The challenge that awaits Eliud Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese, and Lelisa Desisa, the elite athletes who this weekend will attempt the first sub-two hour marathon, defies characterization. The metrics alone are daunting: Breaking the two hour threshold will mean maintaining an average pace of at least 13.1 miles per hour. (For reference, the current world record, 2:02:57, translates to an average pace of 12.786 miles per hour.) But that number fails to convey the psychological and physical fortitude needed to pull it off. No… to fully appreciate what it will take to complete a two-hour marathon, you really have to try running one yourself.
So that’s exactly what we did. For the video above, we borrowed a treadmill and invited members of WIRED’s running club to see how long they could cruise at 13.1 miles per hour. Then, to put our feeble attempts in perspective, we spoke with Michael Joyner, an expert on the physiology of elite athletes who’s been studying the limits of marathon running for decades. In the video above, he helps explain why a two-hour marathon pace feels like sprinting to us, and a brisk jog to Kipchoge, Tadese, and Desisa—and why one of these men could make history this weekend.
Oh, and be apprised: If you want to try this for yourself, maybe don’t do it on a treadmill. (Turns out this is kind of dangerous!) Instead, head to your local track. Lace up your shoes. Take a few laps at a slow, steady roll, to get your blood moving. Then, whenever you’re ready: Pump your arms, let loose your stride, and start your timer. You’re shooting for 17.25 seconds or less for the first 100 meters; 69 seconds or better for your first 400. Still running? Impressive. Now just hold that pace for another 104 laps.
You will fail—probably spectacularly! That’s OK. When your body inevitably gives out, you’ll hobble away with a newfound respect for the trials that awaits Kipchoge, Tadese, and Desisa this weekend. Granted, they’ll be running their race under ideal conditions, in highly customized—and highly controversial—shoes. But let’s be honest: They’re gonna need all the help they can get.