|The first Madison Square Gardens, New York|
Imagine, it's February 1883 and you are standing shoulder to shoulder in a sold out crowd in the first Madison Square Gardens. The smell of cigarette smoke and whisky loft in the air while upbeat tunes of a brass band play in the musical section. Vendors are busy selling roasted chestnuts and pickled eggs while the celebrities of the day alongside the average folk to watch the spectacle before them. Wagers are made and hundreds of thousands of dollars trade between hands as the spectators urge on there favorite athlete to achieve athletic brilliance. The collective tension builds as the clock ticks; it's now noon on a Saturday and there is only 12 hours remaining.
|Edward Payson Weston|
Pedestrian Racing got the spark it needed from a lost bet. Edward Payson Weston lost a wager in regards to the outcome of the 1861 American presidential election. His penalty was to walk from Boston to Washington D.C. to view the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. The terrible weather and deep snow slowed his pace whilst averaging 51 miles a day over a 453 mile distance just wasn't enough and Weston missed the inauguration. All was not lost as news spread quickly of this impossible task and Weston found himself a major celebrity with the newspapers eager to document his next feat. A $10,000 wager in 1867 catapulted Weston's career to the next level which saw him walk from Portland, Maine to Chicago in 25 days, not walking on Sundays. Along the 1,326 mile stretch fans, marching bands, and local politicians would greet him from town to town showing him hospitality. Across the early 1870's Weston attempted a series of walks against time. Yet the year 1874 brought about the w
idely regarded, impossible feat of walking 500 miles in 6 days. At this point other pedestrians were attempting this great task but on the 14-19 of December, 1874 Edward Weston finally achieved that distance. The incredible publicity immediately stirred up interest from many new athletes to the sport and not soon after did competition get fierce. One of those new to the sport was Daniel O'Leary, an Irish door to door book salesman. O'Leary very quickly compiled an excellent list of accomplishments. In 1876 Weston and O'Leary travelled to compete in Britain where Weston proved victorious the previous year. In front of 70,000 onlookers O'Leary emerged the winner. The promoter Sir John Astley was so enthusiastic that he chose to promote a whole series of similar races called the Astley Belt and due to the differences in opinion about the fairness of Weston's walking action, the events were labeled 'go-as-you-please' which was open to both runners and walkers. The new labeling of these
|George Littlewood with Astley Belt|
|The Agricultural Hall, London|
Cycling events emerged quickly becoming the craze and the new sought out event to watch, while pedestrian races would still pop up from time to time the continual downward spiral was inevitable and by the early 1900's the sport was essentially buried.
A revival of the sport took place in 1979 when American Don Choi worked hard to regain the glory of this old sport by creating and promoting the modern multi-day race. The tables were turned in 1984 when George Littlewood's record set in 1888 was shattered when Greek Yiannis Kouros ran a mind numbing 635 miles /1022 km. Instead of this new record drawing attention to the multi-day events, for what ever reason the interest in the sport subsided again.
A second revival took foot again in the late 1980's and early 1990's when Australian Bryan Smith and Iranian James Zarei exceeded 1000 km. A new leader took hold in 1992 at an indoor race in La Rochelle,France by Frenchman Jean-Gilles Boussiquet surpassing Kouros' record with 640 miles/1030 km. For 13 long years Boussiquet's record stood until 2005 Kouros took back what was previously his by running 644 miles/ 1036 km in Colac, Australia and is still to this day the current world record holder for the 6 day. Many runners have emerged since such as German Wolfgang Schwerk, Brit William Sichel, and Americans Joe Fejes and David Johnston. However no one has come remotely close to equalling the Kouros' 2005 record.