Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, Boston’s Heartbreak Hill, London’s Thames river scape, New York City’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the broad expanse of Lake Michigan. These are some of the defining features of the world’s most famous marathon courses. Each year, thousands of runners train to tackle them — gearing up not just for the challenge of covering 26.2 miles, but also for the unique weather and road conditions of each.
For most runners, simply getting across the distance is enough. Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese, the athletes involved in Nike’s Breaking2 moonshot, have a more audacious aim: breaking the two-hour barrier, a holy grail for running.
Roaring engines and hustling pit crews rarely enter the marathon vision. However, grand ambition requires unconventional thinking. Thus, in service of Kipchoge, Desisa and Tadese’s attempt, the diverse Breaking2 team shifted locational focus from the traditional city-based course to an icon of speed, an auto racing track.
Determining the ideal race location necessitates a unique set of environmental characteristics, with consideration of altitude, temperature and vapor pressure at the tip of the iceberg. The goal is singular: optimize conditions.
After scouring the world to find the most suitable site, the Breaking2 team landed on a fixed 2.4km loop at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza complex outside Milan, Italy.
At base, the location covers off the environmental essentials. The temperature hovers around 12 degrees Celsius and vapor pressure is under 12mmHg. Additionally, skies are typically overcast (minimizing heat load on the runners) and air currents don’t exhibit drastic directional shifts — thanks to the course being perfectly situated off shore and amid many trees.
Of course, those data points and environmental circumstances alone don’t guarantee breaking the two-hour barrier. The loop layout, length of course and elevation meet other essential criteria to optimize the attempt.
Here’s a breakdown of the rest:
Asphalt — while asphalt is the preferred road surface, the Monza track also ensures great consistency underfoot
Cambered sections — the course's lack of banks provides a clear, even pitch throughout the loop
Length — At 2.4km, the course allows for perfect management of pacing, hydration, nutrition and support team transitions
Weather — A 6-year historical weather analysis of Monza with comparative exploration of the fastest marathon conditions in history confirmed the locations potential for optimum performance