In the 1940s, experts and runners debated the limits of how fast a human could run. For thousands of years, no human had been able to run a mile under four minutes. The world's fastest runner at the time, John Landy, couldn't seem to break 4:02. Experts agreed: it just wasn't possible.

Then in 1953, a runner named Roger Bannister started to believe that this limit could be broken.

Bannister was just a year out of the 1952 Olympics, where he was expected to win but only came in fourth place. Wondering if he should quit running for good, he doubled down and started training even more, this time for a new goal – to be the first to run a mile under four minutes.

On May 6, 1954,  Bannister ran a mile in 3.59.4, breaking the world record and becoming the first person to run a mile under four minutes. He proved that it was a mental barrier, not a physical barrier.

The crazy part? After Bannister broke the record and showed it was possible, other runners started to break it as well. Only 46 days later, John Landy would run a mile in 3.58. Many other runners would follow suit and break four minutes after Bannister.

Today, the record for the mile is 3:43.13, held by Hicham El Guerrouj.


Fun fact: Alan Turing, the famous computer scientist, was a great runner. Here he is running a marathon in 2 hours and 46 minutes – that's an average of 6:20/mile – a few years before Bannister!