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I Once Ran with... Roger Bannister - William Wood

Blog | By William Wood | Jul 09, 2024

Roger Bannister runs the first sub-four-minute mile, Iffley Road track, Oxford 6th May 1954

Six years after the former athlete's death, William Wood remembers a spontaneous, barefoot race with Roger Bannister

In 1954, I was ten years old and not much interested in the news, but my imagination was set on fire when Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile that year. This was news no one could have missed even in those days before social media and colour television. At school on the following day, we all made drawings of the event.

Seventeen years later, I was sent to Madras on my first British Council posting, which according to an envious London colleague was ‘the last outpost of graceful living’.

One of my first tasks was to look after Dr Roger Bannister, then still only 42, who was touring and lecturing as a neurologist.

At the weekend, I took Dr Bannister to the beach for a picnic lunch along with my wife and baby son. At that time, the seafront was accessible to all. There were no hotels or private beaches and there was plenty of space. When we had swum, eaten and drunk a few beers, I broached the subject I had been hesitant to mention. I feared that the now-respected academic would be fed up talking about his athletic past.

He did not show any irritation when I asked: ‘Do you still run?’

He replied: ‘When I can. Shall we run along the beach?’

We ran barefoot on the soft sand along the water’s edge, and how I wished I had eaten less. I thought I was fit but I could not keep up with him for long. I returned breathless to my amused wife, still sitting among the picnic remains with our son.

I felt ashamed of my poor performance but exultant that I had run with Roger Bannister.