Yesterday, Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya, along with two other East African runners, attempted to run a marathon in under 2 hours, as part of Nike’s Breaking 2 project. On a flat, criterion-style course with groups of pacesetters, perfect weather, on-course nutritional support, and even specially-made shoes, Kipchoge, the Olympic marathon gold medalist last year in Rio, held on to the pace longer than the others, finishing in 2 hours and 25 seconds. That equals a pace of 4:35 per mile. To put that in sharper perspective, he ran for 2 hours at a pace of only 45 seconds per mile slower than his best time for 1 mile (he has run 3:50 for 1 mile). Elite runners are not just fast; they can endure. And that is a lesson for all of us.
Runners are always telling me they need to do speedwork to improve their 4-hour or 3½-hour marathon. But it is not speed that is limiting your marathon performance. It is endurance, the ability to sustain a high fraction of your maximum. Scientists refer to this as the “fractional utilization of VO2max.” Train your legs to sustain a faster aerobic pace—a higher fraction of your VO2max—and your marathon (and half-marathon) will improve.
If you’re not a runner, this ability to endure is also important, because endurance is a big part of life. As I wrote in The Inner Runner, “With all of the technology and amenities and surplus we have in our Western culture, we can go through most of our lives and never find out how far we can be pushed, how much we can endure, how much we can handle. But when we push the limits of our endurance, we find out how much we can endure.”
What Eliud Kipchoge showed, indeed shared, with us yesterday is not only what the human body is capable of, but also the inspiration for all of us to make the choice to learn just how far we can be pushed, how much we can endure, how much we can handle. And conquer the cowardice in ourselves.