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Wednesday 20 December 2017

Pedestrianism in America

by Andy Milroy

Pedestrianism in America by Andy Milroy
European settlers in the new lands of North America did not adopt the ultra culture of the native Americans, apart from frontier pioneers like Daniel Boone. The predominately English culture of the former colonies reflected the activities of their motherland. Pedestrianism, usually solo ultra walking and running feats, had been a prominent feature of English life during the Napoleonic wars, exemplified by Captain Barclay and his famous 1000 miles in 1000 hours in 1809.
One of the first ultra marks to be recorded by a runner of European stock
was by a 55 year old named Jonas Cattel, who reputedly ran from Woodbury to Cape May in New Jersey in 1813, a distance of some 80 miles in one day, before making the return journey the following day.
In the early 1830s Joshua Newman is reputed to have walked a 1000 miles in 18 days at Philadelphia. However one of the first recorded match races in the States i.e. between two individuals, took place some years later, in May 1837 on the canal towpath from Harper’s Ferry to Washington DC. It was between an experienced long distance performer called Howington, aged 55, and a 25 year old called Peacher. Peacher completed the course in around 12 hours, but the older man quit after 48 miles. Unfortunately the race ended in controversy since one gambler had bet $8000 that Peacher would throw the race, only for Peacher (who was holding the money for him), to use the money to bet on himself! Despite these interesting feats, it was variations on the so-called Barclay match that was to attract the early North American ultra performers.
In 1841 Nicholas Low of New York City undertook to walk 200 miles in 200 hours, under the same rules as Barclay’s feat, each mile to be accomplished before the end of each hour. This feat was not undertaken for money. Thomas ELsworth of Boston was more interested in financial reward. In August 1842 he began a walk to emulate Barclay’s feat of 1000 miles in a 1000 hours, but then completion, strangely continued walking for a further 14 hours. Rumours had circulated during the performance that Elsworth had not been walking at night. His backer offer a $100 to anyone who could prove Elsworth had cheated, and also said he would offer a substantial sum so Elsworth could duplicate the feat. In July 1843 accompanied by one, Simon Foggs, at a venue in Chelsea, Massachussetts, Elsworth apparently repeated the feat and received a prize of $300 plus his expenses. Whether this performance was correct or not is uncertain. Elsworth’s other pedestrian performances were very unremarkable.
By the 1850s Mrs Amelia Bloomer had popularised a costume for women who wanted a more active life than the contemporary crinoline dresses allowed. This consisted of a bodice and short skirt,with pantaloons or `bloomers’ underneath which reached the ankles. Thus liberated,in November 1851 a Miss C.C.Cushman undertook to walk 500 miles in 500 hours in St Louis. The following year, another American, Kate Irvine, undertook the same feat, this time on the other side of the Atlantic, at Aston, near Birmingham, England, for a wager of $500, and in 1853 she returned from America to repeat this feat.
Also in the 1850s Willliam Hughes from California popularised walking for 100 hours without rest along a three foot wide plank. The principal appeal of this feat was that it gave a wide choice of betting options to spectators. Such feats became a popular attraction in saloons and bars, special platforms were built, and other professional walkers and runners became involved. Women also tackled this event. A Mrs Bentley, who apparently walked the plank for 30 hours some seventeen times in 1857, was perhaps the foremost proponent of this discipline, and was said to be ‘the prettiest walker I have ever seen’ by one of the sports enthusiasts. She apparently was suffering from comsumption, better known nowadays as tuberculosis, and undertook such feats to feed her three children.
The American who was to pull professional pedestrianism back from this low ebb throughout the English speaking world and beyond started his ultra career four years later. In 1861 Edward Payson Weston undertook to walk from Boston to Washington to attend the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. Delayed by heavy snow, Weston missed the inauguration, but he had averaged 51 miles a day over the 453 mile course.
Weston’s professional career took off in 1867 when for a $10,000 wager, he completed a walk from Portland, Maine to Chicago, some 1,326 miles in 25 days, not walking on Sundays. The following year he walked 100 miles in 22:19:10 at White Plains, New York, in what was claimed to be a world record.(In fact a faster time had been set some eighty years earlier.)
