Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Review: The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

I’m adding The Perfect Mile to my pantheon of great running books, which now includes The Perfect MileBorn to Run,Ultramarathon Man, and Once a Runner.  

Bascomb narrates the quest of three runners, Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee, for immortality by running the four-minute mile first along with the duel between Bannister and Landy at the Empire Games in Vancouver in 1954.

It’s very difficult for the average weekend warrior, crackerjack athlete (like myself) who has “real life” responsibilities to relate to elite athletes.  That’s why reading about Bannister, Landy, and Santee is so refreshing, elite athletes with actual non-athletic responsibilities, who went out and dominated anyways. Anyone trying to achieve a new running benchmark--be it a four-minute mile or a ten-minute mile or running 10 miles without soiling themselves--will benefit from reading this book.

Spoiler Alert: If you don’t know who broke the four-minute mile first and you want to be surprised by what happens, stop reading now (and crawl out from underneath the rock you’ve been living under since 1954).

Bannister was in the process of obtaining his medical degree while training for the mile.  The day he broke the four-minute mile for the first time, he spent the morning tending patients at a hospital—not in the capacity of a doctor, but in the capacity of a lowly hospital worker. The morning after breaking the four-minute barrier, he was back to work—although his coworkers did hoist him on their shoulders and give him his due.

Landy, who had educational and work responsibilities, and Santee, who was screwed over by the hypocrisy of the U.S. Amateur Athletic Union several times while attending and working at the University of Kansas, had to focus on more than just running fast, even taking menial jobs at the University to supplement his scholarship. 

These are athletes normal folks can relate to, although we normal folks are simply trying to qualify for Boston while these guys were chasing immortality.


  1. That one is on my list for sure! Thanks for reminding me that it's out there.

  2. Yup, read this one a few summers ago and it is probably my favorite running book. Very well done!

    1. One of my favorite running books and favorite bloggers in the same place. It's a dream come true.