Eighty five year old retired doctor, Roger Bannister sold his old leather shoes for 266,500 pounds earlier this month. This was no ordinary pair of shoes. They are a piece of history and a symbol of the power of belief to break down barriers. Roger was wearing these shoes when he did what people in the 1950’s thought was impossible: he ran a mile in under 4 minutes. 3 minutes 59.4 seconds to be exact.
For years, the world’s top runners could not break the 4-minute mile. Some even thought it was physiologically impossible for a human to run faster than that. One of Bannister’s running rivals, Australian, John Landry spent two years seeking to break the record. From 1952 to 1954, he ran the mile at 4:02.1, 4:02.6, 4:02.8, 4:02.5, 4:02.7 and 4:02.3. After this last attempt he said: “Frankly, I think the four-minute mile is beyond my capabilities. Two seconds may not sound much, but to me it’s like trying to break through a brick wall. Someone may achieve the four-minute mile the world is wanting so desperately, but I don’t think I can.”
Meanwhile, Bannister, a medical student in England was working to break the same record. Just two years earlier Bannister was the favorite to win the mile in the Helsinki Olympics. He came in 4th. He was disappointed and defeated, but he didn’t give up.
1954 was Bannister’s final year of medical school. Even though he had only 45 minutes to train each day, he did have a couple of advantages. Through his medical studies, he knew that the body used less oxygen by running at a steady pace. And perhaps just as importantly, unlike Landry, he believed in himself. He regularly visualized his success as part of his training.
On the day of the race, Bannister waited for the wind to die down. His shoes were specially designed to be light and he had even shaved them down further himself. Everything was ready, and according to his plan, he paced himself perfectly running around the track. In the last lap he exploded with a mixture of emotions that he described as fear and pride. He collapsed as he crossed the finish line and the crowd erupted in cheers.
What was once impossible soon became taken for granted. Breaking the 4-minute mile is to this day an extreme accomplishment, but hundreds have done it, including a handful of high school students. Even stranger, Landry, the man who previously said he could not do it, ended up breaking the 4-minute barrier just 46 days after Bannister. All he needed was a little extra belief, which Bannister’s feat provided. What barriers could you break if you believed strongly enough?
Learn more about visualizing success in these lessons: