Challenge: Hacking The 4-Minute Mile

**Announcement: The 4MM challenge will officially begin on April 1, 2013. I just received a new job opportunity and am in the middle of moving across the country this month. 

Over the next 12 months, I’m going to show you how possible doing the impossible really is.

Table Of Contents

  • The 4-Minute Mile
  • The Power Of Your Mind
  • Hacking The Impossible
  • The Farse Of The 10,000 Hour Rule
  • 4-Minute Mile Challenge FAQ
  • Progress Updates

The 4-Minute Mile

Once ogled like an “out-of-your-league” supermodel, the 4-minute mile has now been broken by over 1000 runners since Roger Bannister broke the tape in 1954 with a 3:59.4. That record was bested by a full 1.4 seconds only 46 days later.

In fact, it’s the new standard by which all male middle distance runners measure ability.

It is a classic, albeit incredibly impressive, case of the impossible becoming not only possible, but mortal. Several well-known high schoolers have even been able to break the mark.

Speed has always fascinated me.

And it can be pure art.

Watching the prodigal Robby Andrews or Andrew Wheatings of today, for example, or the Peter Snells and Roger Bannisters of yesteryear, is akin to watching a deer effortlessly fly through the forest, his raw power limited only by the size of his spirit. Robby Andrews’ ability to unchain his incredible kick to finish most of his races (with a win) from near the back of the pack with 200m to go is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

And I miss that pure feeling.

At the height of my fitness in 2009 I routinely rattled off 5:30-5:45/mi paced 20-22 milers every Saturday morning. I’ve never done hard-drugs, but I can’t imagine them being any more addicting than the raw joy of floating through a 20-miler after a week of hard training. While my focus at the time was on short- and long- course triathlon, consisting of distances much longer than the mile, and therefore calling upon different muscle activations and aerobic/anaerobic systems, my estimated mile time based on my track workouts was 4:18.

So not too shabby considering the lack of focus.

And that was 8 months after I started training in earnest.

So the genetic predisposition for the appropriate speed is intact; I can at least check that one off the list (not to mention that my sister was the National Champion in the 5000m three years ago).

I have no reason to believe that, with the correct training, and a focus on health and recovery, I will not be able to break 4 minutes. Could I be a naive fool, thinking I’ll break such a hallowed barrier without dedicating my life to it? Possibly, yes. Many great runners don’t break it.

So yeah, I might fail.

But let me also remind you… nothing is sacred any more.

We live in the age of challenging conventional wisdom. Heck, random dudes are becoming professional athletes, a group of geeks (and I mean that in the best way) are routinely hacking the CIA and US federal government undetected, and we’ve commercialized space for goodness’ sake!

Anything is possible when approached with a plan.

Here’s The Point

By carrying out this performance-hacking challenge, I aim to point out several things to you:

1. The power of your mind

I have not trained in years.

I think I’ve cumulatively run around the same amount of miles in the last two years as I used to run in 4-6 weeks. I’m not fit in that way anymore… at all. Yet I’m unwaveringly sure I can do this in one year or less. Why?

Because I’ve studied the brain. I’ve seen people turn horrible situations into miraculous turnarounds. I’ve been through some craziness of my own. And I know the power your brain can exert over your physical body.

But like anything, this sense must be trained. It must be worked relentlessly. And the training must be approached intelligently, especially when there’s a deadline involved. Which brings us to…

2. How to properly hack the impossible

Hacking is essentially finding a streamlined way of getting things done much quicker (and arguably better) than normal.

Scott Young, for example, ‘hacked’ the MIT computer science curriculum by finishing an entire 4 year degree in only one year.

I chose the 4-minute mile because it has long been considered ‘hallowed ground.’  I’d like to demonstrate just how attainable it is with focused attention and a more structured and intelligent approach. The current popular approach to mile training is ludicrous IMO.

So I have my own solution – and just like a rebellious computer programmer, I’m choosing to run my own program because I think it’s better. That’s how we innovate.

3. The farse that is the “10,000 hour rule” for mastery

While I won’t argue with the idea of spending an enormous amount of focused attention on a single skill in order to master it, I feel compelled to break the mold and disagree with the ethos surrounding the 10,000 hour rule.

In particular, the fact that I think most people use it as a huge cop-out for not pursuing something great.

The whole idea that you need to dedicate 10k hours to something before you’re good enough to be considered great sends the majority of people running in the opposite direction.

The high-achievers will always be putting in the hard work and the time anyways, so we’re essentially preaching to the choir by advocating this rule.

What really needs to be demonstrated is the fact that you can take a short amount of focused attention and do something great with it… something life-changing.

For example, you can start a blog that matters and in less than a year have an enormous following & respectable business. You can lose 50lbs and forever improve the way you view yourself. You can write a screenplay and have it commissioned by a Hollywood studio. You can teach yourself an incredibly valuable skill like computer programming and start a lean startup or even get hired by Google. And the list goes on…

Focused effort and attention over the short-term are far more valuable, for FAR more people, than dreading the commitment to one field, one skill, over a lifetime.

But there’s one more reason why I’m undertaking this challenge…

I’m not going to lie, I was once told by a coach, who I respect immensely, that I would never be fast enough to do well at the middle distances. So I’ve got something to prove to myself as well as the doubters.