Through into the early 1870s Weston made a series of well publicised walks against time. 400 miles in five days, was accomplished, and then in 1874 he made a series of attempts to achieve the widely regarded as impossible feat of walking 500 miles in six days,(the maximum period of allowable non-stop activity between Victorian sundays.) On the 14-19 December, 1874, in one of the major turning points in ultra history, Edward Payson Weston finally achieved that distance,
The publicity generated immediately inspired others to become wouldbe pedestrians. The greatest of these was Daniel O’Leary, an Irish door to door book salesman, who quickly established his ultra walking credentials. A challenge match with Weston was arranged in Chicago. The Irishman covered 503.3 miles, some fifty miles ahead of Weston’s final distance. The latter had played a waiting game, expecting O’Leary to collapse.
In 1876 and 77 Weston and O’Leary travelled to Britain, where Weston had outclassed the native walkers the previous year. Despite being defeated by a couple of British walkers in shorter events, O’Leary again emerged the winner in a two man match event against Weston. 70,000 people came to watch the race and Sir John Astley, the promoter, was so taken with the event that he decided to promote a whole series of such races for the Astley Belt, for “the Long Distance Challenge Championships of the World”. Because of disputes about the fairness of Weston’s walking action, the events were `go-as-you-please’- open to both walkers or runners. Weston did not contest the first Astley Belt race and O’Leary won yet again with a new world best of 520.25 miles with Britain’s Harry Vaughan in second.
O’Leary returned to the States and defended the belt against the overly optimistic John Hughes who offered him little opposition. However in 1879 O’Leary had to defend his title against a much tougher opponent, British newcomer Charles Rowell. The latter wore down his opponents with his relentless dog-trot and emerged the winner with 500 miles, and the remarkable sum of $20,398 – this at a time when the average working man’s annual salary was around $500.
Weston wasn’t finished with the six day event. He took up running, and using his wife’s inheritance for his $500 entry fee, he entered the fourth Astley belt race to be held at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, London. Rowell had injured his heel and withdrew from the event. After a tough battle over the first three days against the Briton Henry `Blower’ Brown, Weston emerged the stronger. At that stage Astley bet him he could not complete 550 miles in the six days; he did so, setting a new world best for the event.
By the fifth Astley Belt race, a completely professional set up was in place. All the runners had managers; the price of admission to spectators was one dollar and gate receipts were carefully monitored by the performers. Rowell set off strongly and had a commanding lead by four days into the race, however at that point he was taken ill and took eleven hours off the track. Samuel Merritt (USA) closed on him but the Englishman recovered enough to walk for most of the sixth day, ensuring that he won with 530 miles to Merritt’s 515.
The Astley Belt event was not the only such competition. O’Leary had sponsored a belt competition in his own name to develop new talent, and there were in fact a wealth of multi-day races spread across the English speaking world. Although concentrated on the Eastern seaboard in the USA, there were pedestrian events across America, even in the gold fields of California.
The first all woman six day match seems to have taken place between Mary Marshall of Chicago and Bertha Von Hillern in January 1876, and was won by Marshall with 234 miles. A rematch was held in New York in November in which Hillern turned the tables and won with 323.5 miles, when Marshall had trouble with her feet. When the British pedestrienne Ada Anderson came over to States it became fashionable to attend such events. Americans Bertha Von Berg and Amy Howard forced the record upwards, and in 1882 a Madame Dupree reputed covered 456 miles in Tucson, Arkansas. The pedestriennes’ rewards were not as great as the men’s, even in the major venues, despite the newspaper coverage their races generated. In May 1880 a World Championship race for a gold, silver and diamond championship belt was held in San Francisco, with many of the top women performers taking part. Amy Howard of New York set new world bests for 24 hours of 95 miles, and 410 miles 251 yards for six days beating Sara Tobias, who also covered over 400 miles. However the winner received just $1000, and Tobias $750.
