Billion-dollar race to break 2-hour marathon mark is afoot

LONDON — The two-hour marathon.

For distance runners, it’s a mystical goal equivalent to the four-minute mile that Roger Bannister broke in 1954; a test so difficult some have estimated it may be 50 years or more before anyone achieves it.

Now the $270 billion market for athletic shoes and apparel is fueling an assault on the mark.

Nike and Adidas have announced separate plans to attack the barrier, with both introducing shoe lines linked to the effort. Wireless tech giant Vodafone last month said it was backing a third bid, hoping data gleaned from the quest will translate into wearable technology.

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The leader so far is Nike, which came within a whisper of the barrier with a time of 2:00:25 in a run with top athletes on May 6. But Yannis Pitsiladis, a professor of sport and exercise science at the University of Brighton, England, may be the tortoise in this race with Nike’s hare. He says running a 2-hour marathon will require a coordinated scientific effort and aims to raise $30 million for a project that will increase the understanding of the limits of human performance. Vodafone is backing Pitsiladis.

“Nike are doing this because they realized, ‘Wow, I can sell more shoes,’” he said. “For me, this is not marketing. It’s what humans can do when they work together. It’s about human ambition, human legacy. It’s like a journey to Mars.”

Nike, which built its brand on the exploits of Michael Jordan and legions of runners wearing Nike’s trademark Swoosh, is already selling shoes developed as part of its Breaking2 project. The Nike Zoom VaporFly 4% model features an aerodynamic heel and carbon fiber plate, which Nike says will make runners 4 percent more efficient than its previous top-line marathon shoe. The price: $250 a pair.

“Breaking2 is a quest to fully measure the extent of what the body is capable of,” the company said by email. “Nike…

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