When Sir Roger Bannister famously broke the four-minute barrier for a running mile in 1954, he did it with the aid of two pacers running with him.
His record of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds stood for about a month until Australian, John Landy set the new record — largely on his own — at a track meet in Turku, Finland. His new mark of 3:57.9 set the stage for a showdown between the two athletes at the Commonwealth Games at Empire Stadium in Vancouver on August 7, 1954.
Landy led the race in the final turn but did a shoulder-check to his left, just as Bannister passed him on the right.
Bannister won gold for his 3:58.8 finish, Landy won silver in 3:59.6 — and both are memorialized in bronze, near the site of their “Miracle Mile.” Though a new world record wasn’t set, it was the first time two runners had done a mile in under four minutes in the same race.
Now, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge has broken a Bannister-like barrier, becoming the first human to run a marathon distance in under two hours, in Vienna, Austria, earlier this month.
Unlike Bannister, he didn’t just use a couple of pacesetters, says local distance runner, Dave Murphy.
“This time, there was a lot more science and technique put into it. It wasn’t technically a world record, though,” cautioned Murphy. “He had global-level athletes (41, in total) who were able to jump in and out to keep the pace up — and they were running in a formation that would help Kipchoge slipstream.
“To be honest, I thought it was pretty cool,” said Murphy, “but I wasn’t surprised. He had already tried it before and was within 30 seconds of two hours.”
Water and energy gels were delivered to Kipchoge via bicycle, allowing him to maintain his pace. As well, an electric-powered car led the way, projecting laser beams to guide the runners on the almost level course. Even the weather conditions were optimal.
Kipchoge already owns the world record for an unassisted marathon, at 2:01.39, set in Berlin in 2018. This year, Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia won the same event in 2:01:41, so perhaps we’ll have two runners dipping under two hours in an actual race in the next decade.
“I think Kipchoge was running at about a 2:50 per kilometre pace (in Vienna),” said Murphy. “There are not many in Hope who could turn their feet over that quickly, for even 100 metres. Pretty amazing!”
Murphy has been a runner for most of his life and experienced his first marathon with training partner, Miles Bissky in May. Last year, the men’s wives, Alicia Murphy and Megan Bissky ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon — and this year, all four ran it. Dave and Megan led the way for Hope, with respective times of 3:28:40 and 3:40:35.
Miles, who finished in 4:14:21, said of Kipchoge’s feat, “I feel that one of the major problems with the original Breaking 2 project was the lack of crowd cheering for most of the race. “This is something that the (Vienna run) really got right. The course was a sort of long figure-8 and it allowed the crowd to be with him for most of the race. I know from my own experience running the BMO marathon, that it’s extremely helpful to have people cheering for you.”
The Bisskys and Murphys are part of the Hope Running Club, which will soon be kicking off its “Couch to 5 Kilometre” or C25K program.
“We got a grant from Fraser Health,” said Dave. “It’s a very gentle program, to introduce people to running.”
“It’s three days per week of activity,” added Miles. “Initially each activity alternates between brief repetitions of running, then walking. The program is designed to build endurance gradually and effectively, reducing risk of injury for beginner runners.
“As a run club, we’ll meet once per week during the program, to run as a group — and likely more during a few key weeks, as well,” said Miles.
For registration or more info, check out ‘Hope BC Running Club’ on Facebook.