Hugh Jones: Think of it as an experiment

Updated: Oct 14, 2019, 08:24 IST | Hugh Jones | Mumbai

Mumbai Marathon course measurer Hugh Jones, who was behind Eliud Kipchoge on Saturday, recalls how the two-hour barrier was broken

Eliud Kipchoge
Eliud Kipchoge

I was the course measurer for the race in Vienna (Austria) where Eliud Kipchoge ran a 1:59:40 marathon. My job was to see he did not step 'outside' the inner orange tram line at the turns, because that could have meant that he had not run the official marathon distance of 42,195m.

I was on a bicycle, following Eliud Kipchoge every step of the way. It was just before dawn when I reached the bridge from where the #NOHUMANISLIMITED islimited challenge was to begin and you could not feel the excitement initially. The pacers were there warming up. Then, Kipchoge arrived and you could see the crowds that would eventually line that course coming in. People were making their way in cabs up onto the bridge where the course started. Then came the lights slicing through the mist, the cameras and suddenly the mood changed, from one of calm to turbo-charged.

Nervous start

There were a few minutes when Kipchoge had the bridge to himself and he could warm up in peace. I could see the police getting a little edgy, I could sense some nervousness about crowd control.

Kipchoge started a step behind the start line and I jumped on my bicycle in pursuit. There was a roundabout 1200m ahead and I had to ensure he did not step outside those lines on a fast, simple course.

EliudCrowds cheer Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge during his historic sub-two hour (1:59:40.2) marathon effort in Vienna on Saturday. Pic/AFP

There was a car controlling the pace and we were looking at a pace of 2.48 to 2.52 per kilometre. The noise level was deafening. Those that had lined the course were enthusiastic and seemed extremely well-informed about the sport. They knew exactly what Kipchoge had to do to get under that mark. There were so many riding their bicycles parallel to the course in the park.

Moment of doubt

As we approached the finish, I had my most overwhelming moment in the race, when Kipchoge broke free of his gridlock of pacemakers. He knew he was going to make it. I had a doubt at the 40-km mark when he came off the roundabout for the last time when the display board flashed up a kilometer split of 2.54. It went through my head, just for a second, that if he runs to the finish at this pace he will be off the mark — but that was not to be and Kipchoge went hell for leather towards the finish, with the car no longer in charge. It was mesmerising, magnificent and magical. As the crowds threatened to shatter the sound barrier, there was just Kipchoge and he was one with his body.

Scientific experiment

A day after, there is plenty of debate and some dissent, as Kipchoge's effort is discussed. I would call it a scientific experiment. It will be interesting to see if this could be done in regular race conditions.

We still have some way to go before the sub-two hour marathon can be run in open, classic race conditions. Yet, this has certainly given the world a target so to speak. Witnessing the #NOHUMANISLIMITED challenge is one for the ages and for the history pages.

As told to Hemal Ashar

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