I was glued to the live stream from Monza on the weekend. Not because F1 cars where tearing around the circuit at an insane speed, but watching what is possibly the slowest race ever held on this hallowed track.
Three men set off at 5:45am Italian time seeking to be the first humans to run the marathon distance of 42.195km in under 2 hours.
For those of us who run this equates to a mind blowingly quick pace of 2:51/km.
For those who can’t quite understand how fast this is, it is almost 422 100m sprints in 17 seconds each.
While not quite Usain Bolt fast for 100m, try running just one of these and see how hard you have to push.
Then keep going for as long as you can.
The point of this exercise was (beyond being a massive marketing opportunity for Nike) to see how far they could push the envelope.
The current world record stands at 2:02:57, so to go under two hours would require a 2.5% improvement. At the elite level that is significant, and one that many authoritative people said could not be done.
To put this into perspective, it had taken 23 years to go from the record of 2:08:18 set by our own Rob de Castella in 1981 to the current record of 2:02:57 set by Dennis Kimetto in 2014. Yet Nike was suggesting their athletes could improve on this mark in one jump.
Like the 4 minute mile and Everest, there is a sense of majesty to the 2 hour marathon, and doubts abound as to whether it is physically possible to get there.
Yet for Eliud Kipchoge, one of the athletes involved, it is just an arbitrary figure.
Nike hand picked three elite athletes and a team of scientists to work on this project for the past 3 years.
Unsurprisingly they developed a special shoe just for this attempt.
But beyond that, they took every effort to control the variables. Monza was chosen because of its climate and the smooth road surface, a team of elite pacers was recruited to shield the runners and reduce wind resistance, personalised nutrition and hydration strategies were adopted for the attempt.
But at the end of the day it came down to 3 men running faster than they (or anyone else) had ever run before.
By just over half way that number was down to 1 as the others were chewed up and spat out. But Kipchoge kept on motoring.
At the 35km mark he was 5 seconds behind where he needed to be. But he has a reputation for coming home with a wet sail, so it was all still possible.
In the end it proved too much for him, and he missed the mark by 24 seconds, yet still managed to run two and a half minutes faster than anyone had ever done so before.
Despite missing the goal, it is definitely now in sight. What will be interesting is to watch how far the official World Record drops over the next 12 months. Kipchoge has led the way and others are now bound to follow.
Ultimately it is the strength of your belief that determines whether you will achieve a big goal like this, and knowing that someone else has achieved that goal can only help strengthen that belief. The world record for the mile stood at 4:01.4 for 9 years prior to Roger Bannister breaking it, however it lasted only 46 days before it was broken again by John Landy.
I see the same thing in my day to day work.
Some people are reluctant to pursue objectives with a big financial commitment because they are afraid that they won’t be able to achieve them. As a result they float along comfortably but never find out just what is possible.
Where they struggle is in being able to differentiate between what is feasible and what is wildly unrealistic, and that is where we are able to assist. We Model their objectives, effectively reverse engineering the steps they need to take to achieve them. They can see what is possible, and that they are in control.
Like an athlete, they can focus on the process, knowing that that will lead to the desired result rather than being overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge.
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