"Yes, how can I help you?"
Bingo! I was on the phone with Sir Roger Bannister, the English neurologist who on May 6, 1954, shattered the 4-minute mile barrier by clocking 3:59.4 on Oxford's Iffley Road track. The interview was back in a 2001; I had called to include him in a book of workouts, called "Running Tough," and certainly Bannister was as tough as anyone, clocking the first sub-4 on just 30 minutes of training a day while a full-time medical student.
Bannister was polite and gracious during our chat, patiently answering questions he had answered many times over the decades since he had pushed back humankind's limits in a feat that ranks with Ferdinand Magellan's voyage nearly around the world, Sir Edmund Hillary's summiting Mount Everest and even Neil Armstrong's first footsteps on the moon, as iconic steps in the ascent of the human spirit.
Yes, Sir Roger's achievement was that groundbreaking, his fast footsteps leading the way not just for others to run sub-4, but for people in all fields to look beyond what seem to be limitations. Bannister was the pinnacle of the post-World War II British spirit, when the world was full of frontiers to conquer. Sure, frontiers still exist, Bannister said, and turns out the frontier he was most interested in and spent his life investigating was the one inside you and me, the marvelous, mysterious workings of the human nervous system. Bannister retired at the end of August 1954, just four months after his sub-4-minute mile, to pursue his medical studies, but not before beating Australian John Landy in the "Mile of the Century" and then winning the gold medal in the European Championships.
Even though I knew Bannister's famous mile well, down to the splits — 58, 60, 63, 58 — he still had some surprising answers. His most satisfying race was not the 4-minute mile, but rather defeating Landy head-to-head in the Empire Games 1500 meters; his most satisfying accomplishment not the record set or races won, or even being knighted by the Queen, but rather the awareness that he had contributed to the onward march of scientific knowledge.
The "toughest workout" Bannister gave me for "Running Tough" was 10 x 440 yards, each in 59 seconds, with a full recovery. The 440s had progressed from 63 seconds each earlier in 1954, down to the 59 seconds; it was the workout that showed he was physically ready to run sub-4.
Most importantly, Bannister was ready psychologically for the record attempt, as he had not been in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics Games. It was a disappointment at those 1952 Olympics that fueled Bannister's drive. He was the favorite, but ended up fourth, perhaps, some speculate, because of the extra heats of the 1500 meters entrants were required to run. With his limited training, that was enough to keep Bannister from full strength for the final.
Yet, out of that Olympic disappointment and media criticism came the motivation to keep training. An Olympic gold medal might have meant that he stopped training to concentrate on his studies, leaving someone else to finally run the first sub-4.
This week, with three mile races coming up — Wednesday's Pearl Street Mile (teamboco.com), Thursday's Mountain Avenue Mile in Fort Collins (mountainmile.com) and the Aug. 16 Boulder Road Runners all comers track mile (boulderroadrunners.org) — I went back to my Bannister interview, to see what advice Sir Roger had for those of you racing one of these.
"I think most people go too fast in the beginning of the race," Bannister said, after politely asking me what my personal best times were. "I think the thing they want to do is not to set off too fast at the start. After the half-mile, start moving up."
A new course for Wednesday evening's Pearl Street Mile makes it easy to do just that. Rather than the traditional one-lap east on Pearl Street and back up Spruce Street, racers will now run a half-mile loop twice, still starting and finishing on the Pearl Street Mall.
When Bannister passed away in March, I had a message from a friend and another runner/scientist, Scott Winston, who wrote: "We lost a great neurologist and not a bad runner."
Sir Roger would have liked that.
Dave Mackey talk, Sunrise Stampede, Pete Magill book:
• Boulder's Dave Mackey is giving a free talk Wednesday evening at Runners Roost, 629 S. Broadway, following the weekly 6 p.m. group run, with free beer and pizza. Mackey, a past U.S. national trail champion, was injured when he was pinned by a boulder while running on Green Mountain; he later had the lower portion of his leg amputated.
•The busy August racing calendar continues with the Sunrise Stampede on Aug. 11 at Silver Creek High School (www.highplainsbank.com). It also is under new leadership. Longtime organizer Peter Richards and founders Herold SchuIz and Roger Lange have turned the reins over to the St. Vrain School District and the High Plains Bank.
•And a new book by masters ace Pete Magill has been published by Boulder's VeloPress. Titled "SpeedRunner: 4 Weeks to Your Fastest Leg Speed in Any Sport," Magill lays out the theory and ways to increase your leg speed.
Contact Mike Sandrock at firstname.lastname@example.org.