The current marathon world record of 2:02:57 was set by Kenyan athlete Dennis Kimetto at the Berlin Marathon in September 2014. Now Kenyan mobile network operator Safaricom has joined Vodafone, a group of specialist scientists, the world’s best marathon runners and other industry partners to break that record – with some help from IoT technology.

The team believes a sub-two-hour marathon can be achieved within five years “by applying a dedicated scientific approach involving the very latest knowledge in key areas such as genetics, bioenergetics, biomechanics, nutrition, sports engineering and coaching and performance science.”

The project, called SUB2, was founded by Yannis Pitsiladis, a professor of sport and exercise science at the University of Brighton in the UK. He is also a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Medical and Scientific Commission.

Vodafone has built the SUB2 app for smart watches running Android 2.0. These are able to communicate directly over a cellular network without needing an intermediary cellphone.

The app is used with a number of sensors worn by the athlete that provide telemetry and enhanced location tracking. It connects to a cloud-based portal so that the athlete’s training team can view the data on a desktop, tablet or a smartphone in real time.

Various partners have contributed their technology to enable the app to provide a huge amount of information about the runners’ performance, in real time, including:

  • Contact time, cadence and strike angle, with motion sensors from Gait Up, a spin-out from the University Hospital of Lausanne and the Swiss Institute of Technology of Lausanne, providing running efficiency metrics that will help physiologists working in coaching teams to determine an athlete’s running mechanics and communicate advice for injury avoidance and performance enhancement, even while they are still out on a training run
  • 3D visualisation technology from startup Notch which can reconstruct running movements in 3D on a smartphone or laptop, helping those responsible for an athlete’s care and performance implement corrective running strategies
  • Skin and land surface temperature using sensors from French lab Bodycap the SUB2 app can inform athletes if they are hotter than expected during a run and should change their water intake strategy. The team expects to also be able to show the athlete’s core temperature within the app in the near future.

And the two-hour marathon record breaker? According to SUB2, “Based on what is presently known, whoever breaks the two hour barrier will have a favourable genetic profile (yet to be determined), an outstanding running economy and small body size along with chronic exposure to high altitude and significant physical activity early in life. Current trends also suggest that an East African will be the first to break the 2hr barrier.”