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The Perfect Mile: A Book Review, by Guest Reviewer, Kevin Swaim

The Perfect Mile book image

Publishers Note {Yes indeed the Swaim School for better Living is expanding.  Today’s post is provided by life long runner and track coach, none other than older brother, Kevin.  Cheers ks}

The Perfect Mile (2004). Neal Bascomb: Mariner Books.

Since the 19th century, when sports stadiums began standardizing the size of their tracks, the one mile run has been a universally appreciated metric of athletic achievement. Combining stamina and speed, the test of completing four circuits of a quarter-mile track is a measure that most people can at least appreciate, regardless of their own athletic capacity or interest.

The Perfect Mile chronicles the lives of three young men in the early 1950’s, from three different continents, all with the same goal: To be the first person to complete the mile run in under four minutes.   While all three had very different approaches, the common element among them all was the single-minded focus with which each one pursued this super-human barrier.

Bascomb provides historical context to this once-believed impossible feat, gleaned through hours of interviews spent with each of the three athletes and their contemporaries. Their mindset at the time is captured in this quote from one of those conversations: “We honestly believed that, if you have a dream and you work to make it come true, then you really can change the world. There’s nothing you can’t do.”

Of course, the barrier of the sub-four minute mile has long-ago been surpassed. While I have yet to coach a runner to break through this still magical barrier, my years of coaching high school and collegiate runners has taught me that those who are most successful at athletics, and ultimately in life, are those who are able to establish the daily habits, the sometimes dull and inconvenient hard work, that accompany reaching a goal.

Regardless of one’s interest in sports history or in accomplishing feats of athletic heroism, a reading of this book raises a generally relevant question: What, in our own lives, is a barrier that may seem insurmountable? It may be the challenge of improved health, the mastery of a new skill or hobby, or the shedding of a debilitating habit. While the commitment levels of each of the world-class athletes in the book may seem a bit extreme for most of us, their unwavering focus should inspire us all.

Kevin Swaim, Spokane, WA

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