Image Credit: Haochen Wang

70 years on: The Roger Bannister Mile

Exactly 70 years ago today, with a time of 3:59.4, Sir Roger Bannister became the first man in documented history to run a mile (1600m) in under four minutes. Now, while the mile record has long been taken to 3:43:13 by Hicham El Guerrouj, the Bannister Mile still remains a shining light in the discipline, forever inspiring aspirational runners.

Now, 70 years on, hundreds of runners have gathered in Oxford on a crisp Monday morning to run the “Community Mile” – a mile-stretch beginning outside Christ Church and Pembroke and going along the High Street all the way to the Iffley Track, where Bannister achieved his feat in 1954. With 12 waves of close to 100 people per wave running at five-minute intervals between 9am and 11am, the crowds took full advantage of the closed High Street, tracking enthusiastically towards the Iffley Centre, while runners awaiting their start gathered in the Christ Church Meadows. Arriving at 9am, one would be quickly struck by the palpable excitement that hummed in the air.

Indeed, speaking to two members of the Midlands Masters AC, both already armed with extensive experience participating in the Bannister Miles, they seemed just as inspired as ever to participate this year.

“It’s almost a religious pilgrimage, isn’t it? It’s a landmark event that’s up there with going to the moon. We were saying on the way down that there’s less people [that have] run a four minute mile than have scaled Everest.” 

While many might scoff at the prospect of a mile being more significant than scaling Everest, the presence of world record holders such as Hicham El Guerrouj, Steven Cram, and Filbert Bayi today speaks to the gravity of the Bannister Mile.

Of course the Bannister Miles is not just a participatory event. While definitely encouraging a fun and community-wide participation, with a designated Kids Athletics Wave, the Bannister Mile is also an elite athletics event. With its “Track Miles” option playing host to elite, invitational races and, in collaboration with the British Milers Club (BMC), equi-distant steeplechase, junior, and para races. 

Although the Community Mile races would have finished before midday, the 70th-year commemorations of Bannister’s historic achievement are far from over. With the elite races beginning from 13:40 and lasting all the way to 18:00, exactly 70 years on from Bannister’s run, yet another generation of leading athletes will step into the spotlight, inspired by the achievements of Bannister, Cram, El Gurreouj, and other legends. 

To keep updated with the Bannister Miles, visit their website here.

Image description: The finishing line of the Roger Bannister Community Mile.