questions do seem appropriate.

First and foremost we all know that Kipchoge’s sub 2:00:00 hour achievement was not a world record. It was meant to be an exhibition of what was possible, while at the same time maximizing the possibility of him successfully breaking 2:00:00 hours for the marathon distance.

Nike’s Vapor Fly line of shoes that both athletes wore, are superior to all other brands offerings at this time. Does that mean that we need to ban them from competition because they are so much better than other brands running shoes?

In my opinion it does not, it means that other brands have to up their game and create/make shoes that can compete with Nike’s and I believe that they are in the process, but haven’t got there yet.

I just hope that going forward that there are no issues that develop that actually tarnish, diminish or invalidate either Kipchoge or Kosgei’s respective marathon times.

A lot of stream of consciousness writing, but I have a pretty good idea of where I stand on a lot of the issues, since I had to really think about what I believe.

Brigid Kosgei did run the Women’s World Record time for the marathon and I can hope that the doping innuendo is not more of a problem. Hopefully, she will prove all the naysayers wrong and run the time again (or faster without male pacers) and end all the questions that have been raised by so many since she crossed the Chicago finish line.

I will end this long blog post by tipping my hat to Eliud Kipchoge and his accomplishing a sub 2:00:00 time for 26.2 miles. It is a great achievement and a fitting jewel in his running resume.

I do have a feeling that it is going to be an interesting year for professional marathoners, with the Olympics and everything else coming up. I can’t wait to see where it leads.

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4 Comments »

  1. Well written, Harold. I’m taking it for what it is and enjoying the moment that I was alive to witness a man going under 2 hours for the marathon distance, assisted or otherwise 😀

  2. I’m glad you wrote about this, because I actually haven’t seen anything about it in the blog-o-sphere yet (or maybe I’m just not following enough of the right people ;-))
    I think your break-down of the concerns about Kipchoge was good, and fair points were made. I honestly never had a problem with his result though. He set out to prove that the human body is capable of withstanding the stress needed to break 2 hours in a marathon, and that’s what he did. It’s about physical and mental barriers being broken, not about whether we will not have more interesting races now. But I also think, knowing that this limit is proven to be false, more and more people will shoot for faster times in races. That being said, it’s still flipping incredible to me that anyone can run that fast. So awesome!
    I like the little note you made about pacemakers in real races (big ass signs) 🙂
    I can see why you would consider Kosgei’s pacers a bit more controversial, since it would almost be like letting a guy be paced by a car/bike in an open race. I wish you would have written more about Brigid Kosgei, because something that bothered me is how much Kipchoge’s sub-2 hour attempt overshadowed Kosgei’s impressive WR. It’s a trend that female athletes have had to deal with for a very long time, and it’s getting very annoying. All those things you wrote about Kipchoge being a professional athlete are true for Kosgei as well, but she cannot capitalize on her being a runner nearly as much as Kipchoge can. Did you know most professional female runners actually do look for work on the side, because they cannot depend on their careers to give them savings for after the running is over?
    That being said, 4 minutes is a lot to cut off! I hope both athletes are as clean as we think they are.
    Thanks for the post. It was interesting to read some of my thoughts out there too.

    • Thank you Dorothea. I didn’t write about Kosgei all that much, simply because I am not as aware of her background and I didn’t watch her race. When it comes to woman’s professional running I will be honest and say I am rather ignorant of many of the issues women professional runners face that their male counter-parts do not. Although I have been purposely following more woman runners since Chicago and have been seeing some of the issues you raised being discussed.

      Also I have a feeling that the unexpectedness of Kosgei setting the record, while so very impressive was also something that raised uncomfortable questions about the actual race, her standing in the woman’s running community and innuendo/accusations of doping.

      I know that Kipchoge’s event overshadowed Kosgei’s world record and understand why. It has been an effort that has been ongoing for two years, it was a significant number barrier 2:00:00 hours is a round number and going below it is a huge psychological thing to go from a 2 to a 1. The media and most of the running community has been following Kipchoge’s efforts and build-up, so it got a lot of press. Whereas Kosgei world record was a surprise by a relative unknown to the general running community, so while her records was great, even with or without Kipchoge’s sub 2:00:00 it wasn’t going to get a lot run by the popular press.

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