Women's Sports: Ineos Project 1:59 shows why women's records still aren't valued as much as men's

The Virgin Money London Marathon

I was running the Berlin Marathon the same year Eliud Kipchoge set the current men's marathon world record. As I slowly kept my tired legs heading towards the finish line, a spectator held up a sign on the side of the road announcing his time – 2:01:39. This superhuman record gave me the inspiration I needed to keep going.

Kipchoge's time, twice as fast as my own effort and over a minute quicker than the previous record of 2:02:57, was only set last year. At this year's Berlin Marathon, the record was very nearly broken again when Kenenisa Bekele ran just two seconds slower than Kipchoge's record. 

In contrast, the women's marathon world record currently stands at 2:15:25 and hasn't been broken since Paula Radcliffe's awe-inspiring London Marathon run in 2003.

Given the longstanding nature of Radcliffe's record, you'd think that breaking the women's record is a more greatly anticipated feat than the men's – after all, in the time since Radcliffe set her's the men's has been broken six times.

Instead, first Nike in 2017 and now Ineos this weekend with the Ineos 1:59 challenge, are pouring money into breaking the two-hour marathon barrier with little-to-no consideration for the women's record. While Eliud Kipchoge is gearing up to try an attempt something no man has ever done before, run a marathon in one hour 59 seconds there are no women gearing up to attempt the equivalent.

Yes, it's slightly more complicated for the women's record in so much as there are actually two records – one set in a race with men (Paula's) and another set in 2017 by Mary Keitany following a rule change that just counted races with women that stands at 2:17:01. It's also worth noting that if Kipchoge does break the barrier, it's likely not to count as an official world record due to the swapping in-and-out of pacers to help him maintain his speed.

All conditions including the date, time and location – Vienna – have also been chosen to maximise his chances. Arranging everything must cost Ineos a fortune but with the logistics in place for Kipchoge, surely the offer to run could also be extended to a female marathon runner like Keitany or Ruth Chepngetich, who ran 2:17:08 in January of this year. Wouldn't breaking two world records in a day be an even better business?

What's more, this attempt comes at a time when women's sports have supposedly never been more profitable for brands – it's getting more coveragemore investment and more spectators.  Women’s sport clearly sells, so the lack of equality in this marathon attempt shows that men’s athletic achievements are still valued above and beyond those of women. 

2018 TCS New York City Marathon

Even in athletics where men and women have long been given equal billing, this omission highlights how men in sport still continue to be prioritised ahead of women. The glamour of a one hour 59-minute marathon is being celebrated, over breaking the much more long-standing, and arguably, therefore, more challenging women's record.

Much has been written about whether Radcliffe's record is already the equivalent to the men dipping under two hours, such as the speed at which she ran. That doesn't mean women should be excluded from attempts like Ineos Project 1:59. Just like we'll never know if a man can run under two hours unless we try, we'll also never know if a woman can run under two hours 15 without giving athletes the opportunity.

This isn't to diminish the talent of Eliud Kipchoge – he ran only 25 seconds over two hours when he tried to break the barrier with Nike and his running is inspirational to all. But if a business is willing to pour resources into assisting a new record for the men, why can't they do the same for the women?

Ineos is tweeting about the endeavour with the hashtag #NoHumanIsLimited but let's be honest, it should be #NoManIsLimited because until the same opportunities in sport are afforded to women as men, it's not an even playing field.

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