The Four Minute Mile

In 1945, the world record for the fastest mile run was set by Gunder Haag at 4:04.6.  For the first half of the 20th century, it was a widespread belief that it was humanly impossible to run a mile in less than 4 minutes.    For nine years, the record remained unbroken.

Then, in 1954, not one, but two men broke the four minute mile barrier – John Bannister and John Landy.  Since then, the world record for the mile has been broken 17 times.  The current record is 3:43.13 set in 1999 by Hicham El Guerrouj.

In 1964, Jim Ryun became the first high school runner to break the four minute mile barrier, running 3:59.0 as a junior and 3:55.5 as a senior.  Two other high school runners broke the four minute mile barrier in 1966 and 1967.  The high school record was broken by Alan Webb in 2001 with a time of 3:53.43, and Lukas Verzbicas became the fifth high school athlete to break the four minute mile barrier in 2011.

In 1994, Eamonn Coghlan became the first man over 40 years old the break the four minute mile barrier.

What was once considered to be impossible is now the standard for all male professional middle distance runners.

Why does this matter?  It means that limitations are largely imagined.  No woman has broken the four minute mile barrier…yet.  Does that mean it is impossible and will never be done?  If history tells us anything, the answer is no.  It’s also interesting that once one person broke the seemingly impossible 4 minute mile barrier, a multitude of runners were able to break it shortly thereafter.  Once someone proved that it was possible, more and more people achieved it. 

All achievement starts with the belief that you can do it.  If you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t be capable of accomplishing your goals.  Be willing to challenge your perception of what is possible.  Test yourself.  Even if you fail once, twice, or repeatedly, keep working hard because eventually you will succeed if you persevere.  It’s great to have others who believe in you, and I am very thankful to have so many people in my life who do, but ultimately, the person that makes or breaks it is you.

I had my own personal experience with this recently.  I have not been able to do a pull-up since I was a kid.  It’s built into my perception of myself.  I can’t do a pull up.  Do you know the last time I tried to do one?  I don’t.  I’ve stopped testing that limitation/belief.  I’m also willing to bet that the last time I tried, I had already resigned myself to failing, and probably half assed it and gave up almost immediately.  One of my goals is to be able to do unassisted pull-ups, so at the beginning of my back workout last night, I decided to try.  Before I attempted it, I reminded myself that I don’t know whether I can do a pull-up or not, but that I would give 100% effort and see what happened.  And then I did one.  It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy, but I did it.  Even if I hadn’t been able to do one, that doesn’t mean I will never be able to.  It just means I need to keep training and give it time.

Don’t give up and don’t settle!  Remember: IMPOSSIBLE = I’M POSSIBLE!


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