Nike-endorsed elite runner Eliud Kipchoge has run the world’s fastest marathon time but missed finishing under the two-hour mark by only 26 seconds—a gap of just one second per mile for the distance of the race.
Kenya’s Kipchoge finished the race in 2:00:25 on a highly controlled course in Monza, Italy. He bested a world record time of 2:02:57 by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya, a feat achieved at the Berlin Marathon in 2014. Kipchoge’s record time does not count as official in the sport because of rules involving pacesetting.
Kipchoge’s attempt at running a sub-two hour marathon—alongside Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese—was considered a “moonshot” by athletic gear maker Nike (NKE). The company designed what it believes is the most ideal apparel, footwear, and conditions for that time to be achieved and approached the event with confidence that a runner would achieve the feat.
But Nike’s “Breaking2” attempt was considered a lofty goal by outsiders, especially in light of reports speculating that it would take until 2075 for a runner to achieve a sub-two hour marathon based on how elite runners have chipped away at past world record times in recent decades. Kipchoge’s time sliced more than two minutes from the best time, but the closed racetrack just north of Milan where his run took place was a far more controlled setting than the major marathons where such records are usually made, including the one Kimetto ran in Berlin.
Nike wasn’t dissuaded by the near miss. “I’ve been a part of many races over my career at Nike,” said chairman and CEO Mark Parker in a statement. “But I’ve never seen anything like what we saw today.”
Nike said the race was a way to inspire the running community and fans of the brand, but it also represents a change in thinking about how the athletic-gear maker will bring products to market. Nike developed personalized footwear for all three of the athletes it booked to run the course in Italy. Later this summer, Nike will begin to sell versions of those newly designed shoes to the masses, which feature a new midsole that Nike has promised delivers a 4% gain in efficiency.
Outside experts say that Nike, which already generates about $5 billion annually from the running category, and other athletic-gear makers will almost certainly move toward selling more personalized footwear and apparel in the years ahead. The innovation that powered Breaking2 was only for elite athletes today, but hints at Nike’s strategic thinking for tomorrow.