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Illustration: Discipline to Run the Race

In a back issue of the Leadership Weekly newsletter, Gordon Macdonald says, "Neal Bascomb has written The Perfect Mile (Houghton Mifflin) in which he recounts the 1950s story of the pursuit of the 4-minute mile by Roger Bannister, Wes Santee and John Landy. For those of us who love running, the book is a delight.

"In its earliest pages, Bascomb writes: 'All three runners endured thousands of hours of training to shape their bodies and minds. They ran more miles in a year than many of us walk in a lifetime. They spent a large part of their youth struggling for breath. They trained week after week to the point of collapse, all to shave off a second, maybe two, during a mile race—the time it takes to snap one's fingers and register the sound. There were sleepless nights and training sessions in rain, sleet, snow and scorching heat. There were times when they wanted to go out for a beer or a date yet knew they couldn't. They understood life was somehow different for them, that idle happiness eluded them. If they weren't training or racing or gathering the will required for these efforts, they were trying not to think about training and racing at all.'

"What I hear Bascomb saying is the men said a lot of no's in order to reach one huge yes: that perfect mile. This is a picture of the disciplined life in which a purpose becomes so powerful that it is imposed on body and soul and controls virtually every thought and every ounce of energy in a person's life. My suspicion is the top 5 percent of people in the arts and sciences, athletics, business and scholarship are disciplined people with intensities similar to those of Bannister, Santee and Landy."