Sir Roger Bannister's magic mile, the first under the four-minute barrier, hits its 60th birthday today. On a blustery English day in 1954, Bannister ran the impossible.

Jesse Will, writing for The New Yorker, says it was Bannister's failure to medal in the metric mile at the 1952 Olympics that caused the athlete to devote himself to the four-minute mark. He'd spend his lunches running 10 laps at 4-minute mile pace, taking two minutes between each, so that he knew ideal pacing by feel.

On May 6, on a cinder track with primitive equipment and training, Bannister was led through his initial laps with the help of two pacers. Even then he entered his final lap more than a second behind his hoped-for pacing. Bannister dropped the hammer, sprinting the last 200 yards to claw his way into the record books with 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.

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Will writes:

As he crossed the finish line, his vision failed and his blood pressure fell. "I would have collapsed if someone wasn't there to hold me," he said.

Bannister, now 85, is still mentally spry as ever, claiming that because of the advances in modern tracks and equipment, his record has really only been bested by 13 seconds, instead of the 16 seconds that Hicham El Guerrouj ran in 2007.

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And while his body may be failing—an ankle injury in '75 prevented him from running again, and in 2011 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's—Bannister hasn't forgotten the selfish pleasure that is running.

"I remember, as a child, the experience of taking a few steps tentatively, and then I would start running, and then I would feel a sense of magic that suffused my motion," he says. "That feeling became grafted on to competitive running and stayed with me, even afterward. I never forgot it."