Last month on March 3, 2018, the legendary Sir Roger Bannister passed away at the age of 88. In his 25th year, this lanky Brit forged his way into posterity in just 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds, becoming the first human being recorded at running the mile under four minutes.
The impossibility of the sub-four-minute mile was talked about in those days, in the same way, today’s pundits’ debate about the sub-2-hour marathon. Just the year before Sir Edmund Hillary and Norgay Tenzing had become the first men to summit Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. For ambitious men, the idea of the impossibility of human endeavor had taken a major beating. The medical student Bannister had it sussed: “There was no logic in my mind that if you can run a mile in 4 minutes, 1 and 2/5ths, (the then world record) you can’t run it in 3:59,” he said. “I knew enough medicine and physiology to know it wasn’t a physical barrier, but I think it had become a psychological barrier.”
On that thought, Bannister proceeded with his plan. He had to pace himself to run an average of just under 60 seconds for each of the four laps.
On the train to the stadium, the nervous runner looked out the window to see that it was an exceptionally windy day. He suggested to his coach, Franz Stampl, that he might be best to postpone the attempt until the next event 9 days later. “Your mind can overcome any adversity” the masterful Austrian coach advised.
And that was it. Carpe diem, seize the day. At the time of the race, the wind magically died and Bannister set off with his pacers, circling the track at exactly 60 seconds per lap. He knew that his effort in the last lap was crucial and he forged ahead with everything he had.
Roger Bannister wrote of crossing the finish-line in his autobiography, “I felt like an exploded flashlight with no will to live. I knew that I had done it even before I even heard the time.”
The ecstasy and freedom of breaking your own personal barriers are within the grasp of every athlete.
Bannister has gifted every striver the blueprint: Choose a worthy goal, one that seems just outside your grasp that you have to stretch for, recruit your help, make your plan, adjust accordingly on your way without losing sight of the goal, and commit wholly to the enactment of it.
No excuses. Do it.
Bannister, who went on to become a renowned neurologist, acknowledges that there is a basic aspect of the human personality to test ourselves. “That’s why, evolutionally, the chimpanzees never stood a chance.”