Why Nike’s attempt at a sub-2-hour marathon is problematic

Apr 27th, 2017 | By | Category: 2016-2017, Sports

By Kellen Bulger
Staff Writer

In a little under a couple of weeks from now, Nike will put on a race that attempts to break the 2-hour threshold for the marathon. The race is said to take place at the Formula One track in Monza, Italy.

On May 6, the day that the race is scheduled to take place, it will be the 63rd anniversary of Roger Bannister’s historic run under four minutes for the mile, and Nike is hoping to cash in on the momentous occasion.

While this is certainly noteworthy, exciting, amazing, etc., there is a strong contingency of the worldwide athletic and running community alike who are not as keen on the idea of the sub-2-hour marathon attempt. While associating oneself with egregious communities like online running forums is usually foolhardy, the critiques of this running spectacle are valid.

Let’s start with the companies involved. As much as Nike would like to bill this event like Roger Bannister dipping under the four-minute barrier, it’s not. Bannister completed this historic feat by being paced by a couple of his pals, at the Iffey Road track in the city where he went to school in Oxford, England. Flash forward to 2017 and you have multiple huge shoe companies hurling an unfathomable amount of money toward shoe technology, prize money and marketing. This is no coronation of one’s athletic achievement, like much in our modern world, it’s a business venture at heart.

Next, let’s move on to discussing the logistics of this actually happening. The runners who are scheduled to partake in the attempt are world-class, with runners like Eluid Kipchoge, who all have sub-2:05 marathon times to their names at minimum. However, when Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, he had run within a couple of seconds of it numerous times. This is exploitation at its most basic level. It is these shoe companies seeing a marketable event in the future and trying to cash in as soon as possible. Is it unreasonable to think that maybe these runners should at minimum be within half of a minute from reaching the 2-hour marathon before aiming to dip under that time? Or maybe break the 2-hour barrier in a race with actual meaning?

Today, if you are a Division I NCAA miler and want to be competitive, it is necessary that you break the 4-minute mile to be even considered for the national meet. Hundreds have broken that 4-minute barrier since. Now, I could be wrong, but I do not see hundreds breaking the 2-hour marathon within the next half-century.

This attempt feels about as unnatural as it gets.

So, when the handful of athletes toe the line in the Mediterranean next month, do not get me wrong, I will be watching. But in spite of all of the intrigue that I and much of the world of athletics will have, it is difficult not to see the race as another example of an American-centric, money grabbing exploitative act. Now is there anything wrong with all of that? That’s for you to decide, but a race marred with this much controversy has to be looked at further than just another Nike commercial during the nightly news.

 

kpbulger@willamette.edu

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