Ultrarunning History podcast

Ultrarunning History

Davy Crockett

A podcast about Ultrarunning History

99 Episoden

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    98: Six-Day Race Part 6: Weston vs. O’Leary (1875)


    By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch In 1875, Edward Payson Weston was the most famous ultrarunner (pedestrian) in the world. Like a heavyweight boxing champion dodging his competition to keep his crown, he avoided repeated challenges to race against the up-and-comer, Daniel O’Leary of Chicago, Illinois. The two were the most famous American athletes in 1875. During August 1875, it was announced in New York City that plans were unfolding to hold “a grand international pedestrian tournament” in October that would include a six-day race with $1,000 going to the winner. It was hoped that all the great pedestrians including Weston and O’Leary would compete. Unfortunately, that race never unfolded, but Weston and O’Leary would soon battle head-to-head, not in New York City, but on O’Leary’s turf in Chicago. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member Weston vs. O’Leary - Finally Finally, on October 30, 1875, it was announced that Weston and O’Leary would compete in a six-day race on November 15th, with $5,000 going to the winner and $2,500 to the loser. O’Leary’s men had approached Weston offering $500 extra to cover his expenses. It was just too much money for Weston to resist, potentially about $140,000 in today’s value. The venue would be in the massive new Interstate Exposition Building in Chicago. The building, measuring 800x400 feet, had opened in 1873, just two years after the Great Chicago Fire. It was rented with promises of receiving 15% of gross gate receipts. The announcement created great excitement across the country. To many at the time, it was similar to the dream matchup between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971, regarded as the biggest boxing match in history. However, there were critics against holding the event. In Ottawa, Illinois it was written, “What excites our wonderment is, who pays the $7,500? What benefit can it be to anybody whether they walk 100 or 1,000 miles in six days. A horse or mule able to walk 600 miles in six days might be worth something, but who cares how many miles Weston or O’Leary can walk in a day or month, so long as they don’t kill themselves?” Similarly, in Mobile, Alabama: “Suppose these men had ploughs, wouldn’t they add something in this way to the wealth of the world?” Pre-Race Gardner House Weston arrived in Chicago three days before the race with his two black servants and stayed at the luxurious Gardner House, next to the Exposition Building on the Lake Michigan lakefront. It was reported, “He is in good condition and confident of success. O’Leary also is in excellent trim, and confident of victory as his opponent. The contest will no doubt prove very exciting.” Wagering was heavy with Weston being a slight favorite. Exposition Building Map The Chicago Tribune gave a pre-race commentary about the two pedestrians. “O’Leary has made some excellent feats, and has but one failure to his credit, while Weston, with also a good record at times, has a considerable number of bad fizzles on his list of attempts. Both men have before attempted the 500-mile walk, and both have succeeded. O’Leary made the distance in a little over 153 hours, while Weston covered the same ground in ten hours less. However, some doubt was cast on the accuracy of the timing and measurements which resulted.” O’Leary visited Weston and talked over plans for the race. Weston inspected the track and gave his approval. Two separate tracks would be used, the outer six laps to a mile, and the inner, seven laps to a mile. Weston was offered his choice and he picked the inside track. The Start Spectators began to assemble in the building an hour before the start. There wasn’t a huge crowd, only about 100 people, and consisted mostly of men interested in sports.
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    97: Six-Day Race Part 5: Daniel O’Leary (1875)


