Three of the world’s best runners will take to the Monza Formula One track tomorrow morning in an attempt to break one of the sport’s iconic barriers – the two-hour marathon.
Kenya's Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge, half-marathon world record holder Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea and Ethiopia's Lelisa Desisa, a two-time Boston Marathon winner, are all taking part in a multi-million dollar Breaking2 project organised by Nike.
As the three men, who have removed themselves from the normal marathon circuit for the last few months in order to prepare for this event, seek to run three minutes faster than the current world record of 2 hour 2min 57sec, set three years ago in Berlin by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto, they will benefit from every legally available aid.
However, the legality of the shoe they are helping to promote, the high-tech Nike VaporFly Elite, is in question.
It is designed with a curved, carbon-fibre plate embedded in the sole, which Nike claims will reduce the energy exerted by runners by four per cent.
Breaking two hours would require the current marathon world record to be beaten by three per cent.
The attempt is being conducted outside International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules which insist that shoes must not offer “any unfair additional assistance, including by the incorporation of any technology which will give the wearer any unfair advantage”.
But Nike has referred to this project as “a moonshot”, claiming it is all about “pushing the limits of human performance".
The Monza track was chosen because it is flat, has few energy-sapping bends and has shelter from trees lining the circuit.
The 2.4km course, which the athletes will circle 17-and-a-half times, will make it easy for groups of pacemakers who will shelter the three main protagonists to slip in and out of race.
Drinks will be handed to the runners on demand via a moped, while ahead of them will be a car with a large clock on the back showing elapsed times, splits and the projected finish time.
The car is also expected to enhance the shelter afforded to the runners.
They will start their race at 5.45am locally, with it hoped the time will offer a temperature of around 9℃, which is deemed perfect for marathon running.
Nike say they have consulted experts in biomechanics, coaching, design, engineering, materials development, nutrition and sports psychology and physiology during the runners’ preparations.
However, there has been much criticism of the event, with respected running coach and blogger Mario Fraioli saying: "It bastardises the spirit of competition that makes a marathon, well, a marathon.
“What Nike are trying to do is not racing.
"It’s a mockery of it.”
Bookmakers Betway are offering 3/1 on the world record being broken, and 20/1 on Kipchoge beating two hours.