Life

Breaking the Two-Hour Barrier: Eliud Kipchoge’s Journey to Marathon Greatness

The marathon represents the limits of what the human body is capable of when running. On September 25, 2022, Kenyan athlete Eliud Kipchoge finished the Berlin Marathon in 2 hours, 01 minutes and 9 seconds, shortening the men’s marathon world record originally held by himself by a full 30 seconds.

Genes and environment

Kipchoge was born in 1984 in a traditional Kalenjin family in Nandi County in western Kenya. He was the youngest of four children. His mother was a strict kindergarten teacher, and he only saw his father who died young from photos.

Not far from the village where he lives is Eldoret, a village that has produced more than 40 world-class long-distance running champions from the Kalenjin tribe.

For a long time in the past, many European and American scholars have tried to explain this phenomenon from the perspective of genes and biology. Some scholars believe that the Kalenjin people’s slender lower limbs and narrow and thin torsos will help them “save energy.” Compared with other athletes, they can reduce energy consumption by 8% per kilometer run.

Others believe that the Kalenjin, who are good at hunting, improved their running ability in the process of chasing animals. The life of fighting animals all day long also makes the Kalenjins particularly competitive, which further enhances their spiritual attributes in competitive sports.

In addition, geography also profoundly affects the performance of these athletes. The documentary “Born to Run – Kenya’s Secret” mentioned that living on a plateau at an altitude of 2,500 meters is also an advantage for Kenyan long-distance runners. Training at high altitudes can increase the number of red blood cells and hemoglobin in athletes’ bodies, and the body’s oxygen uptake will also increase. This also increases their competitive advantage.

In addition to altitude, Eldoret also has the natural conditions to breed long-distance running champions. Here, people can overlook the Great Rift Valley without any obstacles. The red sand, forests, and grasslands have replaced the asphalt and cement in the city and become the best track. The daytime temperature here remains at around 24°C all year round, and the air is fresh and pollution-free. The natural soft red soil can not only provide athletes with excellent shock absorption and avoid injuries, but also exercise their calf strength.

These all form the basis for Kipchoge to become a world-class runner, but they are not all.

The most beautiful running posture

It must be admitted that as a long-distance runner, Kipchoge has quite perfect physical conditions.

Kipchoge is 5 feet 6 inches tall (about 167cm) and weighs about 115 pounds (52kg). He has a standard physique based on anatomical sketches. His BMI (body mass index) remains at 19 all year round, and there is almost no excess fat in his body.

He also has a powerful ability – according to data obtained by a scientific team’s physical examination of Kipchoge, his muscles produce very low levels of lactic acid during exercise – during long-distance running, runners need Oxygen is consumed and therefore lactic acid is continuously produced, which is a major factor in athletes becoming fatigued.

Lactate threshold is an important indicator used to evaluate athletes’ aerobic capacity. The higher the lactate threshold, the less lactic acid is produced at the same exercise intensity, and the better the corresponding exercise performance. The lactate threshold of ordinary people is about 60%, but the lactate threshold of top marathon runners like Kipchoge can reach 90%.

In addition, Kipchoge also has what is known as the “most beautiful running form in history.”

First, when running, the soles of his feet are the first to hit the ground, which will help him push the ground more efficiently and maintain a relatively high pace, slightly above 180 steps per minute; secondly, when running, his Keeping his knees bent at all times gives him enough cushioning when his feet start to take pressure. At the same time, his entire body remains slightly flexed and tilted forward, which stretches his hips and increases his forward momentum.

A very rare and most important point is that when running, Kipchoge’s head and torso always remain in a straight line, and his shoulders do not sway, which means that he is controlling his abdominal core with appropriate strength throughout the entire process – in During the 42.195 kilometers of the marathon, he was able to maintain almost the same running posture from the sound of the starting gun to the arrival of the finish line, which required a high degree of concentration and strong self-control.

Crucial decision

One factor is crucial for Kipchoge to become the “God of Marathon” – he originally practiced the 5,000-meter event, but when he encountered a performance bottleneck, he promptly chose to switch to the marathon, just like a man standing on the delicate road of destiny. There was a fork in the road, and he finally chose the right path. Behind this choice is Patrick, a coach who has worked with him for 20 years, and the unconditional trust between master and apprentice.

When talking about the difference between Kipchoge and others, Patrick particularly emphasized one point – trust. When we first started working together, he would arrange a week’s training plan and let the team members go back and practice on their own. Many team members would ask why, or adjust the plan without authorization. Only Kipchoge would strictly implement it, never bargaining or questioning.

In the 2012 Lille Half Marathon, Kipchoge made his debut and finished third. The 2013 Hamburg Marathon was the first full marathon that Kipchoge participated in. He won his first marathon championship medal with a time of 2 hours, 05 minutes and 30 seconds.

In 2018, Kipchoge wrote a letter called “To My Younger Self.” In the letter, he wrote: “Patrick will be far more than just a coach to you. He will become your spiritual mentor, your life coach, and play a father-like role. He will lift you up and go. Winning the Olympic crown and setting a world record have reached a height that is completely unimaginable to you when you are young and ignorant.”

Perseverance and Patience

At an altitude of more than 2,500 meters on the Kenyan plateau, Patrick Sang established the Kaptagat Training Camp, which is also considered the largest training base for long-distance runners in the world.

