Within the Nike Science Analysis Lab: What each runner can be taught from the 2-hour marathon

“Most people remember Breaking2 as a spectacle. Three runners, pacemakers, large crowds and a race track in Italy try to cross one of the last big thresholds in sport. But it started humble on a whiteboard years ago, ”said Brett Kirby, a human performance researcher at the Nike Science Research Lab (NSRL), who quartered the project.

Kirby, a self-described academic, has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences and taught at both Duke and the University of Oregon before joining Nike. He examines the physiology of the world’s best athletes – how heart, neurology and muscle systems work together. “It’s a mix of art and science,” he explains. “A holistic view of athletes that helps them get the most out of their skills.”

Photo: Courtesy of NIKE

The NSRL is a team of 60 people with a wide variety of backgrounds: biomechanical researchers, computer scientists, behavior experts and data scientists. They work on a variety of projects, from the FuelBand and Nike Training Club app to human endurance services like Breaking2. The laboratory, says Kirby, is meant to stimulate the imagination. “We want people to question their perceived obstacles, such as how fast they can run,” he says.

Many of the world’s best professional runners have declined Breaking2 because of concerns about new training strategies. “There is always a risk of changing your training, but all three bought up straight away,” says Kirby. “We had to juggle against the opposing forces – try new strategies and didn’t stay consistent for long. We had to be clear about how we did it. We’ve made changes very slowly. “

As a liaison behind the scenes between Nike and the athletes, Kirby built the architecture of the project and balanced training plans and course logistics with the big show of the event. In the end, he was proud of how it worked. “I was surprised at how close they got to the two-hour barrier, and I was surprised at the world’s appetite,” he explains. “I just wish we had changed to give others that opportunity.”

If you want to overcome running barriers, Kirby offers these lessons that every runner can use.

Shoe fit

“It’s pretty important for several reasons, but maybe not what most would expect. Of course, a good fit reduces injuries and blisters, but the perceived fit is a hygge deal. Psychological fit is real. Runner who is more confident and feel safer, run faster. “

NikePhoto: Courtesy of NIKE

Hot and cold therapy

“This domain is beginning to shift with recently published literature. Historical information has always relied on ice baths, but some recent studies show that regular ice baths can actually decrease adjustment and slow your progression. There is growing evidence that heat is more effective during warm-up and after exercise. “


“There is strong consensus that the most important thing you can do is take protein and carbohydrates after exercise, especially if you’ve worked hard. This is true, but the debate over the exact amount of grams is sometimes possible too short.

“The most important part is timing. It has to be instant. We learned this with our runners who come from different cultures and eat different foods. We focused a lot more on timing than the exact things they ate and it worked well. “

NikePhoto: Courtesy of NIKE

Load management

“It’s really different for everyone. What I’m going to say is that you have to be consistently slow with introducing new things. It’s important to dream big, but take your time to get there. This applies to speed with which you install and remove the load.

“Often the athletes knew better than us when they needed a day off so the body could recover, and we always listened to that.”

NikePhoto: Courtesy of NIKE

Cross training

“We have seen some positive effects of crossing training, especially when it is targeted. It can help build strength in areas that are not activated while running.

“For example, some bike or core exercises can train sleepy muscles that are not used often during a training run. However, later in a race, we use these muscles and they need support.”


“As much as you can. This is the best way to recover and get stronger. Probably can’t stress this enough.”

NikePhoto: Courtesy of NIKE


“There is more and more data on the benefits of massage and percussion therapy, but the most important thing is what an athlete thinks is right for his body. What they like and what they perceive helps them.

“We have a lot of athletes who are against a lot of the literature and who are still great. We have learned from all this research to reconcile what is important to them with the fine print. “

NikePhoto: Courtesy of NIKE


“During COVID-19 there is so much additional stress and the compromises are great at the moment. It is always a compromise to take the time to train and sometimes it is better if you develop further.

“If you miss a workout, don’t stress it. It can be more harmful than good.”

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