How often are you showing others the impossible is possible?

Today is August 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you showing others the impossible is possible?” The story of Roger Bannister becoming the first person to run a mile in under four minutes (sub 4-minute mile) is a perfect case study of someone who navigated the chaos and in so doing showed others the impossible is possible.

Prior to 1954, many people believed that 4 minutes was a physical barrier that no runner could break. On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister had convinced himself that he could break that barrier and his effort proved successful. On that day, not succumbing to the idea that it was impossible, he ran the mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. It is also fascinating to examine what happened after Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile.

Fifty-six days later, John Landy ran the 4-minute mile in 3 minutes and 57.9 seconds in Finland. Bannister and Landy would race each other in the Mile of the Century where Bannister won in 3 minutes and 58.8 seconds. Within three years, by the end of 1957, 16 other runners also cracked the 4-minute mile.

Think about that for a moment. Once Bannister did what almost everyone thought impossible, it suddenly became possible. Running a sub-4 would eventually become the standard by which mile runners were measured. The breaking of the 4-minute mile was so significant that Forbes names it as one of the greatest athletic achievements of all time.

Eventually, the sub-4 became so common place a new measure took its place in the time of a sub 3:50. Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco) is the current men’s record holder with his time of 3:43.13, while Svetlana Masterkova (Russia) has the women’s record of 4:12.56.

Bannister’s sub-4 proved inspirational for runners of all ages as Jim Ryun became the first high school athlete to run a sub-4 in 1965. According to a Track & Field News list, 487 Americans had run a sub-four-minute mile as of June 3, 2017, and 2016 was the year with the most new additions to the list (27), followed by 2015 (24), 2013 (23), and 2012 (also 23).

If you are attempting to make possible what so many others said was impossible, recall Bannister’s assertion “The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” How much pain are you willing to endure to make the impossible possible? How far can you drive yourself to do the impossible? How committed are you to translating your dreams into reality once your path becomes a bit uncomfortable?

British-born American poet Edgar Albert Guest was popular in the first half of the 20th century and became known as the People's Poet since his poems often had an inspirational and optimistic view of everyday life. The four-minute mile story resembles Guest’s poem entitled “It’ Couldn’t Be Done” reprinted in its entirety here:

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done

But he with a chuckle replied

That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one

Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin

On his face. If he worried he hid it.

He started to sing as he tackled the thing

That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;

At least no one ever has done it;”

But he took off his coat and he took off his hat

And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.

With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,

Without any doubting or quiddit,

He started to sing as he tackled the thing

That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,

There are thousands to prophesy failure,

There are thousands to point out to you one by one,

The dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,

Just take off your coat and go to it;

Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing

That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

How often are you doing what others could not do?