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Chicagoans lend hand in bid for mythical sub-2-hour marathon

Marathoners Lelisa Desisa (left), Zersenay Tadese and Eliud Kipchoge will run in NIke's Breaking2.

Marathoners Lelisa Desisa (left), Zersenay Tadese and Eliud Kipchoge will run in NIke's Breaking2. | Nike.com

Six Chicagoans are in northern Italy this week taking part in an effort to break a record long thought to be out of human reach: running a marathon in under two hours.

Here’s the plan: Three of the world’s best marathoners, with the help of 15 of the world’s best pacers, will run 26.2 miles on a Formula One racetrack outside Milan. They’ll take their first steps at some point during a 72-hour window that begins Friday when weather conditions are deemed ideal.

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.

Chicago will also be represented on the asphalt.

Chris Derrick, who grew up in Naperville and ran track at Neuqua Valley High School and Stanford University, will serve as one of the pacers who will bite off 5 kilometer chunks to help the marathoners meet their goal.

The event, dubbed Breaking2, is sponsored by Nike.

Carey Pinkowski, executive director of the Chicago Marathon, will be there 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.

“This is a level racetrack designed for cars to go in excess of 225 mph, it’s absolutely perfect.”

“And what’s amazing is, like a rocket launch, they have the ability to shift to the perfect weather conditions,” Pinkowski said. “If there’s wind, humidity, rain, they’ll delay the race. In Chicago, we just go.”

Should the feat be achieved, it will not be recognized by the sports governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federation, which requires pacers to start the race and run throughout. The event this weekend will rotate fresh pacers.

Runners will also wear Nike shoes that provide extra spring to the step. The footwear, though legal in the eyes of the IAAF, has raised eyebrows.

“Is it a publicity stunt? Yes. Does it bristle traditionalists? Sure it does,” Pinkowski said. “I’m excited about it. I think it’s amazing. . . . I’d almost call this a science project.”

The world record for the half marathon — 58 minutes, 23 seconds — was set by Zersenay Tadese, of Eritrea, who’s slated to run this weekend.

“When you look at it on paper, you ask yourself ‘Why can’t they do that back to back?'” said Pinkowski, who’s pinning his hopes on Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge, who won the Chicago Marathon in 2014.

The third marathoner that Nike recruited is Lelisa Desisa, of Ethiopia.

The current world record of 2:02:57 was set three years ago in Berlin when Kenyan Dennis Kimetto, who is battling an injury, finished with an average pace of 4 minutes, 41 seconds per mile.

A runner would need to shave 7 seconds off that world record pace to finish under two hours.

“I can’t wait,” Pinkowski said.