After nearly 24 hours up for the Doha Diamond League meeting, I took a two hour nap and woke up as the Breaking2 event was being introduced. Craig Masback, Paula Radcliffe and Kevin Hart were among the announcers provided for the event.
I have to say that I was glued to the broadcast. I followed the event via twitter, which is the future and present of sporting events, and enjoyed the interaction and the nearly perfect announcing by the Nike team.
Was this an exhibition? Yes! But, here is my comment. Nike walked the line between circus and pagentry, including iconic moments and mentions of the marathon and the sport. For two hours, Nike showed that running was, as CEO Mark Parker likes to say, in their DNA.
Eliud Kipchoge is the finest marathoner in the world. He is also the textbook or Wikipedia illustration of the classicly trained distance runner. Eliud won his first World Championships at the age of 18, from Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele. Eliud raced and trained on the track circuit for a decade and then, took three long years to move to the marathon. He has won 7 of his 8 marathons, and his marathon wins, including the Olympics, BMW Berlin and Virgin London, have been masterful.
The attention to detail that Nike put into this attempt was mind-boggling, and was part of the fascination. Using a phalanx type approach to pace making, the pacers were taken on and off the course with nearly military precision. The lasers showing where to run and how to run were fascinating as well.
What drew me and kept me and hundreds of thousands glued to the broadcast? From the fine pacing, to the humanity of the event. Desisa Lelisa, Zerzenay Tadesse and Eliud Kipchoge were the men that the event was built around. I am convinced that no one else had a chance at the two hour attempt.
Eliud Kipchoge is one of the finest runners in the world. He is also one of the most articulate (note our link to London 2015 interview with Eliud) athletes in our sport. Eliud is portrayed as a running ascetic, a running version of the Japanese warrior monk from the 15th century in Japan. The warrior monks would come down from the mountains, when the villagers were living lives that were noted for excess and lack of respect. As the warrior monks entered the village, they burnt the villages to the grown, so that the villagers had to start all over again, remembering what their lives were to mean.
This is not that I give Breaking2 a religious conotation, but in truth, running is, for many, the center of their belief systems. Nike gets that. The symbolism, from using Women’s world record holder Paula Radcliffe, to world class miler/broadcaster/NIke sports marketing’s Craig Masback, to having Joan Benoit Samuelson holding the finish line, should not be lost on anyone.
I have to admit, I wanted to hate this event. It was all of the arrogance that I sometimes love and hate from Nike. But, even though they did the event, which I felt was insulting to World Marathon Majors and global athletics, they did it with reverence.
What do I mean?
Paula Radcliffe and Craig Masback did the best announcing of their lives. Not too much, not too little. Info bits that the audience would love, and with Kevin Hart, who loves the sport, but comes from a comedic environment, there was something for geek, sportsfan and running newbies. And, in truth, that is good. Anything that brings attention to the sport, in a good way, in my book, has to be considered. If the quality of the announcing and high quality of sidebars, not the drivel that normally comes from NBC, was used in global athletics coverage, track and road running could be the most viewed sports TV, period. Nike’s first success with this event was showing that marathon running is not boring, but vibrant and breathing. Nike just made marathoning on TV exciting.
The pace makers kept our attention, but it was Eliud Kipchoge, Deyisa Lelisa and Zerzenay Tadesse made it real.
The pacing was amazing. 14:11 for 5k, 28:21 for 10k, 42:34 for 15k, 56:49 for 20k and half marathon in 59:57. By this tie, Deyisa Lelisa was off the back, and then, the grinding began. 25k was hit in 1:11:03, and Eliud Kipchoge was alone.
But the man who was made for this attempt, Eliud Kipchoge was running bravely, hitting 30k in 1:28.20. At 35k, Eliud Kipchoge looked determined, some grimaces showing on his face, but the 1:39:37 effort, and this was a real effort, showed the humanity of the event.
With Lelisa and Tadesse falling back, runners viewing the event identified with these guys. Surely, at least two of the men are human. And this is another way that Nike won with this attempt-they allowed us to see the humanity of the attempt. Taking it from scientific freak show to ambitious, supplemented running exhibition, Nike did just the opposite of what we thought they would do, they delved into the humanity of the effort. They celebrated running by homo sapiens sapiens.
Anyone who has run a marathon (this writer, in another era, ran eighteen), knows that cold corner of hell that one finds in the last several miles of the race, when the body is tiring, the spirit pushes on, and a supreme effort is required.
Eliud Kipchoge, even with the sports drinks and water (personalized for his needs), phalanxing pacers, specially made shoes, had to run the damn two hours and so many minutes and seconds. In surveys before the event, RunBlogRun readers noted that Eliud would run 2:01:30, 2:02:30 or 2:04:03, with about 1/3 of our readers at each level.
I thought that Eliud Kipchoge would run 2:01:30. My friend, Olaf Brockman noted 2:01:47. A Nike contact swore that Eliud would break 2 hours.
Well, Eliud Kipchoge nearly did. He ran 2:00:24, a performance that is being rerun on Euronews, BBC and CNN. The post race interviews with Eliud were a bit anti climactic, as Nike had built up a frenzy in the two hour broadcast.
While the broadcast was the supreme act of marketing, there was only one time that I felt the show dropped to a online shopping event, but, I will give Nike a few minutes to sell footwear, as that is what they do: make cool running shoes.
Those final ten minutes were great sports television. A combination of the Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Ed TV, the Breaking2 broadcast reminded us of the humanity of the runners, that they could succeed as well as fail. Why? Because they are human.
Yet, only one online running media did a snarky reponse when Eliud missed the two hour timing. Most of the viewers, with this one included, saw the attempt as the story and the gutty run by Kipchoge. In missing the 2 hour mark, Kipchoge showed his humanity, and we, the viewers, were mesmerized.
I have never felt that this was a Nike moonshot. This was Nike’s Marshot. It could take several attempts to break two hours. If this first episode is any indication, then, we will have some mesmerizing television.
Look at this tired runner. Eliud Kipchoge is happy, but exhausted. Nike proved, once again, that if you put enough financial support with the right people, and right support, an event like Breaking2, once thought to be foolhardy, can celebrate the human spirit.
Nice job, Nike.
Eliud Kipchoge, Desisa Lelisa, Zerzenay Tadesse, thank you for pushing our limits.
Craig Masback, Paula Radcliffe, Kevin Hart, thanks to all who were involved in the amazing TV broadcast.
Twitter, you have never been better!
To view the Breaking2 attempt, just watch the You Tube below: