Athletics is a luxury.
Beating John Landy was my defining race.
I came from such a simple origin, without any great privilege, and I would say I also wanted to make a mark. It wasn’t until I was about 15 that I appeared in a race.
I couldn’t disappoint people. I did not want to fail and exhaust myself, because I was the kind of runner who trained so little that I couldn’t race again within another 10 days.
I enjoy singing, and the instruments which truly move me are the horn, the trumpet and the cello.
I found longer races boring. I found the mile just perfect.
I had always wanted to become a neurologist, which is one of the most demanding vocations in medicine. Where do you stop, after all, with the brain? How does it function? What are its limits? The work seems unending.
I lived on the top of one hill and the school was at the top of another hill. Nobody ever went to school by car – we didn’t have any cars during the war. So that to and from school was itself a training.
I raced supremely well. I felt I was as well fitted to do it as I had ever been, and as perhaps I might ever be. I went climbing three weeks before, because I was feeling fed up with running.
I think that is a universal adolescent feeling, trying to find your place. The adolescent who is perfectly adjusted to his environment, I’ve yet to meet.
I trained for less than three-quarters of an hour, maybe five days a week – I didn’t have time to do more. But it was all about quality, not quantity – so I didn’t waste time jogging, ever.
I wanted to be a neurologist. That seemed to be the most difficult, most intriguing, and the most important aspect of medicine, which had links with psychology, aggression, behavior, and human affairs.
I was always a great bundle of energy. As a child, instead of walking, I would run. And so running, which is a pain to a lot of people, was always a pleasure to me because it was so easy.
I was involved in music, acting, and some running, but my firm wish was to become a doctor. That was the formative age when I had decided on the pattern of my career.
I was playing rugby and the other games English school children do, and there was an event in which races were run, and I won these by a considerable margin.
I’ve always been very impatient. At age 10 I frankly found life boring, and I can remember age 9 having the awful thought, as it seems now looking back on it, A war! That should liven things up a bit!
If there was the opportunity to climb a mountain, or to go ballooning, or some adventurous activity, I would always be keen to do it. I loved the countryside.
It had always been a British preoccupation to hold this mile record.
It’s a question of spreading the available energy, aerobic and anaerobic, evenly over four minutes. If you run one part too fast, you pay a price. If you run another part more slowly your overall time is slower.
It’s amazing that more people have climbed Mount Everest than have broken the 4-minute mile.
Life was very simple. My parents had come from the North of England, which is a fairly rugged, bleak, hard-working part of England, and so there was not the expectation of luxury.
May is a very early time in the year and the weather is usually bad. You cannot run a fast mile race if there is a strong wind, because it makes your running uneven.
Mothers, unless they were very poor, didn’t work. Both of my parents had to leave education. My mother had to work in a cotton mill until 18 or 19, when she took some training in domestic science.
My athleticism was really the core to social acceptance, because in those days the overwhelming number of students came from more of a public school background than I did.
My concentration was really on getting to university and becoming a doctor. My parents let me know that school marks were important. Achievement was something which came by hard work.
My family actually lived in the same village for about 400 years. They had great stability until the last century. People lived and intermarried in small villages.
My introduction to track racing was through the background of cross country running, which is not a sport perhaps as popular in America as it is in England.
Our house was bombed, and the roof fell in. We were sitting under the stairs of the basement, and we were quite safe, but it brought home the realization. In two nights 400 people were killed in small town.
The Athletic Association competed against the University. So there was an event. You cannot break world records unless it is an established event, and you have three timekeepers, and the whole thing is organized.
The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.
The reason sport is attractive to many of the general public is that it’s filled with reversals. What you think may happen doesn’t happen. A champion is beaten, an unknown becomes a champion.
There were only 170 neurologists in Britain then and, whether spoken or unspoken, there was this insidious feeling. How can Bannister, a mere athlete, probably spoilt by all the publicity and fame, dare aspire to neurology? But I’d done a lot of research, and my academic record was very good.
When I was about to break a world record and become well known, my mother used to say that for her the important thing was for me to become a doctor – a career which had not been possible in her generation and in her society. Sport was something to be set aside.
You get very tired, and there was a certain amount of pain and you slow up. Your legs are so tired that you are in fact slowing. If you don’t keep running, keep your blood circulating, the muscles stop pumping the blood back and you get dizzy.
Your spikes, which were really quite long then, would catch the material of the track and your shoe would get heavier. I was simply filing them down and rubbing some graphite on the spikes. I thought I would run more effectively.