Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017



Over the weekend, Olympic Marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge smashed the all-time record by two and a half minutes! Why wasn't this the top story on ESPN's SportsCenter? Well, the race was not officially sanctioned by the IAAF. In fact, it wasn't even a race actually. See, Kipochoge ran in a completely controlled environment, aided by anything possible (except steroids) to help the runner. The goal of the event, (named Breaking2) was to break the elusive two-hour mark, which no human has ever accomplished. Although Eliud bested the world record, he was 25 seconds over two hours. Curious? Let's answer the obvious questions:

What were the alterations? First, it was held on the Monza Formula One Racetrack in Italy, which has the optimum climate for distance running. Next, race time was oddly at 5:45 am, when only Kenyans enjoy running. Then, there were the pace setters: Two-time Boston Marathon champ Lelisa Desisa & Zersenay Tadese, the current half-marathon champ. Also helping with the pacing was a green light that shone on the ground by an electric Tesla driving in front. If Eliud simply kept up with the line, he could finish in two hours flat. Finally, he had mopeds deliver fluids while he ran.

Why are Kenyans such great distance runners? Since the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Kenyans and Ethiopian runners have dominated distance events. One reason is genetics. This part of the world has people with a body type featuring longer legs and a smaller rib cage than other folks. Next, both nations have high altitudes. Runner's bodies adjust to functioning with less oxygen. Socially, these regions rely on walking great distances for water sources, school and work. Kenyans don't drive their kids around town. Finally....like baseball players from the Caribbean...distance running is seen as the only way out of extreme poverty.

Why do we obsess about Marathons? Funny, nothing else from the Greco-Persian Wars remains relevant today. But the Battle of Marathon still permeates. While horribly outnumbered, the Greek city-states had one major advantage over the Persians: Smarts. Knowing that the cavalry was the Persian's strength, the Greeks lured their enemy into the soggy marshes where the horses' hooves got stuck. Since there were no cellphones in 490BC, a messenger named Philippides was chosen to run to Athens with news of the stellar victory. He sprinted the 26 miles before announcing; "νενικήκαμεν" Historians debate the validity of the tale, but Olympic founder Pierre du Coubertin didn't care. In the first modern games in 1896, he re-created the race with a big finish in Athens. Since then, the event has evolved into the ultimate challenge in track.

Who pays for all this? Nike funded the entire event. They're hoping bloggers mention that next month, a new Zoom Vaporfly Elite running shoe is coming to a sporting goods store near you. Oops. While the CEO back in Oregon is disappointed Kipchoge didn't break the two-minute barrier, we salute Nike for having the courage to try. We are also in complete awe of the athlete himself. "No limits" is Kipchoge's slogan and he isn't lying. He's won seven of his last eight marathons, including two Olympics. It's just a matter of time before he tries again and breaks one of sport's most intimidating records.

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