Of Marathons and Lockdowns

I watched the BBCs documentary Eliud Kipchoge : My Sub Two-hour Marathon about Eliud Kipchoge’s successful attempt to run a marathon in under two hours.

At the time of the event much was made of the fact that it was not run in competition, that special shoes were made, that it was run on a carefully selected course and there were a whole team of pacemakers. Because of these things, the time is not the official marathon record.

The documentary compares the breaking of two hours for the marathon to Roger Bannister’s breaking of the four minute mile. That event also courted controversy at the time as it was at a specifically selected athletics meet, and had pacemakers planted in the field.

For me the thing that is fascinating, beyond the shear physical feat, is that shortly after the four minute barrier was broken it was broken a few more times by different people and in open competition too. From being seen as almost impossible, it became almost normal very quickly.

I am sure the same is true of the two hour barrier for the marathon, that we will see it being broken in normal events before too long. In both these events it is not really the physical barrier that has been broken, but the mental one; athletes now know it is possible, mindsets are irreversibly altered.

Thinking of the lockdowns that many of us around the world are enduring, and the discussions about whether businesses will return to normal’ once restrictions are lifted. From a distributed working point of view, I don’t think they will. The heads of big organisations are already voicing that they think things will be different. We have seen that for many people distributed working is possible and effective even with, in many cases, the rapid cobbling together of existing technologies rather than anything new. These lockdowns have shown what is possible, the barriers are being broken, mindsets are altering. There is no going back. Normal has been changed.

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