Johnny Hayes was just 22 years old when he won the marathon race at the 1908 Summer Olympic Games in England, and he was a trailblazer for more than one reason. Not only did Hayes win the first marathon at its now official standard distance of 26 miles and 385 yards (roughly 42km and 195m) but he also laid the groundwork for the increasingly better times that would be attained by marathon runners in the next century.
100 years later, however, the record time for a marathon is 02:02:57, set by Kenyan runner Dennis Kimetto at the Berlin Marathon in 2014.
Considering Hayes’ winning time of 02:55:18 at the 1908 Olympics, one British scientist starting wondering why, in all the years of running innovation, the ever-illusive sub-two hour marathon had not yet become a reality.
This prompted professor of sport and exercise at Brighton University, Yannis Pitsiladis, to devise a way of equipping long-distance runners with all the things needed to make his dream of seeing athletes complete a marathon in less than two hours a reality – and reinvigorate interest in long-distance running while he’s at it.
The Sub2 project
Assembling a team of nutritionists, trainers, data scientists and biomechanics specialists, Sub2 aims to take natural talent and turn it into record-breaking performance by means of “a dedicated scientific approach involving the very latest knowledge in key areas such as genetics, bioenergetics, biomechanics, nutrition, sports engineering and coaching and performance science”.
After observing the preparation of elite Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes seven years before, Sub2 was officially launched in 2014, with the aim of breaking the two-hour marathon record by the year 2019.
Speaking to Wired, Pitsiladis explained that he believed the addition of a scientific approach to long-distance running would make all the difference in ultimate running performance.
“There was literally no scientific aspect [to what they were doing]. We thought: imagine what they could do with the best ideas available.”
Sub2 is an ongoing project which has not yet seen the two-hour record being broken – but the year is far from over. To keep an eye on Sub2’s progress, follow the project on Twitter.