The sub-2 hour marathon is one of sport's most imposing and intimidating barriers, perhaps even more daunting than the 4-minute mile barrier ever was.

The possibility of running a marathon in under two hours is deemed impossible by some but a UK-based team have devised a project with the aim of breaking this most revered of records in the very near future. Professor Yannis Pitsiladis, a Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Brighton, is leading the SUB2 project, which was launched in December last year and has the aim of guiding an athlete below the two hour mark for the marathon within five years.

The current world record is 2 hours 2 minutes 57 seconds, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya in Berlin last September, but Pitsiladis believes he and his team can help an athlete run 1:59.59 by 2019. This is an exceptionally ambitious claim - for an athlete to run 26.1 miles in under two hours requires running each mile under 4 minutes 35 seconds, an average speed of 13.1mph, but it is a goal which he believes is achievable.

Pitsiladis' background is in anti-doping and the 47 year-old has worked tirelessly throughout his career in search of methods of preventing and detecting doping. He was based at the University of Glasgow for almost 20 years until he departed south last year and has been involved with everyone who is anyone in the world of sport including the IOC and WADA. It is this current project which may prove to be his most challenging to date, though.

While some commentators such as the award-winning author, David Epstein, are skeptical that a sub-2 hour marathon can ever be achieved, others, such as the reigning Olympic marathon champion, Stephen Kiprotich, are confident it will happen although he claims a time-scale on such a record is impossible to impose. Pitsiladis is far more confident though and this is not based merely on blind hope - rather it is based on a belief that he can improve every aspect of an athlete's preparation to such an extent that dipping under two hours is a realistic aim.

"We have assembled some of the most eminent scientists in their field and each will manage a specific work package of the project," he explains. "Some of the areas we will look at are nutrition, biomechanics, race preparation, product development, technology sports medicine and physiotherapy and bioenergetics. And there's more." Despite having the input of the best minds in their field, the project's target remains exceedingly demanding. In the past five years, the world record has only been lowered by one minute and two seconds yet Pitsiladis is aiming to slice almost three minutes off it in the next five years. "The project will cost around $30 million and much of that money will go towards these work packages, as well as prize money for the athletes. We want people like Paula Radcliffe and Barry Fudge, Mo Farah's physiologist, involved and we also have a strict drug-testing programme- we must make sure that our athletes are clean because we want to prove that this can be done without doping."

That the 2-hour barrier is broken by a clean athlete is imperative, says Pitsiladis. This project was conceived with the aim of producing a 'good-news' athletics story in the face of the countless damaging doping cases which have emerged out of Russia and other countries in recent months. "Athletes take drugs because they work, but we want to convince the athletic community that you don't need to go down that route to achieve peak performance," says Pitsiladis. "Sports science and sports medicine is in urgent need of modernising so our project is about convincing athletes that if we invest in proper support and proper technology, then we know we can do quite amazing things."

There are, Pitsiladis explains, a number of qualities which an individual must possess to make them a world-class distance runner: a good engine, good economy when running or the ability to utilise fuel well. This project aims to find an individual who has them all. And there are other attributes which are necessary too. "The mental side is absolutely essential," he says. "When I worked with athletes like Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, they were able to push themselves to their absolute limit. That's their limit based on the preparations that they've done though, we don't expect someone to push themselves to 150%. With this project, we will prepare the athletes in a way that if they can push themselves, they could do something quite special."

Pitsiladis is infectiously confident in his belief that his project will succeed. He suspects it may be an up-and-coming athlete rather than an already established one who benefits from SUB2 as he feels that to do as many interventions as the project requires would be nigh on impossible with a more experienced athlete. He believes that if and when the 2-hour barrier is broken, there could be a raft of sub-2 hour marathons, just as there was with the four-minute mile. "It's an incredibly exciting project," he says. "I think that this could completely change the way we look at sport and how we deal with the anti-doping side of things because at the moment, the anti-doping isn't working. Currently, we can't convince athletes that doping is not the route they should go down- we want to show them that there are real alternatives out there."