"The mind commands the body
and is instantly obeyed.
The mind commands itself
and meets resistance."
Roger Bannister achieved what his peers thought impossible. His passing this month is an opportune time to celebrate that.
By running a mile in under four minutes he made it look, and made it become, possible for others to do so. Others, like John Landy.
John Landy’s disadvantage had not been physical. After all, Bannister set out to prove that it was still possible in 1954 to be a champion on as little as one hour of training per day (!)
Instead, he was hampered by his own thinking. Compare how the two men reacted to what some would term ‘failure’:
In June 1953 Bannister ran a 4:02 mile during an invitation race at a school-boys’ athletics meeting. Having come so close under such artificial conditions, Bannister realised that he was capable of running a 4-minute mile. In contrast, Landy, who by April 1954 had run the mile under 4:03 on six occasions, declared “It is a brick wall. I shall not attempt it again”.
Yet, no sooner had Bannister broken the 4-minute mile than Landy’s brick wall crumbled. On 21 June 1954 Landy set a new world record of 3:58:0 for the mile: an improvement of 1.4 seconds on the record Bannister had set just six weeks earlier and perhaps close to 3 seconds faster than Landy had ever before run the mile.
It would seem that Bannister’s success, and conversely Landy’s failure, was simply because Bannister was able to convince himself of what was achievable. Landy could only be convinced once he had clear evidence that someone else had achieved that (impossible) performance.
I conclude that the key to Bannister’s success was his trained intuition, which convinced him of the importance of his mind in determining his racing performances.
That Bannister was ahead of his time is shown by the dearth of material on this topic during the period in which he was racing. Even today, the conclusion is that most athletes are “physically overeducated but emotionally undereducated”.
I suspect we could all benefit from a little “emotional education”; a fine-tuning of how we react to the messages we get from our bodies and from ourselves.
Landy had thought it impossible that he might run that quickly. Bannister’s example, in a very literal sense, “changed his mind”.
But the right coach or teacher can facilitate that change more skilfully than a competitor.
If you doubt that, try Alexander Technique. It might, after all, change your mind.
Extracts from Tim Noakes’ monumental ‘Lore of Running’ (4th Ed., 2001)