In December of 1952, John Landy ran a mile in 4:02, just shy of his goal of breaking four minutes. For decades, runners had fought to overcome this seemingly impossible barrier, and according to his remarks after the race, Landy had started to doubt himself:
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.
In 1954, Roger Bannister, a full-time medical student ran the mile in 3:59.4. Landy broke that record just 47 days later, achieving a time of 3:57.9.
Soon after, Bannister and Landy went head to head at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, and millions of people tuned in to listen and watch as the two fastest milers in the world competed in the "Race of the Century."
Both men ran sub-four minute miles, and Landy lost, looking over his shoulder as Bannister passed him on the other side.
In a matter of weeks, the four minute mile had gone from impossible to a losing time, and many others soon followed in their footsteps. Today, Hicham El Guerrouj holds the record at 3:43.13.
Advances in training and nutrition certainly played a role in enabling this physical accomplishment. But when people like Bannister show the world what's possible, it helps others change the story they tell themselves about their own potential. The rest is history.