The Perfect Mile - Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It
How much do I want to read more? 7/10
I love the mindset, the way man can go beyond what's possible. This "4 min barrier" for running the mile illustrate how strong our belief can pull us back.
It beautiful unveil how our possibilities seems endless as long as we shape them with the power fuelled in our mind.
It seems like a long read, but I'm definitely curious to read more.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
-- rudyard kipling, “If”
"How did he know he would not die?" a Frenchman asked of the first runner to break the four-minute mile.
Half a century ago the ambition to achieve that goal equaled scaling Everest or sailing alone around the world. Most people considered running four laps of the track in four minutes to be beyond the limits of human speed.
Some thought that rather than a lifetime of glory, honor, and fortune, a hearse would be waiting for the first person to accomplish the feat.
The four-minute mile: this was the barrier, both physical and psy- chological, that begged to be broken.
The number had a certain mathe- matical elegance. " four laps, four quarter miles, four-point-oh-oh minutes — that it seemed God himself had established it as man’s limit"
For decades the best middle-distance runners had tried and failed. They had come to within two seconds, but that was as close as they were able to get.
Running the mile was an art form in itself. Unline sprint or marathon, it required a balance of speed and stamina.
The person to break that barrier would have to be fast, diligently trained, and supremely aware of his body.
ultimately a battle with oneself, over oneself.
In August 1952 the battle commenced. Three young men in their early twenties set out to be the first to break the barrier.
- Wes Santee: Born to run fast: “He just flat believed he was better than anybody else,” Few knew that running was his escape from a brutal childhood.
- John Landy: who trained harder than anyone else. He said, “I’d rather lose a 3:58 mile than win one in 4:10.” Landy ran night and day, across fields, through woods, up sand dunes, along the beach in knee-deep surf. Running revealed to him a discipline he never knew he had.
- Roger Bannister: English medical student. the amateur athlete. For Bannister the four-minute mile was “a challenge of the human spirit,” but one to be realized with a calculated plan.
All three runners endured thousands of hours of training to shape their bodies and minds. They ran more miles in a year than many of us walk in a lifetime.
They spent a large part of their youth struggling for breath. They trained week after week to the point of collapse, all to shave off a second, maybe two, during a mile race.
training sessions in rain, sleet, snow, and scorching heat.
They understood that life was somehow different for them, that idle happiness eluded them.
the three runners, whose achievements at- tracted media attention to track and field that has never been equaled since.
Millions around the world followed every at- tempt. When each runner failed — and there were many failures — he was criticized for coming up short, for not having what it took. Each such episode only motivated the others to try harder.
of the three men only Santee enjoyed the publicity, and that proved to be more of a burden than an advantage.
finan- cial reward was hardly a factor. The reward was in the effort.
After four soul-crushing laps around the track, one of the three fi- nally breasted the tape in 3:59.4, but the race did not end there.
yet the ultimate question remained: who would be the best when they toed the starting line together?
It occurred in a race 120 yards short of a mile at the 1,500- meter Olympic final in Helsinki, Finland, almost two years to the day before the greatest of triumphs.
Part 1 -A REASON TO RUN
I have now learned better than to have my races dictated by the public and the press, so I did not throw away a certain championship merely to amuse the crowd and be spectacular.
-- Jack Lovelock, 1936 Olympic Gold Medalist
“Bannister had terrific grace, a terrific long stride, he seemed to ooze power. It was as if the Greeks had come back and brought to show you what the true Olympic runner was like.”
Bannister was tall—six foot one—and slender of limb. He had a chest like an engine block and long arms that moved like pistons. He flowed over the track, the very picture of economy of motion.
Some said he could have walked a tightrope as easily as a track, so balanced and even was his foot placement. There was no jarring shift of gears when he accelerated, only a quiet, even increase in tempo. Bannister loved that moment of acceleration at the end of a race when he drew upon the strength of leg, lung, and will to surge ahead. Yes, Bannister ran, but it was so much more than that.