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My conversation with Neal Bascomb

The author of 'The Perfect Mile' on how failure drove three runners to break the 4-minute mile

Good morning, friends! ☀️

At the beginning of last week, I had the chance to talk with Neal Bascomb, whose book The Perfect Mile I wrote to you about last Thursday. Originally, I intended to send out the video to you last week, but then I started writing and the piece that started in my head became, by the time it made it to the screen, something else entirely.

(Which happens sometimes for writers!)

That said, I didn’t want to let too much time go by before I shared our conversation with you. It was such a blast talking with Neal and listening to his recollections of interviewing Roger Bannister, John Landy and Wes Santee — the three runners whose pursuit to break the four-minute mile was borne from what each saw as their failure at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, when they were expected to come home with gold medals for their respective countries, and none did.

I think that’s why this story appeals to me so much. Yes, these were extraordinary athletes with physical abilities far beyond most of ours. But, the struggles they went through are so relatable — they doubted themselves, they doubted whether it was worth it, they battled their own personal demons. A lot.

And, Neal pointed out to me, age didn’t mellow them much. He was able to interview Bannister (who died in 2018), who even in his seventies, Neal recalled, was “the most competitive person I’ve ever met.”

And yet, they rallied. Despite their shortcomings and failures, each of them, in their own way, found the strength within themselves to keep doing and do something no one thought was possible.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed talking with Neal — who also reminded me that “the perfect mile” in the title of his book isn’t actually breaking the four-minute barrier.

The “perfect mile” came after Bannister and Landy had both broken the four-minute barrier, at the 1954 British Empire Games in Vancouver. Here’s an excellent video that tells the story of that day, which was the apex of their rivalry:

Here’s where you can check out more of Neal’s writing, too:

I hope you enjoy!

Your friend,

— Terrell

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The Half Marathoner
The Half Marathoner
Terrell Johnson