Nike’s Two-Hour Marathon and the Source of Sensational Failure

Last night Eliud Kipchoge came within 25 seconds of running a two-hour marathon (video here). Today you will read headlines about the sensational failure of the run. Even the stories that applaud the effort will include an asterisk noting that the incredible run isn’t even eligible as a world record. If the run had been one second per mile faster Eliud would be the man who did the impossible. Instead, he is a loser. Or maybe we are the ones who are losing.

The clock is a deceptively alluring device. Primitive man made some arbitrary decisions that are wagging us centuries later. Why divide a day by 24? Why sub-divide that by 60? Surely there is an alternate universe where different logic won those early debates, a world where time and distance doesn’t dominate our daily decisions.

In this world there are no leap years, no daylight savings time. Weeks don’t have 7 days. There are no weekends, no 40-hour work weeks, no semester exams, quarterly reviews, and no January 1 drinking parties. There are no miles or kilometers here. No 75 mile per hour speed limits, no metric system debates, no marathons.

Perhaps free of the arbitrary measurements of time and distance a different set of values would emerge. What would Eliud’s run look like in this world?

The media circus would disappear. There would be no Tessa-sponsored pacing vehicle, no Nike-branded apparel, no slogans. The data analysts would be gone along with the countdown clock. Kevin Hart wouldn’t be on the sidelines cracking jokes that appeal to the right demographic groups. Here everything gets stripped away except for Eliud and the pavement.

Today instead of link bait sensationalizing failure you would see something much different.

We would honor the beautiful efficiency of Eliud’s body, the graceful perfection of his stride. We would exalt the serenity on his face, his ability to remain calm despite crushing internal pain. We would immortalize his work ethic, the quiet commitment of years spent perfecting the art. We would nod in agreement when he says running is life. We would run with him, pacing him, pushing him forward because we believe in what we can do together, not because of arbitrary data but because we thirst to discover what’s possible. Eliud isn’t 25 seconds short of immortality, he is the embodiment of everything we could value. He isn’t the sensational failure, we are.

Thanks for reading. I am a runner who writes every Saturday so you should follow me if you enjoyed these thoughts. Stay creative.

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