Can a sub-three-minute mile ever be accomplished?

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During the mid-twentieth century, running a mile in under four minutes was considered physically impossible. Experts in this matter concluded the human body was not capable of going this fast for 1600 meters.

That was until British athlete Roger Bannister shocked the world on May 6, 1954 with a  3:59.4 mile time, breaking what was said to be an “unbreakable barrier.”

Since then, Bannister’s time has been significantly lowered, and over 1,400 male athletes have broken the four-minute mile barrier. As of now, the mile record currently stands at 3:43.13, set by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco on July 7th, 1999.

Hicham El Guerrouj sets the World Record in the mile.

Physicians believe this record can be further reduced in upcoming years, maybe even breaking the 3:30 mark, but the question I’m evaluating could take centuries to be accomplished, maybe even a millennium: will humans ever run a mile in under three minutes?

At the 2009 IAAF World Championships, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt shattered his previous 100m world record with an astounding time of 9:58. If Bolt could keep that pace over 1600m, it would translate to around 2 minutes and 33 seconds.

Although this makes the future of running a sub-three-minute-mile hopeful, no one could sustain that pace for a mile. In 800 m, Bolt’s person record is 2.07, meaning he would most likely not be able to run a sub-4-minute mile.

To deduce the possibility that someone could ever run a mile in under three minutes, you would have to consider things such as VO₂ max, genetics, as well as performance-enhancing drugs.

Although anyone can improve their speed and endurance through vigorous training, many world class athletes are born with the right genetics which allows them to perform so well in a race.

For example, having more fast-twitch muscles would genetically make someone more suited to be a sprinter, while having more slow-twitch muscles would genetically make someone more suited to be a long-distance runner. The balance of these fast to slow twitch muscles is also very important, and can determine your success as a runner.

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VO₂ max is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during an intense workout. It also determines how much oxygenated blood your heart can pump. VO₂ max is strongly influenced by genetics and heredity, but it can be increased through high-intensity training.

A higher VO₂ max allows your body you take in more oxygen and deliver it do your muscles, which can improve the efficiency of your running, and help you sustain a faster running speed for a longer amount of time.

One more thing to consider in the future of breaking the 3-minute-mile barrier is performance-enhancing drugs. PEDs can enhance our genetic capabilities, and control the issues that affect us when running.

For example, EPO (Erythropoietin) improves oxygen delivery to the muscles by stimulating the production of red blood cells, which in turn increases an athlete’s endurance.

Another commonly used drug is insulin. Insulin improves an athlete’s stamina by loading the muscles with glycogen, which fuels your body to run efficiently.

Even though these substances are banned in competitive running, they could potentially shave off crucial seconds in an athletes’ race, steering us closer to a sub-3-minute mile.

Although genetics and performance-enhancing drugs will play a huge part in the future of a sub-3-minute mile, the human mind will ultimately determine whether this feat can ever be accomplished.

Why run a mile at such a fast pace when there is no need to?

This question can be easily answered from looking at ourselves. It’s in our nature to be the best at what we do, and it’s the reason why records are still being beaten today.

Take the 4-minute mile for example. Many years ago, scientists believed it was impossible to break the 4-minute barrier. Now, Hicham El Guerrouj currently has the mile record with a time of 3:43.13.

In the end, it will come down to our motivation to run this fast, and our determination of breaking the sub-3-minute mile barrier.

Kyle Shao is a junior member of the Multimedia Journalism class.