Review of The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve ItThe Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It by Neal Bascomb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend loaned me this book since he knew I was a runner. I’ve never been a competitive runner, and never on a track team, so I was never in the kind of world depicted in this book. This is, of course, non-fiction, which means you have to be into either biographies or running, or at least have a healthy curiosity about it for the book to be interesting to you. Despite the specialized target audience, the author managed to bring real drama into the book. The lives of the three featured runners are brought into detailed relief. One Englishman, one Aussie, one American, all striving to be the first to break the 4-minute mile. You probably already know which one did unless you’re a lot younger than me and not much interested in track. But the book is not just about the first to break that magic barrier. The title refers to that perfect mile race where the three top milers in the world race against each other to see who is really the best. The training regimens these three follow are absolutely mind-boggling. The hardships they faced are unimaginable – a father who opposes his son’s efforts, weather disasters, a badly cut foot, politics among Olympic officials, AAU officials, the sports press, individual coaches and team coaches, amateur status and work and study and military obligations, ad infinitum. You’d think it would be easy enough just to invite the three of them to a race and let them prove who the best man was, but it wasn’t that easy. My biggest complaint is that it was just too long. The story could have been told in half as many pages, but it was well-told.

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