On 6th May 1954, running at Oxford’s Iffley Road track, Sir Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes, a feat which many at the time thought impossible.
In the years that followed, British middle distance running experienced a fallow period, and the production line of great milers ground to a halt. In 1963, the renowned coach, Frank Horwill, set up the British Milers Club, which aimed to promote middle distance running in this country through a network of coaches and elite races.
The ‘BMC’ bore spectacular fruit in the late 1970s and 80s, as first Steve Ovett, then Seb Coe, Steve Cram, Peter Elliot and others dominated international middle distance running. Over a seven year period starting in 1978, three different Brits set mile world records and won European, World or Olympic titles over 1500m.
To celebrate the 66th anniversary of Sir Roger’s ground-breaking feat, the BMC organized a ‘Bannister Virtual Mile Time Trial’ between 4th and 6th May. To comply with social distancing regulations, all runners ran alone, were not allowed to run on athletics tracks, and were asked to find courses that would avoid contact with the public.
Nationally, over eleven hundred athletes of all ages and standards took part. It is incredibly difficult to run a sub-four-minute mile (less than 150 British men have managed it in the 64 years since Sir Roger’s ground-breaking race), and still harder to do running on your own on a road or around a park.
However, nationally, the best runners came close – the fastest time was run by European Under 23 silver-medalist, Piers Copland of Wimborne AC, whose 4:02 got him tantalizingly close to a sub-four clocking.
Athletes from Bedford and County AC also played their part in the celebrations, and there were some standout performances.
Club half-marathon record holder, Matt Leach finished a brilliant eleventh overall with a scorching time of 4:14. John Eves was the fourth fastest M35, with a very quick 4:31.
800m specialist Jamie Webster was a little disappointed with his 4:46, but it was still good enough to make the top 20 in the Junior Men’s age bracket. And in M40, Charlie Palmer came within a whisker of the five minute barrier as he clocked an impressive 5:03 to come forty-first in that always competitive category.
The Virtual Mile time trial was about as close as most athletes can get to competition at the moment, and the event raised over £1500 for charity.
Words by Peter Webster