Tag Archives: running

Roger Bannister – Making the Impossible Possible

There are certain names, achievements and events that just simply are.  Neil Armstrong,  first man to walk on the moon.  The Wright Brothers, the first to fly.  Roger Bannister, broke the 4 minute mile barrier.  In these stories of great achievement, of individuals doing what moments before seemed impossible, come great lessons.  Roger Bannister died Saturday.  Though he will forever be remembered for breaking the 4 minute barrier, it is the lessons he shared that I found myself reflecting on this weekend.

Once the impossible is made possible, it becomes common.  History is riddled with things once thought impossible.  Flight, going to the moon, running a sub 4 minute mile.  All examples of things that could never be done.  While they might not be entirely common, they are certainly not impossible, and short of the moon, not even news worthy.  If one believes something is impossible, it will never happen.  But if one accepts that something is possible, they are on the path to achievement.

Amazing achievement demands sacrifice.  So much goes into that simple sentence, but breaking the 4 minute mile barrier is a story of sacrifice and pain.  It hurts to run fast.  Any runner suffers, but running fast for any amount of distance really, really hurts.  The mental fortitude to endure such self-inflicted pain is the true strength of a runner.  Running at an elite, world-class level, is a monastic existence.  Roger Bannister sacrificed in all other aspects of his life to achieve his goal.  Things thought impossible are not made possible without unfathomable sacrifice.

Focus and Commitment.  It was the most amazing part of the entire Roger Bannister story…he was going to medical school when he broke the 4 minute barrier!  It was the era of “Amateur Athletics” – one could not profit from athletics; it was unseemly.  Roger Bannister was in medical school, would train over his lunch hour (an hour to change, run, cool down, shower and change – an hour), and then occasionally run at meets strictly for the competition and only when his academic schedule allowed.  There were no endorsements, no shoe contracts, no government programs or athletic assistance.  He had to cover his own costs, buy his own shoes, sharpen his own spikes, all of it.  He had to focus and commit to the goal, then do everything required to achieve his goal.

Nothing is ever done alone.  The track optimizes individual effort.  It is the runner, on the track, against the clock.  Yet in his efforts to break the 4 minute barrier, Roger Bannister had help.  He had a coach and trainer, he had teammates and mentors, and on that fateful day he had pacers.  There literally were men who went before him, breaking the wind, setting the stage for his final lap push to finish in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.  Nothing, even the most solitary of endeavors, is every done entirely alone.

Competition.  Having rivals.  Being pushed.  Having someone to chase, someone nipping at your heels.  It matters.  Roger Bannister was not the only person chasing the 4 minute mile.  The rivalry with American Wes Santee and Australian John Landy was en epic contest.  They all were running in the 4:02 range and were desperate to be the one who broke the barrier.  They each pushed the other, chipping away, gradually going just a bit faster, training a touch harder, honing their craft and demanding more from the others just by competing.  Just as it was a “space race” to the moon, so it was with Bannister, Santee and Landy, and so it is with each of us who compete.  Thank the competition, they make you better.

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb was the book that introduced me to the full story of the 4 Minute Mile.  Like most everyone, I knew Roger Bannister broke the barrier, but knowing what it took, how it was done, the rivalry with Landy and Santee, the worldwide quest to do it, the mental and physical barriers.  That book sets atop one of my book shelves for a reason.  It is that good and taught me so much.  Sir Roger Bannister made the impossible absolutely common.  Yet when asked, he holds his work in medical research as his greatest personal achievement.  That last part is what makes the loss of Roger Bannister so great and the lessons his quest illustrates all the more telling.  He was a regular, and by all accounts, a good guy, who repeatedly did amazing things.  He achieved because he believed, he sacrificed, was focused and committed, had and accepted help, and embraced the competition.

You know, all the things any of us can do.

