In 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes.
But he didn’t do it alone, he was part of a team.
All through history, men tried to do it and failed, because they tried to do it on their own.
Bannister’s coach, Franz Stampf, thought he knew what the problem was.
When you’re running alone, you listen to the voice in your head, and you listen to your body.
It tells you your muscles are aching, you’re out of breath, so you should slow down a bit.
The voice tells you to be reasonable, to go at a more comfortable pace.
But when there’s someone else racing against you, you don’t listen to the voice, you watch your competitor.
You have to keep up with them, they aren’t easing up, they’re not being reasonable.
So you go beyond what the voice in your head tells you.
That’s why Stampf suggested Roger Bannister get two of his friends as pacemakers: Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher.
These were serious runners: later that year Chataway would break the world 5,000 meter record, and in the 1954 Olympics Brasher would take Gold in the 3,000 meter steeplechase.
In 1954 at Oxford University, they began with Brasher leading over the first two laps, for 800 meters Bannister kept up with him.
Then for the next 500 meters, Chataway took the lead with Bannister in his slipstream.
In the final 300 meters, Bannister went on alone and finished in 3minutes 59.4 seconds.
Ever since Bannister broke the mile record, running with pace-makers has become standard.
Because that’s what makes us perform at our best, competition with those around us.
And we perform up to, or down to, the level we choose to compete against.
Choosing runners of the very highest quality was what made Bannister break the record.
And we can do that in our own careers.
We can choose who we compete against.
If we want to be better, we need to choose better competition.
I was lucky, I was competing against people like John Webster, David Abbott, Charles Saatchi, John Hegarty, and Paul Arden.
Of course, I never told anyone I was competing against them, that was in my own head.
But that made me go beyond being comfortable, that made me unreasonable.
I never told anyone I was competing against Helmut Krone, or Ed McCabe, or Mary Wells, or George Lois, or any of the greats, again that was just inside my own head.
Inside my head, they were my pace-makers.
And I’d keep going because I didn’t want to fall behind.
We can all set up our own pace-makers to help us perform better.
If the level of competition that’s around isn’t stretching you, then look back through advertising at the greats and see who you could be competing against.
Who would make you run faster, work harder, push yourself more?
If your environment doesn’t do that, change your environment.
Do what Bannister did, slipstream some of the greats.
Don’t just settle for what’s around, compete with the best there’s ever been.
If we just settle for what’s around us, we never live up to our potential.
We relax into what’s comfortable, what’s reasonable.
But why should we try harder?
Why should we make ourselves go beyond what’s reasonable?
What’s the point in pushing ourselves?
Because, as Eric Clapton said, “If you’re any good at all, you know you can be better”.