Today is the 66th anniversary of Sir Roger Bannister‘s sub-four-minute mile, and it is also one year since Eliud Kipchoge announced the INEOS 1:59 Challenge. Bannister made world history when he broke the four-minute barrier on May 6, 1954, and Kipchoge went on from his May 6 announcement date to break the two-hour barrier in the marathon. Both men changed the way runners think about physical limits and the word “impossible,” and the running world hasn’t been the same since either run.
— BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) May 6, 2020
May 6, 1954
Sixty-six years ago to this day, Bannister arrived at the University of Oxford’s Iffley Road track for a one-mile race. The weather didn’t look particularly good for a world record attempt, and before the race, he had serious doubts that he could run a sub-four-minute mile in those conditions. As the day wore on, though, the weather cleared and the wind died down, and by the time the runners took their marks, it had become an ideal day for a fast run. The race began, and just a few minutes later, Bannister became the first person to break the four-minute barrier, eking out a record time of 3:59.4.
A four-minute mile was considered by many to be an impossible time to beat. Some runners had come close, but the fastest among them could only muster 4:01. Bannister ushered in a new era of runners with his record-breaking time. Soon after his run, Australian John Landy became the second to go sub-four, and since then, in the last 66 years, over 1,500 people have run a mile quicker than four minutes, according to Track and Field News.
Had Bannister not run that day at Oxford, someone would have broken the barrier eventually. Landy had been knocking at the door for a while, and he probably would have run under four minutes whether Bannister did or not. But Bannister got there first, and he changed the way runners looked at the mile, inspiring athletes everywhere to push through their mental barriers.
May 6, 2019
Kipchoge announced the INEOS 1:59 Challenge and his plan to run a sub-two-hour marathon 65 years after Bannister’s famous four-minute mile. The date was hardly a coincidence—Kipchoge made the announcement at the Iffley Road track (now called the Roger Bannister running track).
Kipchoge didn’t run his record-breaking marathon until several months later, on October 12, 2019, but part of his run will always share this date with Bannister’s mile. Kipchoge ran a 1:59:40 to become the first sub-two-hour marathoner in history. No one has joined Kipchoge below two hours yet, but like Bannister, he proved the barrier can be broken. It may take a while yet, but eventually, we will undoubtedly see more runners going sub-two for the marathon, just as we’ve seen hundreds of athletes run under four minutes for the mile in the last six decades.
In honour of Bannister’s mile anniversary and Kipchoge’s year since announcing his attempt, INEOS 1:59 has released a new part of a documentary series on the run, available on YouTube.