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three good laps
(thoughts on leadership)
On Thursday, May 6, 1952 at the Iffley Road Track in Oxford, England, Roger Bannister became the first person to run the mile in under four minutes. The task had previously been considered impossible, and the run made Bannister instantly and exceedingly famous around the globe.
Less famous, however, are two runners who actually led Bannister through more than three quarters of the race. Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway served as pace runners for Bannister for over three laps and ultimately provided him with physical and psychological edge he would need to accomplish what had been considered beyond the scope of human achievement.
I have a deep affection for this story and not simply because of what Bannister’s run implies about the human will and capacity. My affection is primarily for Brasher and Chataway and the fact that their role in one of the greatest athletic triumphs in history is virtually imperceptible and largely ignored.
Still, Bannister could not have run the sub-four minute mile without their commitment to hard work, to excellence and to their training partner and friend. Literal leadership.
As I have been reflecting lately on my career and on my life, I have embraced the notion that I am more of a Brasher/Chataway type than a Bannister type.
I've been most comfortable as a teacher, coach and therapist, teasing out the best in others. I'd rather lead my team in assists than goals and I'd rather support a cause than start one. I love the role of leader, but I'd rather do it from the back corner than the front lines. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
On the morning of May 6, 1952, it was overcast and windy at Iffley Road. Roger Bannister decided twice to abort his attempt at the sub-four minute mile. Brasher and Chataway, on the other hand, urged him to make the attempt and Bannister was eventually out-voted by partners who believed in his cause more than he did.
I'd like to think I would have voted with Brasher and Chataway that morning. The result was a run that exceeded Bannister’s own expectation as well as the world’s.
That's the kind of race I want to be a part of.