A couple weeks ago, I sat down on a Friday night to watch “Breaking 2”, a film by Nike documenting the pursuit of breaking the 2-hour Marathon. Yes, the pursuit of running 26.2 miles in less than 2 hours. It’s considered the “Last Barrier.”
To put that into perspective, you need to run every mile in 4:34. That’s impressive just for one mile – a time that would win most High School track meets. But to keep that pace over the course of 26 consecutive miles is breathtaking.
Most people deemed this feat impossible. The fastest marathon in history prior to this documentary was two hours and three minutes – roughly a 4:42/mile pace. To shave off eight seconds from every mile just didn’t seem realistic. Most critics said that the human body couldn’t continue to replenish itself with oxygen if it’s moving that fast, for that long.
The 4-Minute Mile
I’ve always been interested in this conversation – the possibility of someone breaking the 2-hour Marathon barrier. I grew up being inspired by Roger Bannister, the British Olympian in 1954 that broke the 4-minute mile barrier. When Bannister ran that mile in 3:59, media called it the “Miracle Mile.”
What’s fascinating to me about this mile, however, is not the fact that he did something people thought was impossible – it was that he seemed to give other runner’s permission to also do it. The world went from believing that running a mile in under 4-minutes was considered impossible, to someone doing it again just six weeks later. Elite runners began to do this regularly, then collegiate runners, then even some high school runners! It wasn’t too many years later that John Walker of New Zealand ran the mile 10 seconds faster than Bannister – running the mile in 3:49.
Authors Yoram Wind and Colin Crook in their book “The Power of Impossible Thinking,” say is best in my opinion:
How is it that so many runners smashed the four-minute barrier after Bannister became the first to do it? Was there a sudden growth spurt in human evolution? Was there a genetic engineering experiment that created a new race of super runners? No. What changed was the mental model. The runners of the past had been held back by a mindset that said they could not surpass the four-minute mile. When that limit was broken, the others saw that they could do something they had previously thought impossible.
I used to wish that I was alive back then to read about Bannister’s feat in the newspaper. But when I heard about the idea of breaking the 2-hour Marathon barrier back in 2015, I started to follow the story. I figured history would repeat itself here. One athlete just needed to give permission to the rest.
Nike Inc. contacted Eluid Kipchoge, an Olympic long-distance runner from Kenya, at the end of 2016 and offered their resources to do whatever was necessary to help him. In the documentary, which recounts the story of them training 3 Olympians, it’s evident that they believe Kipchoge will be the person to do it. They deemed this pursuit The Breaking 2 Project.
Zersenay Tadese from the country of Eritrea and Lelisa Desisa from Ethiopia were the other two runners that Nike selected to devote their resources to. However, in an interview with the team lead of the project, he admitted that Tadese and Desisa weren’t going to be able to do it. “If anyone’s going to do the impossible,” he said, “it’s going to be Eluid.”
What’s shocking, however, is that everyone else on the project thought the same thing. The other two runners were actually fitter on paper. After running tests on their VO2 Max and Lactic thresholds, Kipchoge was average at best. The difference? “The strength of his mind though is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” said the team lead. “On paper, he’s not capable of breaking the barrier. But he’s so convinced that he can do it that he’s starting to convince me that it’s possible.”
Positive thought is more powerful than we thought.
My blog post written to you here isn’t doing this principle justice. If you’re able, I recommend just watching the documentary yourself. But the short story is that in May of 2017, Kipchoge ends up running an average pace of 4:35/mile over the course of the marathon – one second/mile too slow. He finishes the marathon in 2:00:25 (2 hours and 25 seconds). He is totally spent at the end. Nike ends their documentary praising Kipchoge. “It’s possible. We can get him one second faster per mile.”
Months later, not shown in the documentary, he breaks the barrier finishing in 1:59:40. He hung on to an impossible 4:33/mile pace. After the race, he’s interviewed and emotionally thanks the 43 other runners that ran in and out of the race to maintain his pacing. Kipchoge says that with their help, “No human is limited.” This phrase then becomes the most popular hashtag in the world of running over night.
“You need to believe that something impossible is possible,” he said. “But 100% of me is less than 1% of the team. You can’t do the impossible alone.”
You and I aren’t elite athletes, but this story is a good reminder of our limiting beliefs.
What’s holding you back from losing the weight?
What’s holding you back from getting stronger?
What’s holding you back from liking the reflection you see in the mirror every morning?
If your experience with COVID has been anything like mine – a struggle every day to exercise in the morning, eat right during the day, and go to bed on time at night – find a team of 43 runners. Not literally, but build a team like Kipchoge and Nike did. 100% of you is less than 1% of a team.
For me, I’ve set-up a team of three others to meet me at the old Provo High School track every day at 11:00 a.m. We train together. I have a goal of competing in the Brazilian CrossFit Championships next year. But I can’t achieve that alone. I need them. Because 100% of me isn’t good enough.
And you thought you were done with team sports after high school…
Not at RxFIT.
You have a coach. It’s now time to talk with your coach and assemble together your teammates.
You don’t need to meet together like I am with my team. But you can get creative.
Brainstorm tonight with your coach. Believe what your mind thinks is impossible.
You will end up giving others permission to do the same.