The Perfect Mile

The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve ItThe Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It by Neal Bascomb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

There was a time when running the mile in four minutes was believed to be beyond the limits of human foot speed, and in all of sport it was the elusive holy grail. In 1952, after suffering defeat at the Helsinki Olympics, three world-class runners each set out to break this barrier.

Roger Bannister was a young English medical student who epitomized the ideal of the amateur — still driven not just by winning but by the nobility of the pursuit. John Landy an Australian who trained relentlessly in an almost spiritual attempt to shape his body to this singular task. Then there was Wes Santee, the swaggering American, a Kansas farm boy and natural athlete.

Spanning three continents and defying the odds, their collective quest captivated the world and competed with headlines from the Korean War, the atomic race, and such legendary figures as Edmund Hillary, Willie Mays, Native Dancer, and Ben Hogan. Neal Bascomb delivers a breathtaking story of unlikely heroes and leaves us with a lasting portrait of the twilight years of the golden age of sport.

My Review

I am a runner and I love it. (Though that hasn’t always been the case. You can read more about my conversion to running here.) So I was naturally interested in this book since it’s all about runners. But there is also historical significance in learning more about this event along with what was going on in the world at the time it took place. I was fascinated by the view of amateur and professional athletics in the 1950’s, and how much athletics have changed since then.

This book also introduced me to true heroes and role models of our day, and the writing is superb. The author paints pictures with words of people and events so that they come alive and are so relatable. I was just as nervous and engaged reading about the races in this book as I was while reading the Hunger Games.

And when it comes down to it, this book is less about running and more about working hard with what life has given us to make something of ourselves and to contribute to the world in which we live. The 3 main running figures in the book sum it up best:

John Landy: “Running gave me discipline and self-expression…It has all the disappointments, frustrations, lack of success, and unexpected success, which all reproduce themselves in the bigger play of life. It teaches you the ability to present under pressure. It teaches you the importance of being enthusiastic, dedicated, focused. All of these are trite statements, but if you actually have to go through these things as a young man, it’s very, very important.”

Wes Santee: “Hard work pays off. You have to be just as disciplined to run a business as you do to train for an athletic event. You have to eat right, still have to get up early and work more than others.”

Roger Bannister: “Sport is about not being wrapped up in cotton wool. Sport is about adapting to the unexpected and being able to modify plans at the last minute. Sport, like all life, is about taking your chances.”

All of these factors make this a book that everyone, runner or non-runner, athlete or completely lacking in coordination, should read.

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Age Recommendation: All ages will be interested in this story, particularly those with experience truly sacrificing and working hard toward a goal. The writing is probably best for 16 and older though younger readers with a high reading level would do just fine.

Appropriateness: Clean as a whistle on this one.  Clean language, no violence, no immorality.

This would provide great book club discussion material.  Comparing the  different approaches to running from each of the main runners as well as from their coaches would be interesting.  The different approaches to running could also be discussed in how they relate to the characters view of life.  This book provides great material for discussion on themes such as

1) the merits of athletics

2) the pros and cons to amateur vs. professional athletics

3) what does it take (physically and mentally) to push past barriers? Which is more important – physical or mental?

4) How do circumstances affect our performance in sport and in life? How do we keep our confidence and determination when circumstances all seem to be against us?

5) Why do sporting events and athletes bring out such pride in a country or school?

For more discussion material and for some of my favorite quotes and inspirations from the book see my previous post titled Full of Running.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the sound of this book you might also enjoy Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Eat and Run by Scott Jurek, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.


Eat and Run

This is a great follow-up read to Born to Run . Scott Jurek is one of the superathletes featured in the epic race detailed in Born to Run and Scott has now written his own take on what it means to push the limits of mind and body and to be a healthier and happier person because of it. This is what I thought of his book.

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon GreatnessEat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads (edited a little by me): “In Eat and Run, Scott Jurek opens up about his life and career—as an elite athlete and a vegan—and inspires runners at every level. From his Midwestern childhood hunting, fishing, and cooking for his meat-and-potatoes family, to his early beginnings in running (he hated it), to his slow transition to ultrarunning and veganism, to his world-spanning, record-breaking races, Scott’s story shows the power of an iron will and blows apart all the stereotypes of what athletes should eat to fuel optimal performance. Chock-full of incredible, on-the-brink stories of endurance and competition, fascinating science, and accessible practical advice—including his own favorite plant-based recipes—Eat and Run will motivate everyone to “go the distance,” whether that means getting out for that first run, expanding your food horizons, or simply exploring the limits of your own potential.”

