Today, 6th May 2016, is the 62nd birthday of the 4 min Mile. A feat long thought impossible until Sir Roger Bannister stepped onto that track at Iffley Road and did it – with a little help from his friends.
The 4-min Mile is a truly exceptional achievement! The Holy Grail for any male distance runner. The delimiter between good and great. Ironically, the record thought to be impossible to break lasted only 6 weeks. The video below contains some amazing original footage of the historic race narrated by Roger Bannister himself.
In it he talks about two ingredients essential to him achieving the record: the concept of flow and the support he received from his two friends who were pacing him. While history often forgets them and very few people actually know their names (Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher), Bannister acknowledges their vital role: “He had made success possible”. This acknowledgement expresses a deep gratitude which does not seem to get expressed to the same extent when records are broken nowadays. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, when back then records were broken for the glory and to break boundaries (maybe that’s me being overly romantic), whereas now the pacer does ‘a job’, dispensable, replaceable.
The description Bannister gives of his race experience is a perfect example of the concept of flow, or being in the zone.
In the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as a state where people are completely absorbed in an activity, where the athlete feels strong, in effortless control of the situation, almost invincible and at the very peak of their abilities. Flow is a curious and fascinating thing and the main difficulty lies in replicating it. If you have ever been in the zone, you know what I mean.
So have a look at the video, it’s 4 min well spent, and join me in wishing the 4 min mile a happy 62nd birthday!