4 – The Four-Minute Mile

One of the greatest records in competitive sports was the four-minute mile. Athlete after athlete dreamt about running a mile in under four minutes, but no one could do it. Palva Nurey 0:25 of Sweden ran the mile in four minutes and 10 seconds in 1912. It took another 10 years until Gug Gahan 0:32 brought it down to four minutes and six seconds. Country after country sent their best athletes. No one could run a mile in under four minutes. It was a record that remained in place, untouchable for almost 100 years. And people began offering all kinds of theories. Man’s skeletal structure is all wrong. He creates too much wind resistance, he can’t possibly do it. It became an accepted medical fact that no human being can run a mile in under four minutes.

One Australian fellow, John Landy, ran the mile in four minutes and two seconds four times in a row. He said the words “It’s a brick wall, it can’t be broken.” May 6, 1954 Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. That record that remained untouchable for almost 100 years, he ran a mile in under four minutes.

Amazingly, 47 days later John Landy — Australian fellow, four minutes and two seconds, a brick wall — ran the mile faster than did Roger Bannister. And stranger still, by the end of that year almost 30 runners had run the mile in under four minutes. But here was the strange part: nothing changed. They didn’t change diet, they didn’t change running technique, they didn’t change running shoes. The only thing that changed was that Roger Bannister took something from the realm of impossible and he made it possible. Once he shattered that limiting belief, once he broke that wall, then John Landy could, then almost 30 runners can. Now any decent track star runs the mile in under four minutes. But it took one human being.

Because many times people are held in check not by physical containments, but by mental cages that we create around ourselves. Powerful glass ceilings, powerful limitations. I’m just a regular person, I don’t have the abilities, I’m not that kind of person. And these limiting beliefs can hold a person in check. Sometimes you need a single human being, sometimes you need a hero. You have to look at other people who exceeded what everyone else believed they can do, and you have to say to yourself the words he is a human being, he walked the same earth that I do, breathed the same air that I do. If he can do it so too can I. And that is one of the great secrets of success — to shatter limiting beliefs, to set lofty goals, and to reach for the stars.