The six day record continued to creep ever upwards under the pressure of the sustained international competition. Frank Hart,the professional name of Fred Hichborn, perhaps the first major Afro-American ultrarunner, regained the six day record for the States in 1880, after Blower Brown had taken it in mid-1879, and in 1881 his fellow Americans John Hughes, Robert Vint and finally Patrick Fitzgerald edged the record ever closer to 600 miles. In February 1882 Rowell returned to the scene in earnest. At the Madison Square Gardens, New York in a blitz start he set new world bests for 100 miles(13:26), 24 Hours(150 miles) and 48 hours (258 miles), reaching 300 miles in 58:17:06 (a record which still stands today despite the efforts of Yiannis Kouros!) During a rest period Rowell inadvertantly swallowed some vinegar which eventually forced his retirement, and it was left to his fellow countryman, George Hazael, to be the first man to cover 600 miles in six days.
Rowell was never to dominate the six day event again. In an epic struggle in 1884 he was defeated by American Pat Fitzgerald when the latter set a new world best of 610 miles, but by now the pedestrian era was on the wane. In 1888 a new American star, James Albert became the first man to run over a 1000km in a six day event with 621.75 miles, and in November the Briton, George Littlewood travelled to New York for an attempt on Albert’s record. After a four day struggle with Daniel Herty, a consistent US performer, the Briton broke the world best with 623.75 miles. Apparently he could have gone further, but did not want to make his task too difficult next time.
There was to be no next time for Littlewood. The interest in the six day event had declined in the face of competition from the more energetic and exciting cycling events.
The great public attention given to professional ultrarunning had inspired the amateur long distance runners on both sides of the Atlantic. In February 1882 the British runner, James Saunders achieved a new 24 hour amateur best of 120 miles 275 yards at the American Institute Ring in New York City, setting a 100 mile mark en route of 17:36:14 – strangely enough there appears to have been $100 prize money! Despite this, Saunder’s mark is credited as the amateur world record in contemporary recordbooks. A year later, Peter Golden set an American amateur 50 mile best of 7:29:47 on the track at Williamsburgh.
Golden was to go on to set a `world record’ of 352.5 miles for six days as a professional in 1899 on a minute twenty laps to the mile track – a mere 88 yards in circumference! By then the golden age of the event was over. Pat Cavanaugh, an Irish American was the most successful runner during the declining years with 532.125 miles in 1902, also setting a two man relay world best with Peter Hagelman of 770.5 miles the previous year. But by 1903 the event was gradually petering out. The era of ultra events against time had come to an end in the United States, at least for some seventy years.
American Ultra Distance in the Twentieth Century – The Early Days
Ultra distance performances in North America in the early years of the Twentieth century seem to have consisted of three main strands. There was continuity through ultra walking feats of the type that thirty years earlier had triggered the Six day boom. Such walks were primarily an attempt by former Six day stars to sustain their careers in their declining years. Another strand was the participation of the country’s top distance runners in ultra events. There were so few marathons during this period, and indeed until recently, the top marathon runners of the period seemed to have made no clear distinction between the marathon and ultras, and time and again, featured in ultra events. The third strand was the development of promotional ultra events in which native Americans were invited to run. The discovery of native American distance talent, and its exploitation, particularly from 1927 onwards in both the marathon and beyond, was to be a notable facet of American Ultrarunning during this period.
Although six days racing died out in the early years of the twentieth century, the man who had popularised the whole event in the first place was still fit and active. Edward Weston had never focussed on the six day race in the same way the other pedestrians had done, and had always spent much of his time on solo feats against time or long point to point walks. In 1883 he had walked 5000 miles in 100 consecutive working days, excluding sundays, and in 1885 he and O’Leary undertook a 2500 mile race, twelve hours a day, six days a week at different venues in Eastern USA. Weston at last defeated his nememis, taking some 62 days to complete the feat.
The two men continued to churn out solo point to point marks for many years, thus perhaps spearheading a move back to the ultra culture of the native Americans, journeying on foot from place to place.
O’Leary walked from Boston to Albany, some 187 miles in 45 hours, in 1902, and in 1904 went from New York City to Toronto, 535 miles in nine days. In 1907, aged 61, he completed the Barclay feat of a mile in each hour for 1000 hours. O’Leary had walked 100 miles within 24 hours on his birthday at the age of 35. He prided himself on repeating this feat each birthday and did so up until the age of 75 in 1921.
