The 4 Minute Mile.
The 4 minute mile is the term used to describe the ‘perceived’ barrier that existed as runners tried in vain to run faster than 4 minutes to complete the distance. For 9 years the 4 minute mile record stood at 4.01 seconds, then on the 6th May 1954 Roger Banister ran the distance in 3.59.4.
The barrier to beat the 4 minute mile existed because people said it couldn’t be done, scientist said that the human body was incapable of running the mile (which is 1760 yards or 1609 meters) in less than 4 minutes. In the words of Roger Banister himself;
“Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt. Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.”
Since 1954 the 4 minute mile has been bettered by 17 seconds and in the year following at least 24 other people ran quicker than the 4 minute mile, and over 300 people ran the 4 minute mile the year after that.
The story of the 4 minute mile made made Roger Banister a national hero in the UK, but I believe we learn more about life when we hear the story of John Landy an Australian athlete and one of Banister’s main rivals. In his own words Landy said about the 4 minute mile after failing to break the 4 minute mile barrier;
“It’s a brick wall I shall not attempt it again”
Yet once Banister broke the 4 minute mile Landy later ran 3.57.9 soon after, this opened the flood gates to many others, this shows us that once we break a barrier it’s far easier to do so again from there on.
The difference is nicely put in the famous quote from Henry Ford;
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”
Sometimes all it takes is positive thinking and self belief because that is the difference that makes the difference to break away from what is holds us back.
In life we have times when opportunities arise, we may also have the capacity to be successful, but what holds us back are the internal barriers we create for ourselves and the external validation that some people need to know that something is possible before they even try.
Without limiting belief and knowing it was now possible John Landy knocked nearly 2 seconds off the world record time for the mile later that year, the story however doesn’t end there;
On the 7th of August 1954 there were only 2 men Banister and Landy who had ever bettered the 4 minute mile, they were now racing head to head in Vancouver at the Empire and Commonwealth games their race was labeled ‘The Miracle Mile’.
Landy lead from the front and for much of the race he had 5 meters on Banister that was until the last lap, when fearing Banister was catching up with him on the back straight and during a moment of self doubt Landy looked over his left shoulder and lost his focus, Banister then burst past him on the right, Banister won in 3.58.8, Landy came a close second in 3.59.6.
A bronze sculpture of the two men was later made to celebrate this race and that to beat the 4 minute mile barrier, Landy later said about the sculpture; “While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”
This story illustrates the effect of the limiting beliefs that caused the creation of the 4 minute mile barrier, just like how we can create self imposed barriers for ourselves every day. In the head to head race between Banister and Landy perhaps self doubt and loss of focus also crept in and had an effect on the result.
These two men were two remarkable athletes, but it doesn’t have to be the 4 minute mile, there are always going to be obstacles and barriers in our lives, we will also have times of self doubt, it also takes a special kind of mindset to set you apart from the average person and break away from what is holding you back.