Neil Bascomb has written a wonderful book called The Perfect Mile.
In it he tells the story of Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee, three athletes who committed themselves to breaking the four-minute mile.
All three runners endured thousands of hours of training to shape their bodies and minds. They ran more miles in a year than many of us walk in a lifetime. They spent a large part of their youth struggling for breath. They trained week after week to the point of collapse, all to shave off a second, maybe two, during a mile race—the time it takes to snap one's fingers and register the sound. There were sleepless nights and training sessions in rain, sleet, snow, and scorching heat. There were times when they wanted to go out for a beer or a date yet knew they couldn't. They understood that life was somehow different for them, that idle happiness eluded them. If they weren't training or racing or gathering the will required for these efforts, they were trying not to think about training or racing at all.
The term some have used to describe what these men were doing is self-mastery. Others prefer the word discipline. Some athletes would be happy with conditioning.
Each of them describes the attempt to push oneself beyond the ordinary and achieve something unique and extraordinarily satisfying.
Neal Bascomb, The Perfect Mile (Houghton Mifflin, 2004).
Gordon MacDonald, A Resilient Life, Nelson Books: Nashville, 2004, 129-130.
Image: Roger Bannister crossing the tape at the end of his record breaking mile run at Iffley Road, Oxford. He was the first person to run the mile in under four minutes, with a time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. Original Publication: Aldus Disc - People & Personalities - 1353 - 12 (Photo by Norman Potter/Central Press/Getty Images)
“They trained week after week to the point of collapse, all to shave off a second, maybe two, during a mile race—the time it takes to snap one's fingers and register the sound.”