By: Sean Burke
The off season, along commensurate reduction in training volume, is here. What to do with all of those extra hours off the bike? A little cross training is probably good for you overall health, and may even help you be a better bike rider next year. But you’ll still have time to spare, and it is an excellent time to catch up on your reading. There are volumes out there on training methods for cycling, but I’m going to suggest something a little different. 2014 is the 60th anniversary of the 4 minute mile, a record thought unbreakable until the early 1950s. The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb first came out 10 years ago on the 50th anniversary of the accomplishment, and the 60th anniversary is a great excuse to read or re-read the story.
The Perfect Mile chronicles the training and racing of three young men from different continents, all disappointed by their performance at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, as they attempt to redeem themselves by breaking that four minute barrier. Wes Santee: America Farm Boy, Roger Bannister: English medical student, and John Landy, the Australian college student, all eager to place themselves in the record books. Each man is striving to be the first to break 4 minute mile before the others, and each is man dealing with his own unique set of challenges. For Santee and Bannister, the clock is ticking both on and off the track as Santee prepares for his inevitable military service and Bannister on his retirement from running due to his entry into the “real world” of being a medical doctor. Meanwhile, Santee is saddled with the responsibility of leading his collegiate team to victory in track meets, and often required to run two or three events before he runs his mile in completion.
You’ll find yourself enraptured and motivated by how hard the three men train to beat the 4 minute barrier. If you read in the evenings before bed, you’ll often find yourself thinking “I want to be outside training right now!” at 11PM. You’ll also realize that some of the apparently counterproductive efforts by national and international governing bodies are nothing new, as all three runners deal with barriers erected by “The Powers That Be.” You’ll read about Bannister trying eek out that extra 1% by wearing lightweight shoes that are only good for three miles, or rubbing graphite on his spikes so that they pull more easily from the clay track, and realize that the idea of “marginal gains” is not a new concept pioneered by modern day cycling teams.
While one of them men becomes the first to run the mile on 3:59.4, and another one soon bests the record by an astonishing 2.5 seconds, the true climax of the story is when the two sub-four minute milers finally meet each other directly in competition. The sports pages and the fans all asked “Who will win, the runner with the incredible sustainable pace, or the one with the lightning fast finishing kick?” Cyclists can easily identify with the pain each man feels as pushes to be the first across the line.
Have a question for Coach Burke? A topic you would like to see covered? Head on over to his website CrankCycling.com to get in touch.