Once upon a time I had sporting hereos. Who didn't? Since the sports that I was into as a kid and even now aren't super mainstream, I kind have had to make an effort on learning about the sport and the men and women who colored its past. As with any sports, the history of each era is defined by great athletes and by great personalities. These things are the stories that make sport so compelling and so applicable to our everyday life.
What I have always enjoyed about individual sports is that you are the antagonist, the hero if you will, of your own story. In this way you can be analogous to the heroes that you look up in the sports, sporting mags and websites of your sport. You can suffer the same way, train the same way, race with the same panache and hold the same world views. It is truly great.
At that time I had a totally single minded approach to running. Every part of my year, month, week, day, meal, and snacks was (in my mind) geared towards getting the very most out of myself athletically. If it was going to get in the way of going faster, it wasn't going to happen.
At that time, my running hero was Prefontaine. He was a runner that set a ton of US record in a short time and was an ardent advocate for the sport. He strongly believed that you should race each and every race as though you would never get another chance. In a sport where the elites had become infamous for sit an kick (sprinting in cycling), Prefontaine was never afraid to try to grind people down by running at the front and pushing the pace. The internet is replete with bad ass Pre quotes. All great things for an over - enthusiastic high school runner to feed on.
In high school I had heard of Sir Roger Bannister. First man to break four minutes in the mile. The due was eccentric. He decided that he wanted to take running as far as he could, within certain constraints. He was a med student and was training on a plan that emphasized speed over all else. There are all sorts of crazy stories about him doing @ race pace 1/4 mile repeats durring his lunch break. He also did this with overwhelming repetition. None the less running was secondary in his life. Finishing his medical degree and romancing his future wife were the real goals. Running was the sideshow. Two days prior to dropping under 4 minutes in the mile he went for a hike!!
For those of you who aren't runner dorks, at the time the 4 minute mile was akin to summiting Everest. It was said to be the perfect exercise of time and the human body. Four full rotations around the track (still on the imperial standard tracks) and four full rotations of the second hand. It was perfection of movement in every sense of the word. Numerous runners had gone through 3/4 on pace or faster, but they had all floundered in the last 1/4 sometimes even in the last straight. To add to the mystique real live doctors went on record saying that it was physically impossible. They contended that the heart couldn't match the incredible pace for such a long durration.
At this time the best tracks in the world were either grass (trimmed like the green of a golf course) or cinder (like a kitty litter box). It had rained, making the track slow. Good reason to bag it. Nope, Bannister wouldn't let even the weather get in his way.
In high school this made no sense to me. I respected the achievement but I didn't really respect the man. I couldn't immagine anything more important than quantifiable achievements. Didn't he realize he might have given up a couple of seconds on his mile time?!?! (Dripping with sarcasm at the thoughts of my previous self)
What a difference a couple of years will make. Now that I am ancient and have other more temporal concerns it seems crazy to put every ounce of your being into something like that. I guess that growing up, having bills to pay, going back to school and falling in love all tempered that part of my life. Now I am blown away by the achievements of Bannister. He took on the impossible but refused to let what *really* mattered to him take a back seat.
Pre's legend had the luxury of never growing up. He got to live on in the world's memory as perfect devotion to his sport. Oddly enough that does not do it for me anymore. I am so much more impressed with doing the impossible when you are trying to live life too.