Brain Food #819: The four-minute mile
The freedom of enjoying the run
Thoughts of the day
One of the most unattainable sporting achievements for nearly a century was the four-minute mile. It involved the completion of a one-mile run in under four minutes, what was once perceived as an impossible feat. Countless athletes unsuccessfully attempted to break it for decades, with the earliest recorded attempt made in 1886.
This was until Roger Bannister, who was not even a professional athlete but a full-time student at Oxford, broke the four-minute mile on May 6, 1954.
46 days later, it was broken for the second time, by an Australian called John Landy. Landy had made it his goal to be the first to break the four-minute mile, repeatedly trying and failing. Once, after a race where he had missed the mark by just two seconds, he said, “Frankly, I think the four-minute mile is beyond my capabilities. Two seconds may not sound much, but to me it’s like trying to break through a brick wall. Someone may achieve the four-minute mile the world is wanting so desperately, but I don’t think I can.”
The four-minute mile was broken three times in one year, and more than one thousand times since 1954. Once the barrier was broken, especially the mental one, the achievement suddenly became possible.
The four-minute mile is a paradigm of limiting beliefs, representing the preconceptions that establish what is conventionally possible, but also the implications of self-imposed goals, when one measures their entire life’s worth through their achievements. These often only exist in our minds. When you find yourself saying “This is not possible,” or “I am not good enough,” ask yourself why. It may be the case of another four-minute mile.
Perhaps, as Bannister suggested, everything might become a little more possible when we focus less on the achievement, and more on the freedom of enjoying the run:
“We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves. The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, ‘You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.’ The human spirit is indomitable.”
Thank you for reading today’s Brain Food. Brain Food is a short newsletter that aims to make you think without taking up too much of your time. If you know someone who would like this post, consider spreading the word and forwarding it to them. Brain Food wouldn’t exist without the support of its readers.
And if you have just come across Brain Food, you can subscribe to it below:
For longer thoughts and Brain Food highlights from the archives, visit Medium.