FAQ: The 4-Minute Mile Challenge

  • What kind of program are you following?
  • How does your program differ from traditional run training programs?
  • What is accelerated workload?
  • Will you be stretching?
  • How will you be documenting your progress?
  • What if you fail? Or miss your benchmark goals?
  • What’s the point?
  • Aren’t you going to get really skinny and unhealthy? I thought you were an advocate of hormonal health.
  • I’m a blogger/journalist/podcaster – how can I contact you to share your story?

Q: What kind of program are you following? 

I’m on a periodized regimen emphasizing three training phases.

  1. Aerobic endurance and muscular strength
  2. Muscular power development
  3. Drilling, speed, and time trialing

Phase I involves a build up of steady aerobic endurance training between heart rates (HR) of 135-175bpm, with the bulk of the steady work done between 158-175.

I know from my past neurotic attention to biofeedback that this 158-175 is my sweet spot zone for rapid development of aerobic efficiency.

The build up will be time-based to accomodate for the ‘beginner’s curve’ of adjustment to training without putting undue stress and pressure on the body and mind as a result of feeling the need to adhere to any strict mileage guidelines. After reaching the point of consistently training in this HR zone while holding a 6-minute/mile average pace, without threat of injury, I’ll shift the schedule to mileage goals, with a target mileage of between 90-100 mi/wk.

The end of this phase will be marked by 4 weeks at this goal mileage, followed by a down week at 50% peak mileage.

Phase II‘s focus is on power development through hill running and mobility drills.

Mileage will drop as the intensity increases. This period is 4 weeks long and will lay the foundation for muscular strength and power going into Phase III’s track training.

Phase III focuses on speed training on the track and time trialing.

Every week will be slightly different and will involve drastically dropping mileage during the week to focus on the hard training and recovery jogs & mobility drills. The weekend will still be reserved for a long run to preserve aerobic capacity and stamina.

Q: How does your program differ from traditional run training programs?

First off, high-mileage has fallen out of vogue in many respects. And when it is carried out, it is done far too intensely and in the midst of hard speed training – a fatal mistake in my opinion.

No wonder so many collegiate and professional athletes are just one run away from a debilitating injury.

The collegiate level athletes in the US are especially overtrained, racing 3/4 of the year when they should be racing only one season – focusing on an intelligent and well-paced build up followed by fine-tuning leading up to a major racing season, as opposed to constant battering with very little recovery and high-intensity racing.

I’ll also be employing several proven mind-hacking techniques to lock into the flow state before training.

I’m using cryo-therapy to accelerate recovery, several incredible supplements to allow maintenance of hormonal balance*, and implementing a performance hacking-strategy known as accelerated workload.

*Sorry Lance fans, I won’t be blood doping or using any substances on the banned-substance list… just some top-shelf natural concoctions.

Q: What is accelerated workload?

Accelerated workload is the idea that you can hack your ability to improve physical performance by effectively doubling your workload with minimal added impact on the body.

How will I do that?


I’m swimming to mirror my run training. Swimming is an incredibly powerful way to increase aerobic capacity in a short amount of time. So for example, during phase I I will be swimming with a focus on longer steady intervals within the target HR zone. During phase II I will be focusing more on mid-distance sets with paddle work for power development. Etc.

Swimming has minimal impact on the body compared to running. And I have experience swimming so the adaptation will return rather quickly.

Q: Will you be stretching?

Yes, I will be following Tim Ferriss’ stretching guidelines in the Four Hour Body book here:

Q: How will you be documenting your progress?

I’ll be updating the blog at least once a month, most likely more. Every month we’ll record a mile time trial for fun so we can all watch the progress. I’ll have announced the goal time for the time trial ahead of time and we can monitor the goal-setting vs achieving. I’ll likely also mention short progress updates on the podcast weekly.

Q: What if you fail? Or miss your benchmark goals?

I believe, and will always believe, that failure is the best teacher. So at least I’m trying.

And if I miss a benchmark goal, then that’ll merely indicate that I need to take that feedback into account and use the data from the benchmark to help guide the plan moving forward.

Q: What’s the point?

The point is to demonstrate how much can be accomplished during a short-intense period of focus. I want to show everyone that you can do great things in small windows of time – much more than you ever thought possible – just by approaching the goal with a plan and tenaciously gutting it out, and growing in the process.

Because in the end it’s not about failing or even hitting the goal: it’s about the journey, about teaching yourself to dedicate time and energy to a meaningful pursuit, one that can change your life and the lives of others.

There is too much mediocrity in the world already.

We need more go-getters.

Q: Aren’t you going to get really skinny and unhealthy? I thought you were an advocate of hormonal health?

First off, I’m taking several supplements to combat hormonal imbalance and approaching training in such a way as to preserve it. However, endurance training will very likely take a small toll on my health.

But since I am focusing over a relatively short period of time, after which I’ll resume “normal” habits, I’m not too worried. I already know how to skyrocket my testosterone naturally so it’s not such a daunting task anymore.

Yes, I may lose a little weight, but I know my performance weight through trial-and-error in the past and I’m within 10lbs of it currently so my body will naturally gravitate toward it without much work, just by training and healthy eating alone. I’m also not worried about what other people think. Everyone has an opinion about what an ideal body type is, but this isn’t necessarily about that… it’s about performance.