The 4 minute mile was not a race. It was an IDEA

‘Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event nine, the one mile: first, number forty one, R. G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which — subject to ratification — will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire and World Record.

The time was three…’

The roar of the crowd drowned out the rest of the announcement. Bannister’s time was 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.


Before this announcement on 6 May 1954 at Oxford University’s Iffley road track, the world’s leading experts questioned whether running a mile under 4 minutes was humanely possible. There were four athletes, in particular, who were attempting to break the record — Roger Bannister and Chris Chatway of England, John Landy of Australia and Wes Santee of USA.

At the end of the Australian season, Landy set out for Europe — only to hear in Finland that Bannister achieved the feat. On June 22, 1954, ran a fabulous 3:58.0 Mile WR and J broke that record in just 7 weeks.

In August 7, 1954, Roger Bannister and John Landy met for the first time in the one mile run. As 35,000 enthusiastic fans looked on, no one knew what would take place on that historic day. Promoted as “The Mile of the Century”, it would later be known as the “Miracle Mile”.

With only 90 yards to go in one of the world’s most memorable races, John Landy glanced over his left shoulder to check his opponent’s position. At that instant Bannister streaked by him to victory in a Commonwealth record time of 3:58.8. Landy’s second place finish in 3:59.6 marked the first time the four minute mile had been broken by two men in the same race.

Three lessons from the greatest race of the last century -

The power of the goal:

The goal was so inspiring that it enabled a whole generation to try and achieve a place in history. Roger Bannister did not just break a physiological barrier but also a psychological barrier. Within 7 weeks, the record was broken and since then, 1000s of athletes have achieved the milestone which was once thought utterly impossible. Managers create stretch goals at work places and we know that it was done to achieve a target which has zero inspiration & no vision. The goals need to have a strong sense of purpose and a vision that will drive so many people to pursue it.

The importance of competition:

During both the first two sub-4 minute mile races, there was one person, Chris Chatway, who made the winners push themselves and achieve the impossible. He finally had some real competition: Chris Chataway towed Bannister from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 laps in the first four-minute-mile race. Chataway was confident he could beat Landy but an inspired Landy ran a perfect race winning in 3:58 and setting a new world record. Wes Santee of USA could never break the 4 min barrier and he attributed it to the lack of good competition. In a way, the competition allowed to keep the fight — the dream to run a mile under 4 minutes — alive.

The essence of Strategy & Execution:

Each of those top athletes adopted a training regimen and each one of them ended up with a different result. Wes Santee had the hardest regimen but he could never break the record. John Landy had a very hard regimen running long distances and always, liked to keep himself ahead of the other racers during the race. Roger Bannister, being a medical student, questioned the need to run long distances and instead, ran hard for only 35 minutes daily. He liked to finish fast. During the miracle mile, John Landy was ahead of Roger for most of the race but with only 90 yards to go, he glanced over his left shoulder to check his opponent’s position. That single lapse, caused by his choice of being ahead of other racers, led the ‘finisher’ to take advantage and clinch the win in the dying moments of the race.

The race is in the mind and the fight is within oneself

If we ask where was the race run, it is actually in the limits of the mind. The fight is to keep the dream alive and pursue it relentlessly. The real competition is against our own inner narrative and our own beliefs shaped by the world around us.

An idea has the power to challenge our beliefs, get us inspired and start running a worthy race in our own lives.

What is that one idea that inspires you to run like Roger Bannister?



Entrepreneur & Writer; ex-WEF/ Innosight; Innovation work featured in Lean Startup. Led Day time Emmy nominated animation series; Author of a book on Net Zero

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Entrepreneur & Writer; ex-WEF/ Innosight; Innovation work featured in Lean Startup. Led Day time Emmy nominated animation series; Author of a book on Net Zero