“Never tell me the odds.”
—Han Solo, The Empire Strikes Back
In 1954, Britain’s Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile for the first time in recorded human history. Once runners learned that such a time was possible, many others followed. It took John Landy of Australia just 46 days to set a new mile record. Since that year, that once elusive “four-minute barrier” has been broken by over 1,400 runners. The current mile record stands at 3:43.13 and is held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco. Women milers are closing in on the sub-four mile, with Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands setting a new world record of 4:12.33 this past July 12.
This past week, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya accomplished something as remarkable to Bannister’s memorable breaking of the four-minute barrier, though in my mind, considerably more difficult. If Bannister was the first to reach the moon, in terms of his running accomplishment, Kipchoge has reached Mars. On October 12, Kipchoge completed the first sub-two-hour marathon in history, clocking in at 1:59:40.7. That’s 26 miles. At a 4:34 per mile average pace. In a row. Let that sink in. Though it wasn’t officially sanctioned as a race, and thus will not eclipse Kipchoge’s own world record marathon time of 2:01:39, it represents the breaking of a huge psychological barrier in running.
In life, a valuable skill is being able to tune out the naysayers, those negative voices that say “That’s impossible.” “You can’t do that.” “Be realistic.” For me, the naysaying voice is often my own, telling me “It can’t be done.” “You don’t have what it takes.” “What if you fail?” To accomplish what Bannister and Kipchoge accomplished, with centuries of history stacked against them, one has to become skillful at “tuning out” all those voices of conventional wisdom.
At this point, sensible Andy wants to chime in with a dozen caveats. “We all recognize the prudence of being realistic, of not reaching too high, blah blah blah blah blah.” But if we accept what conventional wisdom “knows,” we’ll never attempt anything outside of our comfort zone, let alone anything great or truly good. If someone had told Charles and Darlene Coulston the odds against successfully establishing a ministry to street kids in Nairobi that in 25 years would nurture 100 adolescents at a time, employ 50 Kenyans, and boast 450 graduates, they may never have created the ministry that eventually grew into Made in the Streets. I’m deeply grateful they didn’t listen to the naysayers, whether internal or external.
Henry Ford was on target when he said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul did Ford one better, pointing us to rely upon the God who works wondrous surprises: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”