Throughout history experts said the human body was not capable of running a four-minute mile. Scientists said that the human physiology wasn’t strong enough. Aerodynamics engineers said our body shape wasn’t streamlined enough. Legend has it that runners have tried tying bulls behind them to increase the incentive to do the impossible.
Fast forward to the mid 1900s, when it was still considered impossible for humans to run a mile in under 4 minutes. Some experts even outlined the running conditions required if it were to be done: 68 degrees, no wind, and no rain.
May 6, 1954
Everything changed in 1954 when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile — it was a cold day, on a wet track, in Oxford, England.
But here’s the twist. Forty-six days after breaking the mystical barrier, an Australian named John Landy beat it as well. Then, a year later, three runners broke the four-minute mile in a single race!
So what happened that allowed us to achieve what was once considered impossible? Did we grow stronger or become more aerodynamic? No. The only thing that changed was the mental model. After Roger Bannister's feat, the rest of the world saw the impossible become possible. The runners of the past were held back by the mindset they could not break the barrier. In the decades since, 1,400 athletes, including high-schoolers, have run sub four-minute miles.
Holy Grail or Cautionary Tale?
Some might view the story of Roger Bannister as the holy grail of athletic achievement but I perceive it as a cautionary tale. It’s a reminder that human beings are a function of their environment. We accept the limitations and middle-of-the-road sensibilities that define conventional wisdom. We compete for the same shared goals, rank ourselves not by absolute process towards a transcendent end goal, but by progress within a peer group.
Reading between the lines, Roger Bannister was an ordinary guy with reasonable athletic ability. He was passionate about running, so he trained in his lunch hour at medical school. He wasn't influenced by all the naysayers in the running community, consciously or not. Roger Banister didn’t elbow against his peers to beat them to the finish line, he was on a solo pursuit to move the goalpost so others might follow.
So here is the hidden lever
Our limitations are fakes walls that we construct for ourselves
Until next time,