Nike's Breaking 2: Testing the limits of sports science with ground-breaking compression clothing

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With 500 metres to go along the final stretch at Monza's Formula One track, Eliud Kipchoge knew breaking the sub-two hour feat was slowly drifting away, but as each second passed he would also become part of history.

The Kenyan would run the world’s fastest marathon, shaving an incredible 2:32 off the current world record set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at the Berlin Marathon in 2014.

He stood on the track after the race, hugging the pace makers and organisers, people who made the Nike Breaking 2 dream possible over the last number of months.

As Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese crossed the line minutes after, it was noticeable the distinguished clothing that each athlete wore – designed by a team of scientists to help create a comfortable uniform in order to reduce the number of distractions during their world record attempt.
The clothing was a vast contrast to the normal split short and loose vest that is sported by most marathon runners worldwide on a weekly basis, a choice of attire that is believed to create friction and distraction during long runs.



With this knowledge gathered in the months building-up to the Breaking 2 event, the team of scientists opted for an innovative design of a fitted vest, compression short, and compression bands for the arms.

The clothing was designed to unlock human potential and as Kipchoge’s scintillating time of 2:00:25 indicates – marginal gains prevailed.

Kipchoge, Tadese and Desisa run during Nike's Breaking 2. Kipchoge, Tadese and Desisa run during Nike's Breaking 2.

What was striking about the project was how Nike were able to appoint the services of some of the biggest names in sports science and help make the 42.195km distance as smooth as possible.

One of the men at the helm of the operation was Steve Jackson, Commercial Business Manager at Nike, who has been integral to the development of the Nike clothing over the preceding year.

A man who eats and breaths running just like the athletes themselves, Jackson told Sport360: “This was certainly one of our most challenging styles because we were taking on scientific evidence and applying what we learnt to elite running.

“As you’ve seen from marathon running, the tradition is to run the split short. There’s a huge amount of excess baggage flapping around and creating wind resistance from it. With our new compression style, there are a lot of benefits.

“Not only does the new style of shorts offer much comfort, but the compression bands around the front of the shorts meant the athletes were provided with a level of warmth that they normally wouldn’t get from the split short.”

With average temperatures at Monza around 12 degrees Celsius on race day, the compression shorts and vest were incredibly beneficial to helping the athletes stay comfortable and warm during the run.

As Kipchoge, Desisa and Tadese battled through the intense speed set by the pacemakers, the clothing was critical in assisting them to attempt to reduce the sub-two hour barrier.

“The challenge is how we provided the level of compression in the main muscle area of the leg but not restrict the movement through the hip,” said Jackson.

“One of the benefits of the split short is that it gives runners maximum freedom through the hips. That was something we had to dial in, and with the use of the engineering hit machine, we were able to provide a high level of compression through the short and lighten up the compression level through the hips.”

The uniform worn by each athlete was a significant factor in Nike’s quest to, not only attempt to break the record, but also to prove nothing is impossible.

In marathon running, every second is crucial – and as Nike’s new innovative clothing shows – this could be a ground-breaking transformation going forward.


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Radcliffe hurt by reports that IAAF will strip her of marathon record

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Paula Radcliffe has reacted angrily to the proposal that all world and European records set prior to 2005 will be abolished from the record books.

Euroepan Athletics announced last week that they would consider stripping any world record made before 2005 as no blood and urine samples were available for re-testing at this time.

Radcliffe who broke the world record at the London Marathon in 2003 with a time of 2:15:25 told Sport360: “I think there is a lot of ambiguity in the proposal at the moment, trying to understand is it supposed to be pre-2005 or pre-2009 when the samples were kept for that long, or are there other variables that need to be introduced.

