Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Lonely Quest of the Long Distance Runner

David writes…

It’s the merest bagatelle but nice to know all the same.

And it’s got all kinds of extra poignance just now.

The building is the historic old Duke of York’s Headquarters.


Takes a back seat just now though to the running track. Takes a backseat because Sir Roger Bannister - the man who broke the four-minute-mile barrier - died last weekend.

(Aside here: was there ever a more moving vale atque than the simple, heartfelt statement put out by Sir Roger’s family? “He banked his treasure in the hearts of his friends.”)

But to breast the tape - it was of course in Oxford - that day in May in 1954 - that Roger Bannister broke the four-minute barrier. But it was here, in London, in Chelsea, on this track, that he readied himself for that historic moment. That spring Roger Bannister was a 24-year-old medical student at St. Mary’s Paddington, one of the storied* London “teaching hospitals”. (By way of a “lap of honour” he went on to become a distinguished neurologist.)

Location, location, location. The running track at The Duke of York’s Headquarters in Chelsea was conveniently to hand if you were a medical student over the way at St. Mary’s Paddington. So this was where Roger Bannister trained - pounded the cinders and dreamed the dream - those early spring days in 1954.

You make the walk - well, squint a little bit, look hard enough, you just might see him, a wisp, a breath, a wraith, leaning into the bend, ghosting down the stretch.

*Be in no doubt about that adjective. St. Mary’s Paddington was where Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.

A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.

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