My Review

I found Scott Jurek’s journey interesting and inspiring at parts. The running tips and recipes thrown in were good, but this isn’t a book about learning how to run. It is a memoir and so it’s really about Scott’s personal journey to finding meaning in life through running. I could relate to a lot of what he said, the feelings he expressed about running and how he related that to anytime we have something hard to do in life, anytime we have to push ourselves beyond the limits we think we have.

It only gets 3 stars though because some of it gets a little repetitive and while he tries to make his journey a universal one (and succeeds in that part of the time) running over 100 miles and having the time and lack of other commitments to be able to train for that is not universal. Also while I gain a great deal through running and love it for the personal, physical, emotional, and spiritual gains it provides, I found Jurek’s devotion to it as the one true source of all meaning and happiness (combined with eating well) to be unbalanced.

He spends a few chapters toward the end of the book describing a time when his life fell apart and after taking some time to wallow and think he is able to get back into running which helps him overcome the sinkhole he found himself in. I’m not quite sure his description of the difficult time or the recovery after ever quite shows that he recognizes it was is unbalanced devotion to eating and running that likely got him in deep doo-doo in the first place, and while I do believe the running and the passion he has for it did help and will continue to help him in other such difficult times, if he doesn’t find a little more balance he’s likely to find himself in a hole just as big or bigger than the last one.

But if you enjoy fitness and eating well you would enjoy this read. It has some interesting information and useful tips. And it is motivating, makes you want to do a little better and taking care of your body, mind, and spirit.

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Age Recommendation: This book probably holds the most interest for 18 and older, but teens with experience running or with other sports training might relate to some of it as well.

Appropriateness: I don’t remember particular swear words, but there likely was some profanity in the book. Some description of drinking as well, but definitely not a promotion for drinking. I didn’t find anything offensive.

Born to Run

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never SeenBorn to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads (edited some by me): “Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt?In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong. With a sharp wit and wild exuberance, McDougall takes us from the high-tech science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultrarunners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to the climactic race in the Copper Canyons. Born to Run is that rare book that will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that the secret to happiness is right at your feet, and that you, indeed all of us, were born to run.”

My Review

Definitely a worthwhile read. I’ll probably read it again someday too. Chapter 25 to the end was my favorite part. Every runner should read chapter 25 and chapter 28 and anyone who has ever wanted to run or even thought about wanting to run should read the book.

I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would though, especially since it is essentially responsible for my conversion to running. My husband read it first several years ago and decided that he and I should try barefoot or minimalist running technique. I had despised running all my life; it had never felt natural, it never felt good to be doing it. Then with my husband’s coaxing, I tried on a pair of minimalist running shoes; I immediately felt a difference. Just walking around the store I could tell my form was different in those shoes than in all the traditional running shoes I had always had. My first 1/4 mile run in the new shoes felt amazing, refreshing, rejuvenating. I felt strong (and also sore) after only a 1/4 mile. I had never run a full mile without walking before. Within 2 weeks I was running 3 miles without stopping and loving how it felt.

It took me a year to actually read the book that inspired that change, partially because I just don’t read much nonfiction. Hearing my husband talk about it I had thought I would be most interested in the story part of the book, that I would care most about “the greatest race the world has never seen.” But actually, I didn’t care all that much about it as I was reading. I felt there was lots of repetitive description of the Copper Canyons and the Tarahumara. Finding Caballo Blanco and getting the race all prepped also dragged for me. It was the science and the research that caught my attention. I would have loved to read more about the coaches and college running teams that train partially barefoot. I want more info about the studies scientists and coaches have been doing about running technique.

The writing is engaging though. It does not read like a textbook, but more like a novel. I came away from the read better able to describe why I finally fell in love with running, why I still love it, and why it was only after discovering “barefoot/minimalist” or good form running technique that I could truly consider myself “Born to Run.” Makes me want to get out and run. Maybe the Grand Canyon rim to rim?

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Age Recommendation: This one will likely be of most interest to adults. Teens, especially those who are runners could appreciate it too.

Appropriateness: There is some profanity and drinking in the book. It is not the focus of the story by any means and did not detract from the motivating message.

I loved my sister-in-law’s review of this one too:

“It definitely makes you think. About running, about your feelings about running, about all your experiences running…It also makes you curious, about all the same things. It makes you go a little crazy…thinking about running 5k’s, 10k’s, half marathons…what the hell, let’s run the Grand Canyon. It makes you start to hope, a little bit, that maybe, just maybe, you could learn to love to run, too. I’ve hated running ever since track in junior high. Now?….well, let’s just say I’m thinking…and hoping…and running.”

of hope and horsesIf you know her story it’s pretty incredible for her to be running, or even walking, after a accident with a horse left her with a crushed pelvis. If you want another amazing story please buy her audio CD called “Of Hope and Horses.” You can buy it here. I guarantee it will change your life, make you more grateful, more humble, and more ready to face your fears and LIVE.