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February 2, 2009

May 6, 2004

Admin note: despite all of my praise for and infatuation with the mile, I still hadn’t quite gotten around to actually, you know … racing one. I decided to wait until my April marathon was finished, then picked the perfect date to switch gears into mile training.

In this installment, I also mention a book that captivated me during the Bannister project; it’s one I’d whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who wants to know the story in greater detail – just in case there are one or two strange souls out there who somehow find these blog articles too short. It’s definitely in my top-three running books of all time. A link is provided in the post.

**

Chasing Roger Bannister

Part 4: May 6, 2004


Fortunately for me, the 50th anniversary of Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile fell on a Thursday.

I planned on using the date as the official start of my summer track workouts in pursuit of a 5-minute-mile – and I figured an all-out one-mile time trial would quickly tell me if my ambition was realistic, and gauge exactly how much work I had ahead of me. The timing worked out perfectly to recruit some running partners to help my cause.

Our group regularly does track sessions on Thursday mornings, so I hoped to convince some of them to race the mile with me. A few days prior to the date, I told my training partners about my plans - and I was delighted on May 6th to find that three of them showed up anyway.

The morning didn’t exactly have the same meaning for all of us. I, of course, had been counting down the days until the historic anniversary, and was very anxious to see precisely where I stood in relation to the five-minute goal. The others just welcomed the opportunity to do some quality speedwork.

Perhaps that’s why they gave me a perplexed look as I wished them a Happy Bannister Day - and why, after I explained the occasion, they uttered one of those humoring, drawn-out “Ooohhh…” expressions usually reserved for meeting your three-year-old daughter’s imaginary friend. Perhaps they appreciated the significance of the day after I told them, or maybe they just decided to temporarily accommodate my craziness. Either way, I had my pacers.

Coincidentally, I wasn’t the only one who thought to mark the anniversary by doing a one-mile race. In fact, Roger Bannister himself organized a meet at Oxford’s Iffley Road track on May 6, with the one-mile race as the featured event – so I figured that if I was crazy, at least I was in good company. In true Bannister style, the Oxford meet was open only to amateur runners: no sponsors’ logos were allowed on uniforms, no advertising money was accepted, and no prize money was awarded.

On the same day, at the Nike Invitational track meet (advertisers, logos and sponsors welcome, of course) in Eugene, Oregon, America’s top high school miler, Galen Rupp (pictured), would attempt a sub-four mile of his own, racing against a world-class field. Throughout the day and night of May 6th, running clubs all over the world would gather for the exact same reason ours had - to remember a great accomplishment of the past, and to honor Bannister’s ambition and ideals by recreating the race.

And so it was that four of us stood at the start line in the morning twilight, and commenced our own one-mile time trial.

During the first lap I felt great, running smooth and strong, but nervous about how my body would respond to the lactic acid lockup that was inevitably coming. I hit the 1-lap split in 75 seconds - exactly 5-minute pace - but immediately knew there was no way I could sustain it for even another 200 meters, let alone 3 more laps. I slowed considerably in the second and third laps, but kept a steady stride and maintained 82-second splits. In the final lap, I ratcheted my speed up as much as possible, and marveled at the amount of pain that enveloped my whole body - from my feet up through my legs, to my lungs, chest, and head.

In the homestretch, my form completely fell apart, and I gasped across the finish line after completing another 75-second lap, for a 5:15 mile (actually, 1600 meters- that will be another story). All things considered, it was a solid effort and a promising starting point for the upcoming summer.

Throughout the rest of the day, I monitored some observations of the anniversary, and marveled at just how many people were influenced by one simple footrace so many years ago. At lunchtime, I read a few chapters from The Perfect Mile, Neal Bascomb’s excellent account of how Bannister, Australian John Landy, and American Wes Santee - despite living on three separate continents – pushed and challenged and threatened each other in their pursuit of the elusive four-minute mile. I learned that Galen Rupp ran a 4:01 mile in Oregon- a fantastic result and a personal best for him, but a bit heartbreaking as well, considering the occasion.

Fittingly, another sub-four minute mile was run at Iffley Road, albeit by an Australian instead of an Englishman - although in 1954, they would both fit one of Bannister’s favorite descriptions: “Empire men”. (Good day for the Empire, the Brits would tell you). Speaking to the BBC about the Oxford meet, Banister explained, “I hope this acts as an inspiration to sportsmen and women everywhere to keep striving to achieve their best through personal effort alone.”

Five thousand miles away, on a dark track in Salinas California, the four of us racing each other on this particular morning definitely accomplished Sir Roger's objective. I can’t think of a better launching point for the challenge ahead of me this summer.

Let the quest begin.


See previous installments of this series on sidebar at right.

1 comments:

Dave 2/3/09, 5:59 AM  

Lot's of thoughts: First, I love how running is enjoyed by amateurs and and elites, many times in the same event and how Bannister put on an amateur event. Second, (and your faster than me) but your were spent after running 1 mile at 5:15. Are you not in awe of an elite marathoner that will run 26.2 under 5 min a mile? For me, your test mile puts the elite status in prespective and that there is a huge difference between a really good runner and an elite.

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