Goal Achievement At 4 Minutes A Mile!

"Gordon Bryan" May 6th 2014 sees the 60th anniversary of Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile barrier. As someone who’s been writing about goal achievement for many years, I couldn’t let something like that pass by without comment, but I want to start by going back *62* years…

In the days before fill time athletes, Bannister was combining his training with qualifying to become a doctor, so he got by on an amount of training that would be considered laughable today.

Having shown natural talent as a teenager, he found himself a well fancied chance in the 1500 metres at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. However, he didn’t fancy his own chances because there had been a semi final introduced, and he knew that this would play into the hands of the runners with a heavier training regime.

Bannister broke the British record, but finished in the dreaded 4th position. He did consider giving up his running, but instead set a new goal for himself – to break the 4 minute mile.

No-one had ever run under 4 minutes, and people outside the running world thought it impossible, with the mark of 4 minutes offering a nice round target. The running world itself though, knew it was just a matter of time(!) before that barrier was broken.

Bannister set his training plans with this one aim in mind, and began using 2 pacemakers in his races. In May 1953 he ran a British record of 4.03, at which point the knew he would break 4 minutes, he just didn’t know by when, or if he would be the first.

Other runners were closing in on the mark, notably Australian John Lindy who ran 4.02 in April 1954. Lindy would not run again until he had travelled to Europe, so Bannister knew he had a window of opportunity.

May 6th 1954.

A cold, windy day, a cinder track in Oxford. Bannister didn’t want to run, feeling the conditions weren’t suitable, but the wind dropped just before the race, so he set off. He planned to break the barrier by running a steady 60 seconds for all 4 laps, and his 2 pacemakers did the job, with Bannister yelling at them when he felt them slowing.

In the picture above that’s Roger running that mile on May 6th 1954, sandwiched between his pacemakers Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway. Quite impressed that they had time to stop and sign the photo too!

Just over half a lap from the finish, Bannister launched his kick finish, crossing the line in 3.59.4.

That world record lasted only 46 days, until Lindy broke it, and although Bannister would set further British records, he never held the world record again. His place in history was set though.

4 minutes is ‘just’ an established time now for top level runners, in fact the world record is 3.43, and only 13 men have lowered the world record since Bannister. That shows the quality of the feat 60 years later. Let’s put it like this, I don’t think I’ll be running a 4 minute mile anytime soon!

So, let’s look at the goal achievement lessons, they couldn’t really be illustrated better than the first 4 minute mile…

Disappointment when one goal didn’t happen, leading to setting a new goal. Changing things around and setting up processes for the new goal. Hard work, training and getting a team around you, followed by execution of the final event to achieve the goal.

Having said I won’t be running a 4 minute mile anytime soon, it could be an interesting challenge, couldn’t it, for an old codger like me. Look to your own goals though. Then look at what Sir Roger Bannister achieved 60 years ago, and ask yourself – is there something others tell you is impossible, or do you tell yourself it’s impossible? What’s your personal 4 minute mile, and what are you doing about it?

Do let me know what you think!
‘Til Next Time,
Health & happiness,
P.S. Roger Bannister certainly had the mindsets I talk about in my book ‘Transform Your Life in 21 Days!’
P.P.S. if you fancy making money from your sporting opinions, look at my guide Make Money From Sport!

Do leave a comment!

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  • I thought it was interesting that once one person showed that the goal was possible many others went on to achieve it. I think it’s the same in many fields. It’s definitely not easy to be first.

    • Indeed, and now it’s no more than a benchmark for class runners. So many people are frightened of their goals even though they are unlikely to be the first, they can follow the trail left by others!

  • I remember the story well. At the time, I was a teenager living in Melbourne, Australia. I had such high hopes for my future then. I didn’t achieve any of them. But, in hindsight, I realize they were selfish. Despite hardships, or maybe because of them, I grew strong and self-reliant. Maybe that was the better achievement.

    • I was born in Melbourne! Growing strong and self reliant is a great achievement, and in fact Roger Bannister says his work as a neurologist is more satisfying to him than the 4 minute mile!

  • This old guy used to live in Oxford until 5 years ago. When I was at school I was a runner in the school team that ran at the same track that Roger Bannister ran on. I also remember watching Herb Elliot running at the same track when he was famous. Where has the time gone?

    • Yes – a real benchmark achievement to place him in the history books forever – very nice!

  • In one of the niches I’m in, it is common to hear, “If I can do it, anyone can.” Well, obviously, not everyone can. Like you, it is doubtful I will ever achieve a 4-minute mile, but I can be proud for every second I improve upon. I suppose I’m a dreamer of sorts because I do believe the impossible is possible.

    • I always think the only acceptable way to find out whether the impossible is possible or not is get on and try. I like your idea of being proud of every improvement, that’s a good one!