Weston too kept himself busy. In 1906 he walked from Philadelphia to New York in less than 24 hours when aged 67, and the following year improved on his famous walk of 1867, from Portland, Maine to Chicago, covering the 1,345 miles in 24 days 19 hours, faster than his 1867 performance. In 1908 he walked from San Francisco to Los Angeles, 512 miles in twelve days. Aged 71 he walked across America, from New York to San Francisco in 105 days for the 3895 miles. Dissatisfied with this performance, the following year he walked from Santa Monica to New York in 77 days. His final great feat was at the age of 75, when in 1913 he walked the 1,546 miles from New York to Minneapolis in 61 days. It is deeply ironic that Weston’s walking career was finally ended when he was hit by an automobile in 1927.
The well publicised exploits of Weston and O’Leary inspired others to tackle such journeys on foot, this time the distance runners. I suspect strongly that it was no coincidence that soon after Weston’s arrival in Chicago after his journey on foot from Portland in 1907, that French-American Albert Corey ran the 91.6 miles from Milwaukee to Chicago in 18:37:00. [Corey was a noted marathon runner, finishing second in the 1904 Olympic marathon.]
Another of America’s top marathon runners had also moved to Chicago area by this date. In July 1909, Sydney Hatch, probably motivated by Corey’s run, entered a 100 miles road race held at Riverview Park, Chicago. The race had probably been inspired by the fact that Weston had recently come through Chicago on his coast to coast walk. Hatch, a two time Olympian,having run at St Louis and London, showed his class. He took it easy early on, but by 40 miles he had taken the lead, passing the 50 mile point in a very creditable 6:45:28, when he stopped for a massage. Hatch won with 16:07:43, which was a new world amateur road best.
In 1916 Hatch decided to have a crack at Albert Corey’s Milwaukee to Chicago record. Hatch set off with Abraham L. Monteverde, guided by four automobiles carrying supplies of lemonade and coffee. Despite a strong, cutting wind he finished with a time of 14:50:30 for the 95.7 mile journey. The long run did not seem to damage Hatch’s basic speed too much; the following year he finished second in the Boston marathon! Hatch was to stay at the top of US marathon running into the 1920s.
Monteverde himself, who was a solid marathon performer, is reported to have also run from Milwaukee to Chicago the following year over a course said to be 96.4 miles long. His time was 14:50, remarkably close to that credited to Hatch.
It was not just in America that marathon races were scarce. Elsewhere distance runners would race over well below and well above the traditional 26 miles 385 yards. Albert Corey had competed against Len Hurst in a marathon in 1902 in France, before the latter went on to win the London to Brighton race the following year.
In 1917 walker James H. Hocking of Teaneck, New Jersey, began a career in which he sought to better Weston and O’Leary’s marks. He reputedly walked from New York City to Philadelphia, some 97 miles in 19 hours 16 minutes, before proceeding to Baltimore the following day, covering the 205 miles in 43 hours 16 minutes.
In 1920 he reportedly walked from New York to Toronto some 535 miles in 8 days 3 hours, in 1921 he covered the steep 90 mile Mohawk Trail from Albany, New York to Greenfield, Massachusetts in 20 hours 30 minutes, and in 1922 broke one of O’Leary’s point to poimt records covering the 187 miles between Boston and Albany in 42 hours 15 minutes. In 1924 he walked from New York to San Francisco in 75 days, surpassing Weston’s performance some fourteen years earlier.
In 1925 another ultra walker from North America made an impact inter-nationally. The coloured Canadian Phillip Granville from Hamilton, Ontario, won one of the classic long distance race walks in Britain, the Manchester to Blackpool 50 miler, setting the fast time of 8:06:59, despite the fact the course had been lengthened by roadworks. Granville was to enter the 1928 Pyle Trans-America race and be a major figure in ultra events in the coming years.
