The Perfect Mile
Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It
by Neal Bascomb
I love this book! The Perfect Mile is an amazing story about the first four minute milers and their quest to break this historic barrier. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about the success and tragedy of real people who achieve greatness through personal struggle and sacrifice. Anyone who ever competed in the mile will especially enjoy the history lesson!
The world wide focus and drama surrounding the four minute mile was as intense as was the quest to be the first to reach Mt. Everest's summit. The book covers the personal lives and athletic achievements of three great distance runners, and the barriers each of them overcame to achieve such great success in running. The American Wes Santee, the Australian John Landy, and Brit Roger Bannister display varying personalities, strengths, and racing tactics. Each came into running from different paths and motivations, and I enjoyed reading the background story of each of them as much as I enjoyed reading about the historic race and final show down. Bascomb takes the reader through the runners' childhood, discusses their first love of running, and then to their peak as the world's best milers. I found myself rooting for all three men at different times as I learned more about them. Their lives continuously intertwined throughout the story exciting me at the possibility of an imminent race among them.
As a former miler and fan of track history I already knew the ultimate outcome of the story, but the book recreates the excitement of the historic achievement and keeps me turning each page with much anticipation. I could almost see the race unfold in my head as the author tells the story about the race using great detail including each runner's split times! The detail is impressive considering the time gap separating the race and the author's interviews. A bit of history comes out making the story even more interesting when the events surrounding the runners' lives and the events happening around the world at the time of each race are mentioned. This helps set the context as to just how great the achievement was at a time when the technology of running was just in its infancy.
Bannister is a hero to Britain and brought national pride back to Britain during a tough time for his countrymen. He was knighted shortly after his great achievement and traveled all over the world talking about his experience. I compare Roger Bannister to the American Steve Prefontaine, and I find the parallels between Bannister and Prefontaine intriguing. Both men talk about pain and how he who is best able to push past pain will win.
"The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win." Roger Bannister
"A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more." Steve Perfontaine
The Perfect Mile is a perfect gift for any runner, and a great motivational read for yourself. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.