How Fear Broke the Four-Minute Barrier

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister ran a one-mile race in three minutes, 59.4 seconds. This established a new world record for the distance and shattered a number of widely held beliefs about the abilities of the human body and the risks involved in this degree of speed. Bannister’s feat served to set a new standard for long-distance speed and shattered the misconceptions held by numerous respected authorities in the scientific and medical fields.

Fear of Failure

Bannister himself has pointed out that the fear of failure was a significant motivating force in his achievement. Many other runners came remarkably close to managing the four-minute mile prior to 1954; none, however, had broken that barrier prior to Bannister’s run at the Iffley Road track at the University of Oxford. Far from being an obstacle for him, however, the risk of failing to achieve his goal drove him to train harder and to push himself to faster speeds and better performance.

Fear of Medical Problems

Although Bannister and other long-distance runners were not deterred by the opinions voiced by some in the medical community regarding the serious risks of running so quickly, these fears were widely echoed among members of the public. Some suggested that bones could snap or muscles could tear due to the extreme stresses present at this high rate of speed. While injuries can occur during long-distance races, the risks of these accidents happening to properly trained and experienced runners are significantly reduced. The dire consequences predicted by certain elements within the medical profession never came to pass.

Fear of an Unrealistic Goal

Along with the predicted health risks, many authorities believed that a four-minute mile was impossible. They argued that the human body was simply not capable of reaching that level of speed and pointed to the top limits often demonstrated in the animal kingdom. A factor not often considered in these calculations, however, was the force of will and determination exhibited by runners striving toward this goal. The human drive to achieve and to succeed likely played a major role in allowing Bannister and other runners to break this barrier.

Overcoming Fears

Bannister’s achievement effectively silenced the naysayers and established a new paradigm in the sport of running. By facing the risks and persisting in his efforts, he was able to reach his goal and to demonstrate the amazing capabilities of the human body in this highly competitive arena. His persistence and sheer grit allowed Bannister to reach the pinnacle of his sport and to earn his place as a legendary distance runner.

Today, top athletes in track and field routinely achieve four-minute and under times for the mile distance. Their accomplishments are worthy of praise and acclaim. These runners have been inspired by the courage and determination of Roger Bannister and his contemporaries in the sport.

Against All Odds: Runner Glenn Cunningham’s Amazing Feat

One of the most inspirational stories in the sport of running is that of Glenn Cunningham. Glenn was born in Kansas in 1909 and grew up in the small community of Elkhart. When he was just seven years old, a schoolhouse fire claimed the life of his 13-year-old brother Floyd and caused serious burns to Glenn’s legs. Amputation was recommended by the doctors in attendance. Glenn persuaded his parents against the procedure, however, and began a course of therapy and treatment to restore function to his badly damaged legs.

Devastating Injuries and Painful Therapy

Both Glenn’s legs were seriously burned in the fire. The toes on his left foot had been seared away along with most of the muscle of the transverse arch. His right leg fared little better; much of the flesh and muscle that made up its length was gone, leaving it about two inches shorter than previously. Without the skin grafts and transplant procedures used today to help burn victims recover more quickly, Glenn and his parents were forced to use more primitive therapies that included massage and stretching of his largely useless lower limbs. These treatments were painful in the extreme. Glenn and his parents persisted nonetheless in the hope that he might one day regain the use of his legs.

Determination and Grit

Although Glenn was confined to a wheelchair for several years during his childhood, he often escaped it to crawl to the nearby fence and use it to support himself as he put weight on his legs. This persistence and determination resulted in some feeling returning to Glenn’s legs and his eventual ability to walk once more. The scar tissue left from his accident, however, made walking painful and difficult. As Glenn persisted in his efforts, he made a surprising discovery: Running was much less painful than walking. Glenn’s journey to the top of the distance running sport had begun.

Exceptional Success

Glenn was soon competing in the one-mile races at Elkhart High School. During his senior year at the school, he broke the U.S. record with a one-mile time of four minutes, 24.7 seconds. This marked the first time that Glenn Cunningham had gained national attention for his athletic abilities. It would not be the last. During his tenure at the University of Kansas, Glenn trained under highly esteemed coach Brutus Hamilton and continued his winning ways in intercollegiate competition, repeatedly breaking records in both the half-mile and mile races. Glenn competed for the U.S. in the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics. While he did not win during either competition, he continued to set world records for speed in the mile, 800-meter and the indoor mile.

Today, Glenn’s story serves as a beacon of hope not only for long-distance runners but also for those facing difficult roads to recovery. By remembering Glenn Cunningham and his remarkable journey back from tragedy, athletes can motivate their own rise to the top of their chosen sports.

5 Tips for Finding the Perfect Running Shoe

Your running shoes serve as your contact point with the ground and provide cushioning against the jars and impacts common during this healthy activity. Finding shoes that support your foot shape and reduce stress on your feet can help you get the most from your exercise regimen. Here are five proven strategies for finding the right shoes for running and jogging.

Leave a Little Wiggle Room

Most fitness experts recommend that you leave about a half-inch of room at the end of your running shoes to ensure proper fit throughout your exercise routine. Feet tend to swell slightly during running or jogging, so leaving a small amount of room for expansion can enhance your comfort and help you get the most from your workout.

Check Your Shoe Size

Taking the time to check the fit of running shoes is critical even if you are certain of your shoe size. Different manufacturers may use slightly different sizing techniques. Trying these shoes on for size and walking around a bit can ensure that you get the most comfortable fit from your running shoes. If you find a running shoe that works well for you, it may be worthwhile to purchase an extra pair or two as replacements when your current shoes wear out. This can save time and prevent you from missing running sessions due to broken-down shoes.

Seek Expert Help

If you have chronic or acute conditions that affect your feet or ankles, consulting with a professional podiatrist can provide added avenues of treatment. Some of the most common issues that require podiatric treatment include the following:

  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Flat feet
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Hammer toe

An orthopedic podiatrist can provide the support needed to allow you to enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle that includes running. They can also prescribe inserts and recommend shoes that can compensate for these conditions and provide solid support for your feet and ankles.

Shop Around

Retailers that specialize in sports equipment and athletic shoes can often provide expert assistance in finding the right shoe in the right size for your feet. Especially in small, locally-owned stores, building a relationship with the staff can help you find the best running shoes for your unique pair of feet. This can also provide you with information on new trends in the shoe industry and access to special-order shoes to suit your particular needs.

Accommodate Your Arch

If you have especially low or high arches, consider purchasing running shoes specifically designed to accommodate your feet and to provide support and comfort. Depending on the condition of your feet, special inserts may be required to ensure optimal protection against impacts and breakdown of your arch. Adding these orthopedic supports can provide you with greater comfort during your run.

In most cases, the best running shoes for you are the ones that provide you with the greatest comfort both during and after your run. Testing shoes from different manufacturers can often provide you with the best information on which to base your final decision.