A Two Hour Marathon: How the Impossible Became Possible

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running, mindset

“No human is limited.”

These were the transcendent words of Eliud Kipchoge moments after he completed arguably the most amazing physical feat in human history: a sub-two hour marathon.

Kipchoge ran 26.2 miles in a jaw-dropping time of 1 hour, 59 minutes, 40 seconds. By doing so, he proved that human potential is limitless.

Kipchoge averaged a blistering pace of 4:33 per mile. Even for runners it’s difficult to grasp just how insane this pace is. It’s tough to keep that pace for 26 yards, but this guy did it for over 26 miles.

What Eliud Kipchoge accomplished was once considered to be a physical impossibility.

Controversy notwithstanding 

Unfortunately, Kipchoge’s incredible feat won’t be recognized as an official world record for several reasons.

The meticulously planned event occurred on a hand-picked, six-mile looped course in Vienna and was not open to other athletes. 

To help him stay on pace, a timing car equipped with a laser beam drove alongside Kipchoge for the entirety of the course. He was also accompanied by alternating groups of pacers throughout his run, so the event was not approved by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). Also, the revolutionary Nike shoes in which Kipchoge ran the event have now become the subject of much controversy.

Not surprisingly, Kipchoge’s run has been dissected and debated from every angle. But, let not the use of technology or the controlled environment squander the significance and implausibility of Eliud Kipchoge’s mind-blowing time.

For a human being to complete a marathon in under two hours, regardless of conditions, is unfathomable and truly amazing in every sense of the word. 

I know you were told there would be no math, but let’s dissect Kipchoge’s time a bit just for context.

To put it in perspective…

We’ll break it down into 5K chunks (3.12 miles), since a 5K is probably the most well-known and familiar distance in the running world. 

The average time for a 5K is roughly 29 minutes for men and a little over 38 minutes for women. This equates to mile paces of about 9:20 and 12:14 per mile, respectively.

In order to complete a marathon in under two hours, Kipchoge had to run a 5K in 14:13, eight times in a row. For us normal people, it’d be like running in a dead sprint for 26.2 miles.

In the running community, the two hour marathon has long been the unattainable holy grail. Personally, it’s something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. Yet, here we are.

Kipchoge’s sub-two hour marathon has drawn comparisons to the once impossible four minute mile, and rightfully so. Much like the four minute mile, a two hour marathon was once a myth. A unicorn. Something that was nice to think about but could never happen in the real world.

But, both of these seemingly impossible barriers were breached by mere mortals. And there’s one reason why. 

Mind over matter

For all of human history, the four minute mile stood as a boundary that man could never cross. Doctors and scientists concluded that the human body couldn’t handle the physical exertion required to run a mile in under four minutes, the heart would literally explode.

It was believed that a four minute mile was humanly impossible, and so it was.

But then, one guy came along who believed it was possible: Roger Bannister. 

He held the belief that he could do what others deemed impossible. So, Bannister trained and trained. He put the work in until one day, he achieved the unachievable. 

Roger Bannister became the first human to officially run a mile in under four minutes. 

How, though?

He believed. He believed with every ounce of his being that he could break the four minute mile barrier, and so he did.

Here’s the crazy part: only six weeks after Bannister broke the four minute mile, another person did it. And then another. And then another. Today, hundreds of people have ran a mile in under four minutes. A barrier of impossibility suddenly became very possible. Why?

People started believing it could be done. That’s it.

It all starts with belief

Bannister’s four minute mile and Kipchoge’s two hour marathon are both testaments to the power of belief and the human mind. After Bannister broke the four minute mile barrier, more people followed suit, and I believe the same will happen with the two hour marathon. 

“It is a great feeling to make history in sport after Sir Roger Bannister,” Kipchoge said. “I am the happiest man in the world to be the first human to run under two hours and I can tell people that no human is limited. I expect more people all over the world to run under two hours after today.”

Indeed, no human is limited. There’s a lesson here that can be directly applied to our lives. 

Have you given up on a goal because it feels unattainable and so far out of reach? Are your limiting beliefs keeping you from accomplishing your dreams?

Kipchoge is right, we possess limitless potential. The only thing holding us back from the things we want in life are the limits we place on ourselves. 

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

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