Four Really Fast Runners

I've been training for a 20k that takes place at the end of May, and I can definitively say that you will never find me on anyone's "Fastest Runners" list. "Slowest Runners," "Saddest Runners," "Runners with the Worst Form," "Runners Who Hate GU the Most," maybe. But not "Fastest Runners." However, if you're looking for some inspiration to give your jogs a little boost, here are four guys who should do the trick.

Roger Bannister

Sir Bannister is the first man in history to run a mile in less than four minutes, but he wasn't the only one in pursuit of the elusive goal: American Wes Santee had been clocking in at 4:02.4 and Australian John Landy was down to 4:02.00. On the magic day, May 6, 1954, Bannister almost scrapped the whole run. It was windy and he preferred to save his energy for another run when the wind wouldn't ruin his time. But Mother Nature smiled upon him - the winds died down and Roger consented to race. When the announcer took the mic to tell the excited stadium what the final time was, he purposely drew out the announcement as long as possible to tease the masses. When he finally said, "3..." the crowd went nuts and drowned out the rest of the result, which was 3:59.4.

He only held the record for six weeks, though: John Landy surpassed the sub-four-mile mark by just a sliver (3:57.9). On August 7 of the same year, though, Bannister got his chance to win the title back when he and Landy faced off at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games. Although Landy led for the majority of the race, Bannister came up with his famous "Bannister Burst" in the last quarter of the race and sped past Landy to win. Too bad Landy ended up retaining the record anyway: they both came in at times slower than Landy's previous 3:57.9. You can watch it here - it's pretty fascinating. I can't imagine running a mile in less than four minutes and still losing. The current record of 3:43.13 was set by Hicham el Guerrouj of Morocco in 1999.

Eamonn Coghlan

A sub-four-minute mile is incredibly impressive, no doubt, but it's even more impressive when you're over 40. And so far, Irishman Eamonn Coghlan is the only man older than 39 to have clocked 1600 m in under 240 seconds. Ever. Eamonn was no amateur runner - in the '70s, famous track coach Jumbo Elliott offered Coghlan a scholarship to come run for Villanova. Coghlan accepted, and there he won four NCAA titles. He ran his first under-four in 1975 and has since accomplished the feat 83 times, including his record-setting over 40 run in 1994. He was 41 at the time. Interestingly, a sub-four over the age of 50 has never been accomplished, so maybe we'll see another record out of Eamonn Coglan yet. And if the name sounds familiar to you, but the sport seems all wrong, that's because Eamonn's son, also named Eamonn, is a golf pro in the U.S.

Bill Rodgers

Rodgers wasn't the first person to win three consecutive Boston Marathons, but he is one of the most well-known. And in the later '70s, runners were probably cursing Boston Billy - in '78 and '79 he won both the Boston and New York Marathons. In fact, he dominated the New York Marathon for the latter half of the '70s entirely, with wins every year from 1976 to 1979. He broke two course records in Boston during that time. His personal records include a 4:18 mile, a 13:25 three-mile, a 46:35 10-mile and a 2:09:27 marathon (which was the American record at the time). Suddenly I feel very bad about myself. Bill has been out of the racing game for a while - he says now when he runs marathons and other events, he's just there to run, not to compete. He finished his first Boston Marathon in 13 years this year and clocked in at 4:06:49. That might seem a little slow for someone who once finished in almost half the time, but bear in mind that Boston Billy is now 61 years old and was recovering from prostate cancer surgery. Be that as it may, he's not satisfied with the time. "I gotta train more," he said after the race. "I want to get under four hours."

Usain Bolt

Unless you were hiding under a rock last summer during the Olympics, you've probably heard of Usain Bolt. But you may not know that the 100m world record holder actually started his athletic career with cricket. It was his sport of choice at William Knibb Memorial High School in Trelawny, Jamaica, until his cricket coach took note of how unusually fast he was and recommended that he try out for the track team. He did, and the coach was right: Usain was fantastic. He took silver in the high school championships, seemingly without even trying. It might seem to us that he rose overnight in the running world, coming from nowhere to handily win his Olympic golds last year, but the truth is that he had been training for more than five years for that moment. In 2002, at the age of 15, he set a new personal best for the 200m and won a gold medal in the World Junior Championships for his time of 20:61. It also made him the youngest world-junior gold medal winner ever. To put it in perspective, Michael Johnson's gold medal-winning Olympic performance for the 200m was 19:32. Johnson was 30 when he set that record, and 15-year-old Usain Bolt was barely a second from breaking it. That's pretty impressive... and also a sign of things to come. In 2004, he became the first junior sprinter to break the 20 second mark for the 200m, and squeaked by Johnson's world record at the 2008 Olympics, clocking in at 19:30. His current world record 100m, 9:69, was also set at the Beijing Games. Here's the record-setting 100m - if you don't want to watch the warm-up, the actual race starts around 1:24.

I think I'll do a follow-up on amazing female runners next. If you have some suggestions, leave me a comment and let me know!

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I might recommend Catherine Ndereba, the first woman to win the Boston Marathon four times, and former world record holder. I went out to the Chicago Marathon when my step-father was running in it, and saw Ndereba set the record, so I'm a little partial. Good luck in your 20K!
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