“I understand what they are trying to do, and the premise is good, we need to have credibility in the records. But this idea that you can somehow wipe away everything with the same brush and then say you are not damaging my dignity and reputation and that of other people there, it is wrong.”
The world governing body – the IAAF – only started storing blood and urine samples in 2005, meaning all records set before then are likely to be at risk. This would include Jonathan Edwards' triple jump world record in 1995 and Hicham El Guerrouj’s epic 1500m time of 3:26:00 in 1998.



Usain Bolt’s 100m and 200m records from 2009, and Wayde van Niekerk’s 400m record at Rio Olympics are likely to remain intact as they were set more recently.

Speaking at Nike’s Breaking 2 event at Monza, the 43-year-old added: “I find it hurtful that this insinuation is almost being made, with the premise with that ‘you are not dubious, but I think you’ll do it for the good of the sport’.”

“I don’t think it is for the good of the sport. I think we need to get investment in the testing, moving things forward. Maybe at some point in the future we can guarantee that every performance is completely clean.”

“For me now, I think it’s one more time that they are asking us clean athletes to pay the price for what cheats have done to the sport.”

“We had to compete against them, we’ve had to lose medals. We need to focus on getting the sport better, protect the clean athletes before we start making PR stunts again that make us suffer at the hands of the cheats.”

The IAAF are set to approve the proposal in July and it is expected to come into effect within the next 12 months.


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Breaking 2: Anything now possible for world's elite runners

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Eliud Kipchoge strolls into the press room, flashes a wink here and there, and looks as fresh as ever.

It’s hard to believe, just thirty minutes before, the 32-year-old ran the world’s fastest marathon of all time.

For the current Olympic champion over 42.195km, playing the starring role in Nike’s ambitious Breaking 2 project seemed like just another day at his running office as he fielded questions from the world media.

His stunning run at the iconic Monza circuit  – 2:00:25 – was 2:33 minutes faster than the world record set by Dennis Kimetto at the Berlin Marathon three years ago. Quite incredible.

However, when one looks at the history books it will not stand as an official record because of the pacing and hydration strategies employed by Nike during the race.

Nevertheless, the Kenyan has proved under intense spotlight and media attention that nothing is impossible when it comes to marathon running.

“This journey has been good. It’s been hard. It’s been a long journey. It’s taken seven good months of preparation,” he said.

“I’m happy to have done it. With the race I felt good, I’m a happy man to run a marathon in two hours. Now it is just 25 seconds.

“I believe in good preparation and planning and if I stick to that the 25 seconds will come.”

Nike’s Breaking 2 has been six years in the making with over 60 athletes tested to carry out the project. In the end, Lelisa Desisa, Zersenay Tadese and Kipchoge were selected due to a combination of talent, training and technology – and with this a chance to run a sub two-hour marathon.

Some of the world’s leading scientists were drafted in to offer their expertise, visiting the athletes in their home countries, to monitor their training and share advice on how they can improve their physical and aerobic standards.

In addition to the training and diet advice, the team also designed a lightweight shoe – Zoom Vaporfly Elite – with its carbon fibre in-sole created to offer a marginal gain to the elite of the sport.

The track at Monza – with its run-friendly curves and low headwind – offered quick turns and an opportunity for the runners to reduce or maintain pacing times at various points of the track.

Desisa and Tadesa may be disappointed at not finishing closer to the two-hour mark, but as Kipchoge paid homage to after the race, it’s a team sport and both athletes played a key role in pushing the Kenyan to achieve this landmark feat.

At 26, Desisa is six years Kipchoge’s junior, and with a personal best of 2:04:45 to his name, he has the potential to challenge the record books in the future.

What’s significant about Nike’s Breaking 2 is its ability to put the athlete at the forefront of the project and offer the best training and expertise to help talent achieve the impossible.

It may be a while before we see a sub-two hour time in an official race, but Breaking 2 has certainly given hope to a younger generation of athletes to continue to push the boundaries in their quest to achieve the inhumane.

Walking away from Monza this evening, it’s clear that this time will be challenged, but thanks to global brands like Nike, it can really open the eyes to the running community that this is possible.

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