If I were advising Nike on Breaking2: the difference between moonshot and Marshot


Su17_RN_Breaking2_Hero_Group_2_native_1600.jpgLelisa Desisa, Eliud Kipchoge, Tadese Zersaney, photo from Nike communications

As someone much better looking and compensated once said in a movie, " We live in a cynical world."

And with that opening, I bring in Nike's new program, "Breaking2", with the goal of having humans run a marathon much faster than the current WR of 2:02:57. That would have been fine, but Nike, the nearly $50 billion sports behemoth, went farther. They want to run 1:59:59, break the two hour marathon barrier. And, if this was, like the call by the late President Kennedy, a proverbial moonshot, that would be okay. But, it seems, they want to do this sooner.

I believe, this is not a Nike moonshot, it is a Nike Marshot, allow me to explain.

When Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile, the world was less than a decade from having survived the most brutal war in human history. London was just recovering from the war, and people needed something to believe in. Bannister was a man possessed by science. He analysed everything and when he ran his famous 3:59.4, he had the support of Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway in this iconic and historic race. They trained together. They raced together. Many forget that his 4:02.65 mile, run the year before, was declared a non-event due to pace making.

The comparison of the sub two hour marathon and the first four minute mile are not equal comparisons. It is true that the late, great coach, Brutus Hamilton, in 1939, wrote that man would never run faster than 4:01.4 for the mile. Less than fifteen years later, the mile was under four minutes.

The four minute mile was welcomed with great interest in fanfare. A two hour marathon will be welcomed, in the current climate, and with current information from Nike, with suspicicion. It is a different time.

In this age of social media, Nike has taken a beating over the breaking2. Part of it is the age of cynicism, and part of it, much of it, is how it was announced by Nike. Surely, there is a product launch around this, and I have no probem with that. Cool looking shoes, new technologies, are what we live for.

2:02:57 is a nearly unbelievable time. Consider that the average marathon time in U.S. is around 4:50, most marathoners will not have cleared halfway on the course when the best in the world finish.

Elite marathoners are a special lot. They have great gene pools, high oxygen uptakes, little body fat, and nearly perfect footstrikes. Well, correct that, footstrikes that are efficient for them.

Nike is going to use its vast resources in training, footwear, and nutrition, to make these key runners run as fast as possible. And I would have been fine with that. If we could learn from their training, nutrition and footwear, us mere mortals would applaud the program.

If I were announcing the Breaking2, I would have said the following:

1. This is not Nike's moonshot, it is Nike's Mars shot, and there will be successes and failures along the way. We will learn from successes and failures, and Nike embraces them both. This is a long term program. Nike is about pushing the limits and breaking world records in marathons now come in seconds with months of work, if not years.

2. The Breaking2 race will of course be on a certified course. Nike will have pacers galore, and probably sports drinks and nutrition much more often than every 5k (this would be based on current research on sports hydration and nutrition during a two hour event). If I were advising Nike, I would say something about the race being controlled effort, to control energy, until the very last, hence the need for pace makers and not running event as part of another marathon.

3. The Breaking2 will of course have drug testing. If I were advising Nike, I would say drug testing before, right after and for a year after. Nike needs to keep this as transparant as possible.

4. The athletes involved in Breaking2 will have their own goals, World Championships, Olympic events, World Marathon Majors and we will not interfere with those events either.

Nike has put many of their best talents into this program. Sandy Bodecker, the man who brought soccer to Nike, among other projects, is on the job. So, Nike is serious about this.

WSJ also did a piece that adidas is working on a product of a similar nature. From my sources, seems WSJ have no comments from adidas sources.

The criticisim on the social world revolves around the following ( I surveyed FB, twitter):

a. "Are you serious? A two hour marathon would require EPO, steroids and HGH to achieve in this day and age?" And that was the gentle comments.

b." Why is Nike doing it's own race? Doesn't this hurt the World Marathon Majors, events supported by Nike athletes all over the world (for the record, Nike is sponsor of Bank of America Chicago Marathon, adidas has Boston and Berlin, ASICS has Tokyo, New Balance takes over NYC in 2017 and London is in transition)?"

c. "This is a typical Nike PR move. Not well thought out, and unable to answer even most basic questions. "

The breaking2 program is a fluid program. I am not sure Nike considered the ramifications of the announcement.

In the old days, Bill Bowerman would be presented with a pair of shoes, and if not liked, he would hurl them across a table. Bowerman was not without feeling. One story is related where the designer teared up, and Mr. Bowerman took the time to explain what he liked and did not like. In place of Bill Bowerman coming back from the big waffle iron in the sky, perhaps an ombudsman is needed at Nike. My father has a line that men get into trouble when they believe their own bull excrement. Enough said.

The most damning comment came from a keen observer of the sport. And it should be considered thoughtfully:

" Nike is the leader in sports marketing. This is beneath them. This is something a new brand on shaky ground does."

My mind is not made up.

I have learnt, especially with Nike, that one has to wait and see what will transpire. This is a program that is completely fluid right now. The release got people talking, which is what PR 101 would tell you is the good thing. I would have preferred a few more basic answers, but, again, I am not advising Nike.

The idea of a two hour marathon, as you have seen in this blog, has been viewed with some consternation. I first saw a note on the 2 hour marathon in 1976. It is still a ways away.

Nike has announced their marshot, not their moon shot. I like the idea, I admire information that will help fast runners go faster and slow runners go faster. I am looking forward to Nike's next development on breaking2.


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