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The Four Minute Mile

Every four years the world turns its eyes toward the next nation to host the Summer Olympic Games.  And during these games, men and women of all nationalities will compete in feats of strength, endurance, agility, and stamina.  But there was a time once, as near as the age of some reading this (more than barely fifty years ago), there was a limit, a barrier that never was believed to be breakable.  The four-minute mile was declared by all history and all men to be impossible.

Even as far back as ancient Greece, it was considered impossible.  Ancient Greek records report how they even tried having wild animals chase the runners in an effort to increase their speed.  All to no avail, the four minute mile was impossible.

It was even believed by some that if you did run faster than that, you'd die.  Your heart wouldn't stand the pressure.  The bones in your legs would be forced to break and your muscles would tear themselves apart if you dared manage to exert that much force and agility as quickly as a four minute mile.  It was impossible!

Once there was a young man who's parents moved with him from their small home in Sussex to London.  Moving to a new school is hard, a boy can feel unpopular.  So, alone, this boy would run back and forth to school.  His great speed won him a spot on the school's track team, and this soon won him the acceptance we all desire.  And finally it won him a scholarship into Oxford.

The young student went to Oxford to study medicine.  At Oxford he again joined the track team and did impressively well.  In 1951 he won the British title in the mile and decided he was ready for Olympic competition.  But unfortunately, the conditions of the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki prevented the runner from being allowed to rest between events, as was his custom, so he took only fourth place in the 1500 meter run.  Scorned by the British press for not accepting conventional coaching and training methods, the young runner came home to an unhappy crowd.

Resolving to redeem himself, the runner continued to practice his sport.  But more focused on his medical studies than on athletics, he only allotted himself 45 minutes a day to train.  But he continued to see his time improving on his laps as he was convinced that slow and steady training would enable him to break the unbreakable record.

In May 6, 1954, in a track meet at his Alma Matter, Oxford, Roger Bannister attempted to break the four minute barrier.  Regardless of his concerns about the wind and rain possibly affecting his performance, Bannister reached the his first lap's time in only 57.5 second, one quarter of the journey.  His second lap ended, the half mile, in 1 minute 58 seconds!  At three quarters of a mile, the bell rang marking the last lap and Bannister's time was announced at 3 minutes 7 seconds!  The crowd began to roar in excitement.  With little more than 300 yards left to go into the final leg of the race, Bannister found himself overcome by a competitor who pushed past him - but this did not stop Bannister, who picked up his pace just a little more.  Around the final bend of the track, Bannister ran past into first place again, seemingly pulled out of his body by his mind toward the yellow tape and a final leap into victory.  The race ended and Roger Bannister had broken the world's speed record for the Mile at 3 minutes 59 seconds.  Banister collapsed on the field as the myth of man's limitation collapsed into history.

Now that might seem like an extraordinary story in itself.  But it isn't!  Even though over 10,000 years of history had proven that only someone like Roger Bannister could accomplish this feat, it became suddenly proven within 10 years that 336 other runners would break that four minute mile barrier.  In no time at all, once the myth was shattered, the myth lost complete power.

What happened?  Simple - the limit was all in the athlete's mind.

The battles you face, the limits you believe you must endure, are all in your mind.  If you are already defeated in your mind, you've lost the battle.  If you don't believe it can happen, it can't.  If you don't imagine you have what it takes to rise up and set a new standard for yourself, you won't.  The barrier is in your mind.

# re: The Four Minute Mile @ Monday, April 28, 2008 4:45 PM
Great post about Sir Roger Bannister - certainly one of my heroes.

I'm afraid you're slightly mistaken about the race, though.  Bannister reached the end of the 3rd lap at 3:00.5.  Also, there was no competitor who pushed past him at 300 meters.  You can see the entire race at BBC here:
# re: The Four Minute Mile @ Tuesday, May 20, 2008 8:14 AM
At the beginning of the last lap, which you mark at 3.05 (correctly), Bannister was two seconds behind in second place, marking his lap at 3.07.  Since I didn't specify (as the History Channel's website didn't specify) exactly where just below the 300 meters remaining in the race Banister was overtaken by a competitor, my blog has no errors.  My blog and the video link coincide - I just wasn't very specific in some details.  Thanks though.
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