You may have heard of Roger Bannister and his amazing feat of breaking the 4-minute mile mark in 1954. But the story leading up to this milestone of human performance often gets overlooked and is filled with drama and lessons on grit, determination, and a living a balanced life.
My guest today wrote a book sharing the story behind Bannister’s record and the two other men who were also vying to break it. His name is Neal Bascomb and his book is The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less than Four Minutes to Achieve It. We begin our discussion talking about the lead up to the race in which the 4-minute-mile barrier was broken and how many doctors in the early 20th century believed achieving this milestone was physiologically impossible. Neal then tells us about the lives of the three men racing to be the first to run a sub-4-minute mile, and shares insights from them on the way the ethos of sports has changed as it’s transformed from an amateur pursuit to a professional job, as well as the ability of people to push the limits of the human body by sheer mental will.
- Neal’s experience running and how he came to write about the race to break the 4-minute mile
- How long had people been trying to break the 4-minute mile?
- Why the mile is such a prestigious race
- Why didn’t physicians believe that breaking the 4-minute barrier was possible?
- How running as a sport was different in the early 20th century than it is now
- Being an amateur sportsman and adventurer in this time period
- The other men — besides the famed Roger Bannister — vying to win this race
- Bannister’s philosophy toward running and athletics
- The early sports science that went into this race
- The asterisk on Bannister’s record
- How big of a cultural event was the race to beat the 4-minute mile?
- What did these runners do after they stopped running competitively?
- What’s the record for the mile right now? Is there a threshold like 4 minutes that people are seeking?
- Did Neal learn anything about the good life from studying these athletes?
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Wes Santee
- 1,500M run at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics
- John Landy
- The History of American’s Physical Culture
- Podcast: How Bad Do You Want It?
- Podcast: The Sports Gene
- Podcast: The Myths and Truths of Distance Running
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Last updated: February 7, 2018