#FBF: The legendary runner who lives a quiet life near White Rock Lake

Peter Snell

Nike is on a mission to break the two-hour marathon, by using a scientific approach and controlling all variables. A well-publicized attempt a few weeks ago fell short by 25 seconds. They will keep trying. It’s close enough to taste. The race to a seemingly impossible goal is on.

It is very similar to an era in the 1950s, when a few elite runners were vying to break four minutes in the mile. Most scientists swore it could not be done. The man who did it first, Roger Bannister, was a medical student who had less time than his contemporaries to train, so he used his understanding of biology, physiology and other sciences to maximize his training. Also, interestingly, only days after Bannister broke four, one of his competitors beat Bannister’s time. Others followed. Once Bannister (even though he used pacers and wind to his advantage, which people called unfair, the same thing many undoubtedly will say of Nike’s methods) showed the world that it was possible, others believed and, of course, achieved. In the year Bannister did the “impossible,” so did 24 other men; their names will not go down in history. (Source: The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb)

That’s not to say it’s all in the mind — breaking four minutes in the mile, like running anything close to a two hour marathon, is something only the world’s most elite athletes will ever do. The mindset is one of many factors, but it is vital.

Back in the 1960s, when a four minute mile was still a very big deal, a guy from New Zealand named Peter Snell managed to run the mile in under four minutes on 15 occasions. His best time was three minutes 54 seconds, a world record at the time. Today Snell is a doctor and researcher at UT Southwestern, and he lives with his wife near the north side of White Rock Lake. Running enthusiasts know Snell’s name (if you have a subscription to Running Times, it comes up in issue after issue). New Zealanders know Snell. They have a bronze statue of him and honored him as Athlete of the Century. But, for the most part, he now lives very humbly and quietly, mostly competing with (and sometimes against) his wife in the sport of orienteering …

Peter Snell and his wife Miki, in 2011. Photo by Benjamin Hager

Here’s the 2011 story we published about the Snells.

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