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Who Dares Wins

Always liked the motto of the British Special Air Service, the SAS – they do tend to dare and win – always. As with all mottos and catch phrases, it sounds great, and sometimes can provide a bit of motivational boost, but in the end it is just a phrase.  However, when you see a motto applied in real life, see it exemplified by a very real action on a very real stage, in a situation we can understand, it just takes on a new level of meaning.

The following clip was forwarded along recently – it just seemed to capture so many of those nifty phrases we hear but rarely really see…

In the spirit of mottos and catch phrases, could not help but think “and that is why you never give up”. Sometimes a little visual reminder goes along way…

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Born to Run…Both of Them

Word association.  The game, the foundation of some classic comedy skits, and the stereotypical tool of psychologists.  “Born to Run” … “Bruce Springstein”.  How can you not – seriously.  But now a new wrinkle has come into play.  “Born to Run” … “running barefoot”.  What?  Where did that come from?

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen is journalist and correspondent Christopher McDougall’s first book, and he nailed it.  Over the last year his book has quietly become an “it” book – the talk of water coolers, gyms, and many a shoe store.  Not only a fun and enjoyable read, the book is an anthropological history of man, of running, of evolution.  He introduces us to the Tarahumara Indians, to the sport of ultra running, to a cast of characters so colorful that they have to be real.  The lessons in marketing, consumerism and our buying habits are truly enlightening.  The phrase “eat like a peasant” will enter your lexicon.  And yes, it is about running barefoot. But in the end it is a story of people who love what they do – a simple and timeless story.

In our society, fitness and specifically running, is something that is forced.  As adults the idea is that we have to run for fitness, to offset our poor diets, or to look a certain way.  For our children it is equated with punishment, especially once they get into organized sports (run laps, gasers, “conditioning”, “two a days”, “run until you puke”, “no pain no gain”, etc.).  All the rewards of our culture are sedentary (extra food, sweets, relaxation, video games, computers, phones, sitting out drills, etc.).  The irony is priceless.  The Tarahumara Indians run early and often.  They want to run.  They run because they love it.  They reap the rewards in health and happiness.  In our society we are taught early on to hate running and exercise, and the results are all to often reflected in our societies relative lack of health and happiness.

Thanks to word association and Christopher McDougall it seems only fitting that “Born to Run” now prompts “love what you do”  or “bring the joy back into what you are doing”.  So why the Bruce Springstein “Born to Run” and what does it have to do with any of this, other than word association?  Well, if you want to see a great example of loving what you do and pouring every ounce of energy and heart into something, take a walk back to the days of MTV.

Now there is some motivation…get out there…we were all Born to Run…

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From Have to Get

No one likes to be told what to do.  Being told we have to do something is almost as bad, or sometimes worse.  There are not many givens in this world, but if you want to see a kid shut down, tell them they have to do something.  However, you want to see a genius, I give you Tom Sawyer and his whitewashing of the fence.

“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth – stepped back to note the effect – added a touch here and there – criticized the effect again – Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

It is one of the great moments in American literature, and it is one of the best examples of how paradigm makes all the difference.  Tom had to whitewash the fence – he was miserable.  However when he “enabled” others to convince themselves that they might get to do it – they were ecstatic.  Tom helped them to shift their paradigm concerning the task.  No longer did Tom have to whitewash.  Now they would get to whitewash.

Changing perspective makes all the difference.  It seems so meaningless really – it is just changing one word.  “I have to change careers”, “We have to move”, “I have to find a job”, “The business is changing – we have to find new opportunities” are all laced with negatives, with fear, and with pressure.  “I get to change careers”, “We get to move”, “I get to find a new job”, “The business is changing – we get to find new opportunities” are all phrases dripping with optimism, with a sense of adventure, of new beginnings.

Everyone loves the idea of “getting to” vice “having to”.  It is a powerful thing; a game changer to go cliché.  Another interesting read is a recent column by Kristin Armstrong in Runners World.  It is the same idea, only applied to running and fitness.   Call it the power of positive thinking, a mantra, karma or whatever you wish, but there is no question that moving from “have to get” helps.  Besides, Tom Sawyer is a genius.


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