The Four Minute Mile

Words - 404 Reading Level - 6.6

Before the 1950's, running the mile in under four minutes was considered impossible. Gradually though, times for the mile run did improve. By the early 1950's, it looked as though a four minute mile was indeed possible.

A British runner, Roger Bannister, decided to try to break the four minute barrier. The decision to work for this goal meant making a serious commitment. It meant that Bannister would have hours of painful, boring preparation ahead of him, but to Bannister, the goal was well worth the effort. In December, 1953, his training began. It included a series of ten consecutive quarter-mile sprints, to be done in sixty seconds each. He allowed himself a two minute rest after each quarter-mile. By early February of 1954, he had gotten his time down to sixty-one seconds; this meant a 4:04 mile. Here Roger reached a plateau. He couldn't seem to get his time for the quarter-mile down to 60 seconds. Finally, he and a friend took time away from training to go mountain climbing in Scotland for three days. This decision was considered quite reckless, since a sprained ankle could cost him weeks of valuable training. However, the mountain climbing break gave him the mental advantage he needed. When he resumed training, he ran the ten quarter-miles again; his time was down to 59 seconds for each quarter-mile sprint.

Roger had planned his training exactly right. He would be at his peak, physically and mentally, for the race against Oxford. But first, he had to run in the three-quarter mile trials at Paddington. If his time were over three minutes, even a tenth of a second, a mile in under four minutes would be impossible. At Paddington, his time was just under three minutes--good enough.

Assuming everything went well, Bannister was now in a good position to break the four minute mark at Oxford. When race day arrived, gale force winds were blowing and running conditions were poor. What a tough decision! Should he run, going for the record? Or, should he wait for the next race, days later, hoping for the weather to improve? If he did wait, he risked losing his peak physical and mental condition. Bannister decided to go ahead. It was the right decision. At race time, the wind died somewhat, and Bannister ran effortlessly, the fastest mile in human history -- in under four minutes.