That big hairy audacious 1:59 goal

Data Scientist Robby Ketchell created the perfect conditions.

Vienna was chosen because of its location, elevation and climate. It’s time zone is close to that of Kaptagat, Kenya, where Eluid Kipchoge trains, meaning he would not be affected by jetlag or have his sleeping and eating patterns disrupted. The low altitude contains increased levels of oxygen in the air, ideal for high-performance running. And the general temperature of 10c, combined with low humidity, and the dry and still weather conditions ticked the remaining essential boxes.

The route was carefully planned to ensure that no effort would be wasted on battling the wind or on directional or incline changes. Lined with tall trees that reduced any wind, the course consisted of two long, straight sections, and as few corners as possible. A roundabout was dug up and reworked to adjust the camber. The entire route inclines only 2.4 metres, with enough slight undulations to vary the demands on different parts of the leg muscles. Plus there was the space for a large crowd to support along the route—something very high-up on Kipchoge’s wishlist.

At the heart of the attempt, of course, was Kipchoge himself—the undisputed GOAT of male distance running. The world record holder, Olympic champion and winner of 11 of his 12 marathon races. And, more crucially, a man with previous experience of the incredible pressure that comes with running a specially organised marathon whose sole focus is to go where no-one has gone before.

With everything in place, the event’s start time was scheduled within an eight-day window to catch the best possible moment.

On the day a rotating cast of 41 of the worlds finest athletes—champions, medalists and record holders—swapped in and out as Kipchoge’s pacemakers. Assembled in the optimal formation and guided by laser, they shielded Kipchoge from wind resistance throughout the run. Shoed in his bespoke carbon-fibre plated Vaporfly Next% designed to improve running economy by at least 4%, a bicycle-riding support team waited-on him with water and nutrition. And his manager, Valentijn Trouw kept alongside him, using pedal power to stay by his side throughout the full distance.

Eliud Kipchoge ran a time of 1:59:40. Carving two minutes off his own world record to become the first person in history to achieve the barrier-breaking sub-two-hour marathon.

But how much of this remarkable human performance was down to Kipchoge and how much of it was down to everything else?

The perfect conditions didn’t diminish Kipchoge’s magic—they served to enhance it, by enabling him to execute the perfect race.

HT: Eliud Kipchoge and Robby Ketchell