Breaking the two-hour marathon barrier

Safaricom has joined hands with the Vodafone Group to deliver industry-leading Internet of Things technology to Kenyan athletes in a bid to help them break the two hour marathon mark.

The athletes are trying to shave at least two minutes off the World Record 2:02:57 set by Dennis Kimetto in September 2014 at the Berlin Marathon. Safaricom and Vodafone are working with a group of specialist scientists, the world’s best marathon runners, and other industry partners in a project called SUB2 (www. to help break that record.

Vodafone has built a SUB2 smart watch app to provide telemetry with enhanced location tracking using mobile networks. SUB2 aims to leave a legacy for athletics by demonstrating how science and technology can fairly help athletes improve their performance.

Working with partners, Vodafone engineers enabled a series of body sensors to communicate with the SUB2 app over a mobile network. On contact time, cadence and strike angle, motion sensors from Gait Up, a spin-out from the University Hospital of Lausanne and the Swiss Institute of Technology of Lausanne provide 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.

For 3D visualisation, technology from a start-up called Notch can reconstruct running movements in 3D on a smartphone or laptop, which can help those responsible for an athlete’s care and performance implement corrective running strategies.

For skin and land surface temperature, the SUB2 app uses sensors from French lab Bodycap to inform athletes if they are hotter than expected during a run and should change their water intake strategy. The team expect to also be able to show core temperature within the app in the near future.

The technology, which was demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain earlier this month, is currently in use at the Iten and Eldoret training grounds in Kenya. The technology has been deployed on a two kilometre stretch within the hilly Iten area, and a 16 kilometre stretch on the flat South Moiben route in Eldoret. The sensors give coaches live access to real-time data as athletes train, helping them understand the root causes of injuries or performance degradation, and how these can be avoided.