My First Triathlon, Roger Bannister’s Perfect Mile.



Roger Bannister's record breaking moment was far more memorable than my first triathlon

Roger Bannister's record breaking moment was far more memorable than my first triathlon

I participated in my first triathlon today: the fourth annual South Shore Tri.



It was a gentle introduction to the sport.

The “swim” consisted of running out in two-feet-deep water to near a buoy, where I and quite a few of the other competitors did a combination of crawl, breast stroke and hopping the 375 meters. 

Somehow one of the volunteers shaved a couple of miles off of the 6.2 I was supposed to biking, pointing me toward the finish line, when I should have headed out to the fabled Midway Plaisance

The run, at least, from the start at Rainbow Beach to city treasure La Rabida Children’s Hospital, on the other hand, felt at least as long as the 2.5 kilometers I had expected.

Post-race festivities included chatting with Team Dream  founder and dear friend Derrick Milligan, his wife Cathy Tossas and their two lovely children, getting a ride to Ava’s house from friend Judson Brooks, whose wife  Gabrielle had purchased a new and apparently needed bike rack for the event, and getting reprimanded by one of the elder volunteer ladies on the grill for taking too much fruit from the cardboard boxes.

“We’re not shopping,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” I answered, putting back the two large red delicious apples I had all ready to chuck into my navy blue back pack, slinking away, telling Jud how much better Dunreith is than me at these ventures, and moving to two other tables, where I continued my food quest. 

All in all, it was a fantastic introduction to the event, and I am optimistic that Dunreith, Aidan and I will do it together as a family  next year.  Dunreith got sidetracked this year by injuries, Aidan by staying up until 2:00 to watch a movie about a murderous giant spider.  

After a delicious and healthy breakfast at Ava’s, I biked home, rested, watched the conclusion of the spider movie with Aidan and finished Neal Bascomb’s The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It. 

Having just read, and very much enjoyed, Bascomb’s book about the capture of notorious Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann, I was eager to read about Wes Santee, John Landy and Roger Bannister’s quest to break the seemingly impregnable 4-minute mile barrier. 

The results were mixed. 

To his credit, Bascomb effectively portrays the personalities, training methods and life circumstances of the American, Australian and Englishmen, respectively, and also evokes the times in which they ran.  He writes repeatedly about Bannister’s philosophy that sports should be just one part of a full life, rather than the sole focus of one’s activities. 

Although he writes in an Author’s Note after the book’s conclusion that he tried not to be swept into the mythology of the four-minute mile, he conclude the note by writing that all four men are heroes.

Bascomb’s account of Eichmann was masterfully told and moved from Argentina to Israel to World War II era Hungary and back.  The Perfect Mile operates in much the same fashion, shifting scenes from each man’s assaults on, and setbacks toward, breaking the record. 

Each man records triumphs along the way, but Bannister is the one who claimed ultimate glory, both breaking the four-minute barrier on May 6, 1954 and besting Landy in an epic duel later that year at the Empire Games.   The latter was particularly painful for Santee, who was serving in the Marines and was forced by his superior officers to commentate on a race he would have given anything to attend. 

The Perfect Mile drags on at times, in part because the details of training can get a bit slow and repetitive and in part because Bascomb does not get too far beyond his characters’ motivations to show their complexity.  He writes about Santee’s brashness, how Landy gets overwhelmed by all the attention and expectations in his homeland, and Bannister’s being criticized for running for records, rather than wins, and needing to enlist a coach and a pace runner.

Bascomb would likely answer that these are the men about whom he wrote-a point that is fair enough.  At the same time, it can make for less than gripping reading in places.  Bannister’s mile may have been perfect, but the book has some room for improvement.


2 responses to “My First Triathlon, Roger Bannister’s Perfect Mile.

  1. As a former standout high school middle distance runner, I found the book a fantastic read and not slow or boring in the least. I suppose for some the running and training detail was a bit much, but that is some of the material that as a runner I enjoyed most. Each set up and description of the races was like reliving the competition and I couldn’t get enough. I didn’t want the book to end.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Tom, for your comment. I am glad that you enjoyed the book so much. I don’t know if you’ve read Bascomb’s Hunting Eichmann, but I found that one more exciting.

      Are you still running?

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.


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