MONZA, Italy — Eliud Kipchoge was 26 seconds from making history on Saturday but the Olympic champion finished just short of becoming the first person to run a marathon in less than two hours.
Kipchoge ran the 26.2 miles in an impressive 2 hours, 25 seconds, smashing Dennis Kimetto’s world mark of 2:02:57 by 2 1/2 minutes and raising hopes that one of world sport’s most famous barriers can be broken.
“We are human,” Kipchoge said. “We are going up the tree … I have lifted a branch and I am going onto the next one. This is not the end of the attempt of runners on two hours.”
The attempt had some help from Chicagoans. Mike Nishi, general manager of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and four members of his team were enlisted to help manage details of a race.
Chris Derrick, who grew up in Naperville and ran track at Neuqua Valley High School and Stanford University, was to serve as one of the pacers who bit off 5 kilometer chunks to help the marathoners try to accomplish the mythical feat.
The event, dubbed Breaking2, was sponsored by Nike.
The attempt at Monza’s Formula One race course did not go down as an official world record, sanctioned by the IAAF, due to variables including the pacers entering mid-race and drinks being given to runners via mopeds.
And, after three years of planning, Nike’s audacious attempt at breaking the two-hour barrier remained just that, despite the aid of a shoe that designers say will make runners four percent more efficient.
“Today, millions of people around the world watched as running history was written,” Nike CEO Mark Parker said. “At Breaking2, Eliud Kipchoge ran 26.2 miles faster than any human ever … This achievement represents more than a race. It’s a moment of global inspiration that will encourage every athlete, in every community, to push the limits of their potential.”
Kipchoge did break his personal best time of 2:03:05, which was set at the London Marathon last year.
Organizers first listed his time as a second faster, then changed it to 25 seconds off the 2-hour mark.
WATCH: Video of the Breaking2 attempt
“I rank this as the highest-ever performance in my life,” Kipchoge said. “The aim of ‘Breaking2’ was to pass the message that running less than two-hour marathon is possible. That message is really special to me.”
Two-time Boston Marathon winner Lelisa Desisa, from Ethiopia, and Eritrean half-marathon world-record holder Zersenay Tadese were also part of the Breaking2 project, which started at 5:45 a.m. local time, but finished well off the pace.
Desisa was dropped after 50 minutes, with Tadese falling back shortly afterwards. The duo still completed the 17.5 laps of the 1.5-mile Monza track with Tadese shaving nearly four minutes off his personal best with a time of 2:06:51. Desisa finished in 2:14:10.
That left just Kipchoge chasing the landmark time.
The 32-year-old continued in his trademark relaxed style and passed the halfway mark in 59:54, but his average pace of 4:36 per mile was just not enough, despite his final sprint to the tape.
Kipchoge would have needed an average of less than 4:35 per mile — an improvement of about seven seconds per mile on Kimetto’s record, or around 2.5 percent.
“I tried to maintain the pace,” he said. “As a human you are not a machine so you cannot go 2.50 exactly, and those micro-seconds really have an effect.”
Carey Pinkowski, executive director of the Chicago Marathon, told the Chicago Sun-Times he’d attend the event as a giddy fan, not to work.
“All the little things that affect runners in Chicago — potholes, running over bridges, erratic weather — all of that is eliminated, nothing will break their stride,” Pinkowski said.
Contributing: Mitch Dudek