By Tom Gillespie, news reporter
In Vienna, in October 2019, Kenyan distance runner Eliud Kipchoge set out to become the first person to run a marathon in under two hours – a challenge deemed to be impossible by many experts and figures in the world of science.
Kipchoge has shared the story of his record attempt in Marathon Man – the third episode of StoryCast ’21, a Sky News podcast series telling 21 extraordinary personal stories from some of the biggest news events of the century.
Subscribe now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Spreaker.
Eliud Kipchoge is a rock star of running.
Born in Kenya in 1984, he started out from the humblest of beginnings and would run to and from school each morning.
In the evening he was out running once more as he sold dairy milk to make money for his family.
Kipchoge loved to run and he grew up knowing he wanted to inspire others.
There was no better way to do that than by finishing a 26-mile marathon in under two hours – known widely as “the last great barrier of running”.
Scientists had been observing running data for decades and believed it would be another 50 years, if ever, before they would see a human being cross the line in such a time.
Kipchoge didn’t share their data-inspired scepticism.
Sharing the story of his record-attempt in Marathon Man, he said: “I don’t believe in limitations. I always say no human is limited… if a human being can set a goal, believe, and work on it, they can achieve it.”
In October 2019, Kipchoge was already regarded by many as being the greatest marathon runner of all time – having won 11 of the 12 marathons he had entered during his running career.
This includes the Rio 2016 Olympic Games marathon and four London marathons. Kipchoge also holds the marathon world record for a run during competition – having set a time of 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin marathon.
However, to run a marathon in under two hours he would have to push his mind and body to limits he had never reached before.
According to Runners World, the average 5km finish time in the UK is 29:08 for men and 38:12 for women.
To complete a marathon in less than two hours, Kipchoge would have to run 5km around twice as fast with a time of 14:13 – but he would have to do it eight times in a row.
To put it further into context, the 10,000km male world records sits at just over 26.17, but Kipchoge would have to repeatedly run 28:26.
A 1:59:59 marathon would be equivalent to running 100m sprints in just over 17 seconds 422 times in a row.
Kipchoge had arrived in Vienna, Austria, in October 2019 with the sole aim of pushing his body to those extraordinary extremes.
He had come close to reaching his goal in 2017 with a time of 2:00:25 – but there was still some way to go if he was to achieve true legendary status.
Sky News correspondent Enda Brady, a keen marathon runner who idolises Kipchoge, was in Vienna to watch his hero trying to make history.
Enda says during Marathon Man: “I had the stress of wondering how am I going to see this race? How am I going to commentate on it? We’re literally by the side of the street like everyone else.
“You go on TV, there’s something wrong with you if you don’t get nervous. I remember thinking how nervous would you be if you were rocking up to the start line to do something no human has ever done before?”
Kipchoge later told Marathon Man how time seemed to fly by as he warmed up for the race.
He said: “Time was going very fast… minutes, it was really going very fast. I was nervous, I was really tense.”
If Kipchoge was able to run a marathon in less than two hours, he would join Roger Bannister in breaching one of the most notorious barriers in distance running.
Bannister, who was born in Harrow, England, became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes in 1954.
As Kipchoge stood at the starting line in Vienna more than half a century later, he was hoping to defy the scientists and achieve what many would regard as running’s “moon-landing moment”.
You can listen to StoryCast ’21 episode three “Marathon Man” here.