During the Twenties journey ultraruns again appeared in the newspapers, often with native Americans featuring strongly. An early example was when Samuel A. Johnson, a 44 year old semi-professional runner and newsboy from New York, wearing Indian moccasins, ran from Albany to New York City, a distance of 160 miles, in 28 hours 20 minutes in September 1921. Of this time, 20 minutes was taken off for several stops to eat. At times he ran at 10 miles in an hour but his average pace was 5.714 mph. In late 20s, “Doc” Sam Johnson styled himself as the Human Locomotive and was another entrant in the 1928 Pyle race. He subsequently acted as a trainer for long distance athletes.
For some reason there seems to have been a remarkable upsurge in ultra activities in 1927. In January Earle Linwood Dilks of Pennsylvania, a railway fireman, who was also to become a participant in the Pyle races, ran the 90 miles from Newcastle to Erie in 17 hours in freezing, windy conditions. The tall, lean Dilks had hardly been dressed appropriately for the conditions, wearing only a thin vest on his upper body. Three months later,in what were almost certainly better conditions in April, Harry Duell of Minneapolis reputedly ran 90 miles in 13 hours 15 minutes.
Interest in the running prowess of native Americans was also running high, as they began to figure prominantly in shorter distance races. Interest in the Tarahumra Indians had probably been generated by reports of a 100km race held as an exhibition race in conjunction with the Central American Games held in Mexico in November 1926. Tomas Zafiro had won the race in 9:37 which was a new world best performance for the event, and, in fact, the race had created rather more interest than the Games themselves. Other athletic meeting promoters picked up on this idea, and in the southern USA sought to increase the profile of their meetings by inviting Tarahumaras to race over their favoured long ultra distances.
In March 1927 several Tarahumara indians entered a 89.4 mile race from San Antonio to Austin, Texas, held as part of the Texas Relays. Two of them completed the distance in 14:53. The following month Tarahumaras ran the 51 miles from Kansas City to Lawrence as part of the “Phog Allen Spectaculars” designed to attract fans to the Kansas relay meeting. The race was won by Jose Torres covered the 51 miles in 6:46:41. (Following a time trial run of 80 miles from Toluca to Mexico City and back, which they accomplished with ease, Torres and another Tarahumara, Aurelio Terrazas, were chosen to compete for Mexico in the Amsterdam Olympics. They finished in 32nd and 36th places, a half an hour behind the winner and had to be stopped by officials. They complained afterwards that the race was too short!)
Perhaps it was the newspaper coverage of these earlier events which fostered the promotion of other ultra races for native Americans. On the 14th June 1927 the Oneida Indian chief “Tall Feather”,better known to his neighbours in Green Bay, Wis. as Levi P. Webster, at the age of 42, ran from Milwaukee to Chicago, around 88 miles, in 19 hours 47 minutes receiving a $1000 prize money for finishing in under 21 hours. Time Magazine described the scene – sleek automobiles swished by him. On his right, electric inter-urban trains were hissing and steam locomotives were chuffing;on his left,steamers were cutting the waters of Lake Michigan, all making a sharp contrast to the straining runner on foot. Ten other indians competed in the race. It was claimed by the promoters that no human had ever run between Milwaukee and Chicago in so short a time. Obviously the earlier feats of Albert Corey and Sydney Hatch had been forgotten, or conveniently overlooked by eager promoters.
On the same day the Redwood Empire 480 mile marathon began, probably the longest multiday event staged since the demise of the six day race a quarter of a century earlier. The race had been devised to publicise the natural tourist attractions of the Redwood Highway which ran from San Francisco to Grants Pass, Oregan. It was decided to open it just to native Americans. John Wesley Southard and Henry Thomas, both members of the northern Californian Karok tribe, were entered but their names were not regarded as suitable. These were changed to Mad Bull and Flying Cloud respectively. In addition to the Karoks, Zunis from New Mexico also entered.
The Karok, Flying Cloud, led at the end of the first day, when his fellow tribesman Mad Bull then headed the race. A threat to the Karok dominance came during the second night when two of the Zunis, Melika (who was over 55 years old) and Chochee, closed on Flying Cloud. Mad Bull now began to pull out the stops, running 73 miles in 25 hours, followed by 79 the following day. But, despite these efforts, his lead shrunk to six miles and then to a mile and a half before his pursuer, Chochee collapsed and was taken to hospital.
