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BoxLife Magazine

CrossFit’s 4-Minute Mile: What self-belief in sport can achieve

By William Imbo

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February 5, 2014

On May 6th, 1954, an English doctor and academic named Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. For years, no one believed that such a feat was possible. Doctors and scientists claimed that the human body was incapable of moving at a speed necessary to break the four-minute barrier. Sports physiologists and coaches believed it would take perfect weather and track conditions to achieve the dream mile’. For almost all, a sub-four minute mile was just that-a thing of dreams, something that could never be achieved in reality. Bannister, however, had other ideas.  Despite setting a British record in the 1500 meters in the 1952 Olympics, Bannister finished 4th, which strengthened his resolve and belief that he could be the first athlete to break the four minute mile barrier, once considered to “be impossible if not fatal”. Despite the naysayers, Bannister was able to achieve “the impossible”, running a mile in 3:59.4 and etching his name into the history books.

Bannister had accomplished something that few had thought possible. The previous mile record had stood for the previous nine years, but what’s remarkable is that once Bannister had shown the world that a human could indeed go sub-four minutes; others began to match, and even surpass him. In fact, his record only lasted 46 days before it was broken, and over the next two years 37 other runners broke the four-minute mile barrier. So, why is Bannister’s feat so impressive? Yes, it was an outstanding athletic accomplishment for his time, but more importantly, he had “done the impossible”, and shown what mental strength and athletic ability could achieve. If he could do it, why couldn’t others? Today, running a sub four-minute mile, while still impressive, is considered a standard feat for competitive runners.

Fast-forward to 2012, and our own sport of CrossFit. It’s April, the Regionals are right around the corner, and the 300lb snatch had not been conquered by a single individual CrossFit Games competitor. Once again, many thought it would never happen. Then along came Aja Barto. Barto hit 305 lbs in training, and perhaps it was an indication of the general consensus that 300lbs-plus couldn’t be done when he cleared the snatch ladder in the South Central Regional only a month later, with the final bar weighing in at 295lbs. Barto had unwittingly sent an invitation for others to join him in the 300lbs snatch club. Since 2012, Rich Froning, Ben Smith and ZA Anderson have all hit 300lbs snatches, breaking the perception that a CrossFit athlete would never be able to lift that much weight.  All it took was one person to prove the doubters wrong, to make the impossible, possible.

Too often in life and sport, we are told that we cannot do something, that it will never happen, that we should try something else. This is true of Games athletes, and trickles all the way down to you and your local box. Perhaps no-one has ever done a muscle-up in your gym- but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen! Look back at your own workout history-what have you achieved that you thought you never would? CrossFit is a young sport that is growing rapidly. There are plenty of critics out there who doubt the credentials and abilities of CrossFit athletes. But new records and achievements are being set every month, both by men and women. We must remember Sir Roger Bannister (he was knighted for his accomplishments and contribution to British athletics). All it takes is self-belief and perseverance-once you have that, the possibilities are endless.

William Imbo

About William Imbo

William Imbo is an Associate Editor at BoxLife magazine, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer and holds an MPS in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown University. He is an avid CrossFitter and loves film, music and travel, thanks to having grown up across Europe. A fan of the New Orleans Saints and Newcastle United, Will's favorite CrossFit girl is Helen-least favorite being Isabel. View all posts by William Imbo →

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