"i Just Ran Anywhere And Everywhere"
Bannister was born in 1929 in Harrow, England. As a child, he loved to run. According to Cordner Nelson and Roberto Quercetani in The Milers, he once said, "I just ran anywhere and everywhere—never because it was an end in itself, but because it was easier for me to run than to walk"
He won his school's cross-country meet for three years in a row when he was 12, 13, and 14. When he was 16, he decided to become a runner, but when he began studying medicine at Oxford University in 1946, he had never run on a track or worn running shoes with spikes. In 1946, Bannister began medical school in Oxford, where he had won a scholarship. Every day, during his lunch hour, he paid threepence to enter Paddington Park, near the hospital where he worked, so that he could practice running.
At the time, Bannister was not obviously talented as a runner; he had an ungainly walk, and barely made Oxford University's third track team. On March 22, 1947, however, he was running as a pacer for members of Oxford's first team in a mile race against Cambridge. Instead of stopping, as a pacer was supposed to, he kept on running, not only completing the course but winning by 20 yards with a time of 4:30.8. According to Frank Deford in Sports Illustrated, Bannister later said, "I knew from this day that I could develop this newfound ability." He still did not think of athletics as a career, but simply as something one did in order to be well-rounded.
In June of 1948, Bannister ran his first big race, the Kinniard Cup, and came in fourth. His time was 4:18.7. In the same year, he came in fifth in the Amateur Athletic Association Race with a time of 4:17.2. The Olympics were held in London that year, and Bannister was fascinated and inspired by the athletes. He decided to set his sights on competing at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952.
In 1949, Bannister won races in the United States with times of 4:11.1 and 4:11.9. After taking six weeks off, he came in third in another race with a time of 4:14.2. In 1950, he ran a mile in 4:13, not an impressive time compared to some of his earlier efforts. However, his last lap was an amazing 57.5, indicating that he was capable of greater speed, and that he had the ability to push for a burst of speed at the end of a race.
In 1951, he ran in the Penn Relays, starting out slowly but then taking the lead after two and a half laps. He won with a time of 4:08.3, and his last lap was 56.7. He knew from this performance that he could probably run a mile in 4 minutes, 5 seconds. At the time, no one had ever run a mile in less than four minutes, and most observers of track and field believed it could not be done.