In 2002, when Kipchoge first arrived at the camp, there wasn’t even running water. But it was here that Kipchoge received training for nearly 20 years. For 20 years, his daily routine has been almost fixed: getting up before 5 a.m. every morning and starting running at 5:50 a.m. Within a week, he and other campers will do a long-distance run (30 to 40 kilometers) equivalent to competition intensity, several jogs, two core training sessions, in addition to once a day strength training and conditioning, and one to two Fartlek training (speed training on the track). Under this plan, he runs more than 200 kilometers every week.

This kind of training life day after day. “I always tell people, it’s a very simple deal: work hard,” Kipchoge said.

There is a question that has been circulating among marathon fans: “If Kipchoge participated in more races, would he win more championships?” Since 2013, his participation frequency has been two times a year. , the interval between each two games is 4 to 6 months. He is never greedy and never eager to set a new record. Giving himself enough time to recover and prepare for competition is one of the reasons why Kipchoge rarely gets injured.

Self-discipline

Only those who discipline themselves will be free – this is the most basic professional motto for all competitive athletes. The same goes for Kipchoge.

In October 2019, in Vienna, he became the first athlete to break the marathon time into two hours with a time of 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds. This experiment is called the “159 Challenge.”

After the race, all participants including the leader and agents of the run held a large celebration banquet. Kipchoge presented trophies to the 41 pacers who accompanied the race. At the banquet, everyone was very excited and chatted over the wine, except Kipchoge who didn’t drink at all. After saying a lot of thanks to them, he returned to the hotel alone and fell asleep before 10 o’clock as usual during training.

Technology and Limits

Some scientists once concluded after complex calculations that the first person who can run a marathon within two hours will not appear until 2075. Even under perfect competition conditions, not many people believe that anyone can really break the two-hour barrier – that is the physical limit of human beings and is difficult to surpass.

In order to break through this limit, Kipchoge made two attempts.

The first time was in 2017, when Kipchoge ran a time of 2 hours, 00 minutes and 25 seconds in a test race at the Monza circuit in Italy. After finishing the run, Kipchoge said with regret: “The world is only 25 seconds away from us.”

Subsequently, he and his team prepared for another two years – this precise preparation process can be called the perfect combination of competitive sports and contemporary technology.

The British scientific team chose an avenue in Vienna’s Prater Park for the second challenge. It’s only one time zone away from Kipchoge’s training camp in Kaptagat, Kenya, so he doesn’t have to worry about jet lag, and the temperature and humidity are also ideal.

At the same time, in order to provide Kipchoge with sufficient support and balance under his feet, through scientific calculations, his team used asphalt to create a 10-degree rotation angle at the road curve. In this way, Kipchoge can save 3 seconds for each lap, which adds up to 12 seconds in total, which is crucial for him to conserve his energy.

Robin, a scientist on the team, also worked with his assistant to study a running formation with the least wind resistance. They used fluid dynamics modules and computer models to conduct analysis, made mini models of runners, put them in wind tunnels, and tested wind resistance in different formations.

Eventually, they concluded that the pacers needed to form a “Y” formation to form a barrier to shield Kipchoge from the wind; another pacer would run directly in front of Kipchoge. Serve as “Wind Breaker”. In this formation, Kipchoge’s position will be an almost windless space – in this space, he only needs to withstand 1/6 of the pulling force in previous games.

There are also running shoes specially designed for Kipchoge. The weight of the shoes is 15 grams lighter than before, but the soles have become thicker, “like a mini bouncing pole”, which can absorb most of the impact of stepping on the asphalt road. pressure.

On October 12, 2019, in Vienna’s Prater Park, humans’ challenge to their physical limits began again. In the end, Kipchoge, who is about to turn 35, successfully “broken two” with a time of 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds, making it the first time for humans to run under two hours in a men’s marathon.

However, because this challenge was not an official competition and the entire schedule was too perfect, this result was not recognized by the IAAF, but it was still a major breakthrough for humans to challenge their physical limits.

Love

The process of Kipchoge’s “breaking into second place” was filmed into a documentary called “The Last Milestone”. In the entire video record, there is a group that cannot be ignored. In the “Break Two” challenge, 41 pacers accompanied Kipchoge to complete the challenge. These pacers are also known as “rabbits”. Before the challenge began, Kipchoge expressed his gratitude to all the pacers. He said sincerely: “Thank you for taking the time to help me complete this noble challenge and create history. This has nothing to do with competition and other things.” It’s not about anything, it’s about making history, it’s about changing the way humans think, it’s like going to the moon and then coming back to the earth and then celebrating again.”

In Kipchoge’s boyhood, running was a choice, a life-changing possibility. In Kipchoge’s view, the reason why Kenya dominates the track and field world is because athletes regard sports as their career, a career that can make money and provide food and clothing, rather than choosing running for fun.” Most of our athletes come from poor families, so they have to fight and stay strong.”

But time made him understand what is the driving force behind his running: “In the journey of life, there are always highs and lows, just like there are many challenges in a marathon. There are injuries during training, pain during running, Of course, there is also the inner happiness when completing a marathon. Everyone must believe that the energy in their body is life. ”

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