Hoogkamer Predicts Marathon Runner Will Break 2-Hour Barrier in the Ineos159 Challenge

UMass Amherst Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Wouter Hoogkamer

Wouter Hoogkamer

October 10, 2019

Editor's Note: This story appeared hours before marathon runner Kipchoge broke the 2-hour marathon barrier.

As the running world eagerly looks on this weekend, Kenyan distance runner Eliud Kipchoge will set out on a tree-lined course in Vienna for his second attempt to break the fabled 2-hour marathon barrier.

To do so, he’ll have to shave 26 seconds off his previous bid in May 2017 at an Italian auto racing track, dipping his per-mile pace below an unfathomable 4 minutes, 35 seconds per mile.

Wouter Hoogkamer, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, thinks Kipchoge can do it. His confidence is rooted in years of research, including a recent study he co-authored that mathematically assessed the course Kipchoge will be running in Vienna. The new research, published on SportRxiv, is a preprint study (not yet peer-reviewed but using the same algorithm from previous, peer-reviewed publications). 

Compared to the Italian track, “this course is less hilly, has fewer curves and will have more spectators,” says Hoogkamer, a former postdoctoral researcher in the Locomotion Lab of Colorado University Boulder professor Rodger Kram, co-author of the new study.

The Vienna course is only about 4.5 seconds slower than a perfectly level and straight course, and of that, the nine traffic circles amount to only about a half-second delay. “It turns out, undulations and curves have a very small effect – even smaller than we had anticipated,” says Hoogkamer, who ultimately hopes to use such calculations to help everyday runners better predict their road marathon times.

The authors note that they did not assess aerodynamics or footwear in their models. Kipchoge is expected to wear some upgraded version of Nike’s Vaporfly 4% shoes, which got their name from research Hoogkamer and colleagues completed showing the shoes can reduce the metabolic cost of running by 4 percent.

Saturday’s attempt cannot officially count as a new marathon record (Kipchoge holds that, too, at 2:01:39 from the Berlin Marathon) because the runner will use a pace car and team of rotating running pacers to keep him on track.