By now all the runners were close to exhaustion. Flying Cloud was closely pursued by Melika in third place, but the two Karoks were safe. Mad Bull finished in 7 days,12 hours and 34 minutes to win the $1000 first prize, and Flying Cloud was second some eight hours behind, with the veteran Melika less than six hours slower.
The following year the race was held again on the same date. The majority of the previous year’s entrants returned, plus some Hopi Indians from Arizona. The initial pace was much faster than the previous year, with the Zuni initially taking the lead, they in turn being overtaken by two Hopis. Then the two Karoks came through to head the field yet again. Flying Cloud in the lead was pursued by Mad Bull but midway through the second day the latter was forced to retire when his shorts, which had been treated with acid, began to chafe him acutely. The sabotage was undertaken probably because Flying Cloud was being offered at better odds to win! The Zuni, Melika, then took second place, but the Karok had too big a lead. Despite bleeding from nose and mouth, due in part to the oppressive heat on the last day, Flying Cloud won the $5000 first prize with a time of 6 days 23 hours 16 minutes, over eight hours ahead of the veteran Melika, with Chief Ukiah, a 51 year old Klamath, five hours further back.
One of the most intriguing ultras of this period had taken place just three months earlier. Clarence DeMar was one of the top American marathon runners during the 20s and 30s, winning the Boston marathon seven times and representing the USA in three Olympics. In March 1928 he ran in the Providence to Boston 44 mile race which he won easily in 5:47:30, well clear of Leon Yeuell in second (6:15:07) with William Seeley third in 6:40:12. A month later DeMar notched up his sixth Boston victory, winning by nearly four minutes!
The Providence to Boston race was an annual event, (Leon Yeuell having won it in 1927) and seems to have become part of the preparation for the Boston for the top contenders. 1929 saw De Mar contesting the event again, but this time he lost out to Finnish-American ‘Karl’ Kosti who won in 5:30:57, who finished some eighteen minutes ahead of De Mar. The ever-present Yeuell was third. Interestingly, among those who did not finish were other marathon greats of the period, Al Michelsen and another Finnish-American ‘Willie’ Kyronen, (Koski,Kyronen and DeMar were to finish second,third and fourth in the Boston marathon just over a month later.) Koski was to reputedly run a verified 2:25 marathon in 1930, and was also AAU marathon champion that year.
This was the ultra scene in to which the greatest sports promoter of his generation, C.C. Pyle, launched his great idea of a Trans-Continental stage race in 1928. The number of ultra runners in America was small, but then what country in the world had runners used to running 50 miles day after day over the varying terrain and climate that such a race would demand?
The TRans-America Races and their aftermath – the affects of the depression
In November 1928 Earl Lin Dilks, one of the Pyle professionals made an attempt on a 100 mile run from Newcastle to Erie, covering 63 miles in 9:57 and reached 82 miles in 13:14 before being forced to retire.
1931 Hamilton 24 hour rac e.
In the 1930s another Pyle professional, Paul Simpson, raced a Texas pony over a 144 mile course in Burlington North Carolina and won by 25 miles when the pony collapsed.
In August 1935 Pete Gavuzzi ran from Buffalo to Toronto. Started at midnight in unfavourable weather, too cold and a headwind for 50 miles. Gavuzzi reached 50 miles in 6:38:21, and the 100 miles in 15:25:35, finishing the 107 mile trip in 16:23:00.
In 1937 two Canadians had entered the London to Brighton race in competion with the formidable Hardy Ballington. James Phillips, who apparently had beaten top marathon runners like Johnny Miles and Clarence DeMar, and like Norman Dack the other Canadian entry had represented their country in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The race was run into a strong headwind, and rain made conditions difficult. Hardy Ballington ran 5:53:42 to break the course record, with Dack finishing second with 6:57:56, and Phillips third with 7:18:54.
Norman Dack and another \Canadian ran in the Ball9ington London to Brighton.

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