Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Literary Bite: The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

"Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It"
My opinion on this book is still in the works...It's not the best running book I've ever read. But it is good, and relatively interesting. If I sound hesitant to you, it is because I am not totally 100% enthralled, and I am a runner. Thus, I wonder if the book would appeal as much to non-runners...

Here's a little plot summary for you:

This book is the story of three men striving to be the first to break 4 minutes in the mile. 
1. Roger Banister, the classic English amateur gentleman/sportsman;

2. John Landy, Australian, major bad-ass with really intense training regimes;
3. Wes Santee, American Kansas farm boy, college athlete, arrogant but in a likable way.

The story switches between the three - following their races, training schedules, and disappointments as each man develops his own approach to attempting the "impossible" sub-4 mile. Along the way, the author gets into the history of competitive running, from the Ancient Greeks through the Middle Ages. 

The most interesting part of this book was reading about their training theories. It's all relatively recent - the story begins in 1952. That's kind of a long time ago...but within this lifetime (for some). Just to give you a taste of what I mean:

  • Landy did not believe in warming up
  • Bannister trained for a half-hour per day in between his medical studies
  • Wes Santee raced 4 races in every meet, twice a week, because he was competing for his college team

Try telling those training regimes to today's full-time pampered pros!

Sidenote: Now we think we've got it all figured out - that we know the best way to train. But I wonder if 50 years from now everything will be completely different and people will look back on 2009 and wonder how we were still living in the running dark ages?

Anywho, I divert myself...back to the book (which, btw, you can find and read online):

There are some interesting "running lore" bits. For example:
"In ancient Egypt newly chosen kings went on a ceremonial run...that symbolized laying claim to his domain and proved that he was fit enough for the demands of his position. thirty years after the king's corronation, and every three years thereafter, he was challenged to run the same long distance he had run as a young man. If he failed, he lost his power to rule." (p. 57)
"By the seventeenth century, athletes were having their spleens removed to increase their speed, an operation with a one-in-five chance of death" (p. 76)

And some pretty inspirational/intense thoughts on running:
" Of pain and injury he [Landy] told Sports Illustrated, 'There is no gray - just black and white...If you're hurt enough to limp, you can't run at all. If you aren't, it makes no difference." (p. 74)

I won't give away the ending...but I'm assuming that most people already know it. Or the runners do at least. Between the three characters, I like Bannister the least. He's all about "'effortless superiority,' the modus operendi of the gentleman amateur" (88). I prefer to admire Landy's hard-working determination, and as I already said, I think Santee is just a likable guy.Per usual, I have done some googling so that you don’t have to. 
To see what Emil Zatopek looks like running, check out this video link. And here are some quotes from Zatopek as well. 
If you disbelieve the craziness of Percy Cerutty (Landy's one-time Australian coach who trained his athletes to run with spears like "primitive man") take a look at this interview, and there's actually a whole book about him! And here is a link to all the articles that mention Cerutty in Sports Illustrated
You can listen to an NPR interview with the author. But be careful, this site will give away the ending!
Here's a pretty good book review on Cool Running.
Here's a link to the publisher's press release that includes info About the Author, and About the Book.

And apparently it was made into a TV movie, The Four Minute Mile in 1988.  Here's the IMDB info on that.  And then the book was remade into Four Minutes, another TV movie in 2005.
For a newsreel video of the breaking of the four minute mile, check out this YouTube link. "Just look at his action as those long legs carry him forth to that world record!"  - thank you British announcer man! And here's a video of the Landy-Bannister "Miracle Mile."
And finally, this runblogger did a good job of writing a review and linking to other videos. 
And since there isn't much talk of eating in this book (except for the fact that Santee always has oatmeal and tea before he races), I will instead provide you with something delicious to enjoy while reading the book. 

My perfect afternoon = a good book, a cup of coffee, and these cookies. Really, I can't imagine anything better. 
And this is a Eat, Run, Read exclusive opportunity! This recipe is nowhere to be found online (trust me, I've looked). It comes from a Martha Stewart Living magazine  from May 1998. (Thank you Mama for saving all those old magazines!) My family has been loving these cookies for years. 
My variations:

  • Double the recipe. They freeze well, and trust me, you will want more!
  • Toss in a dash of extra ginger if you like things spicy! 
  • Forget the white pepper - I never have it, so I never use it
  • Add some chocolate chips (1/2 bag)
  • Add chopped dried/candied ginger for some chewy bits of deliciousness
  • I only use 1 1/2 sticks of butter and it seems to work fine. If the dough is too dry, just add in a splash of water (not milk - it leaves a weird aftertaste when baked in cookies). 

Molasses Ginger Crinkles

  • 2 ½ cup flour
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) + 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 6 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 egg
  • *sugar for rolling
  1. Beat wet ingredients and sugar.
  2. Mix in dry ingredients.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour (best if refrigerated overnight)
  4. Preheat oven to 350*
  5. Use hands to roll cookies into tablespoon-sized balls (or as big as you like!) and then roll cookie balls in granulated sugar.
  6. Place cookie balls on sheet and use hand or a cup to squash them to ¼ inch thickness (about).
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes – depending on how gooey you want them.
  8. Make a cup of coffee.
  9. Open a good book.
  10. Enjoy and bless the amazing blogger who brought this recipe into your life!