    By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch Daniel O'Leary By March 1875, Edward Payson Weston, from New York City, was on top of the ultrarunning world (called Pedestrianism). He had just won the first six-day race in history, was the only person who had ever walked 500 miles in six days and held the 24-hour world walking record of 115 miles. Through his efforts and the promotion of P.T. Barnum, the sport had been given a rebirth and was on the front pages of newspapers across America. Weston had won hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s value for his exploits and obviously others wanted a piece of this action too. Was Weston one of a kind, or would others succeed in dethroning him? A true rival did emerge from Chicago, an Irishman who worked hard to try to become the best, Daniel O’Leary. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member Others Try to be Six-Day Kings After his victory in the first six-day race in history, held in P.T. Barnum’s New York City Hippodrome, Weston had established himself as the undisputed six-day king. Others attempted to match Weston’s 500-mile six-day accomplishment achieved in New Jersey, in December 1874. The press still could not resist taking a poke at Weston. “Samuel Williamson of Milwaukee imitated Weston’s attempts to walk 500 miles in six days, and the imitation was so successful that he failed ridiculously.” In April 1875, Allen Brown claimed to walk 500 miles in six days in Nashville, “the first pedestrian who has accomplished the feat without a charge of trickery.” It is very unlikely that this was legitimate. Brown was unknown and was never again mentioned in connection with Pedestrianism. Brown was just a pretender, but a true contender immerged in Chicago, Illinois. Daniel O’Leary Daniel O’Leary (1846-1933) was born in Carrigroe, Clonakilty, Ireland and as a child lived through terrible years of potato blight, causing horrible starvation and disease. It was said that he began walking very early in life, jumped out of the cradle early, and walked three miles in under an hour while still a toddler. It was written, “This was looked upon as astonishing, considering his size and years, and it was predicted that he would become a great pedestrian.” As a youth he rarely took rides and instead relied on his legs to go from place to place. Under great difficulties, he was able to get a good education in Ireland. "In the village playground, amongst his classmates, he showed quite a preeminence in athletic sports, while he was yet in his teens.  He was the ringleader of all the boys in the locality and was a favorite." During his late teens he worked hard for two years in the interest of Ireland with all his energy and when free, fled the taxation coming. In 1865, at the age of nineteen, like so many other Irish, he immigrated to America. He could not find work in New York City, so he settled in Chicago, worked in a lumber yard and sold books door-to-door. After the tragic massive Chicago fire of 1871, he became financially crippled and because of so many homeless people in Chicago, he had to peddle books in surrounding villages. He built up his endurance from speed walking his routes. It was said that when he tried to sell books to people, that many told him to “take a walk,” so he did. O’Leary Takes up Long-Distance Walking Chicago In 1874, O’Leary was a tailor and toymaker in the heart of Chicago. He overheard a group discussing Weston’s walking exploits, including his attempts to walk 500 miles in six days. One person said that only a Yankee could accomplish the feat. Another commented that Weston was planning on going to Europe. O’Leary said, “If he dropped into Ireland on the way he’d get beaten so bad that he’d never again call himself a walker.
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    96: Across the Years – The First Year (1983)


    By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch Across the Years race, established in 1983, is being held next week in Arizona for the 37th time. It is one of the oldest fixed-time races in the world that is still held annually. The race is always held at the end of the year, crossing over to the new year with a grand celebration. Through the years, it has attracted many of the greatest fixed-time ultrarunners in the world and still today is the premier and largest fixed-time race in America. Over its impressive history, about 2,300 runners have logged more than 450,000 miles at Across the Years. It all started in 1983, the brainchild of Harold Sieglaff, of Phoenix, Arizona. This episode is a tribute to Sieglaff and the other pioneer ultrarunners who were the first to run this famed ultra. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member For fixed-time ultramarathons, instead of competing at a fixed distance like 50 miles or 100 miles, the competition involves running the furthest you can in a fixed time. Fixed-time races have existed for centuries, with the first known 24-hour race in 1806, held in England. In the modern post-war era of ultrarunning, the first 24-hour race in America was the 1964 Last Day Run held indoors at the Los Angeles Athletic Club in downtown Los Angeles. 1983 – A Revolutionary Year The year 1983 was called a “revolutionary year” because 24 hours, 48 hours, and 6-day races that ran in circles, started to pop up all over the world. More than fifty fixed-time events were held that year (thirty-one in America) compared to just eighteen 100-mile races held worldwide. How many of those early fixed-time races still exist? Of the fixed-time races held in America during 1983, Across the Years is one of only three that still exist. Cornbelt Running Club 24 Hour race held in Eldridge, Iowa is the oldest, first held in May 1982, and Badgerland F/X 24 Hour race held in Wisconsin is the second oldest, first held in September 1983. The third oldest race is Across the Years held in Arizona, that started officially in December 1983. Many 1980s ultrarunners felt that this race format was “loopy.” One runner wrote that he believed these events were “reserved for masochists” that they “degenerate into a scene with the majority of the competitors parading ghost-like and crippled around the track for what probably seems to be an eternity. Maybe that’s where St. Peter sends bad ultrarunners.” But most of those who have participated in these races, especially at Across the Years, know the truth, that it can be an amazing experience, especially because you are always in contact with the other runners who you can get to know well. Best 24-hour Achievements by 1983 Dave Dowdle after setting 24 hour world record in 1982 What were the best 24-hour performances as of 1983? The world best for 24-hours at that time was 170 miles, 974 yards on the track, held by Dave Dowdle of Great Britain, and 170 miles, 1,231 yards on the road, held by Bernard Gaudin of France.  The American best of 162 miles (which wasn’t ratified for technical reasons) was set in 1979 by Park Barner at Huntington Beach, California. The ratified American record was held by Bernd Heinrich of Vermont, who ran 156 miles in 1983 at Rowdy 24-Hours on a track at Brunswick, Maine. Harold Sieglaff – Across the Years Founder Harold Paul Sieglaff (1934-2015) was the founder of Across the Years. He was from Phoenix, Arizona in 1983 when he started it. Harold was born in Canton, South Dakota in 1934, and experienced a very unusual upbringing because his parents were away for much of his childhood in Africa. Harold and Thelma Sieglaff in 1943 He was the son of Reverend Harold Elmer Sieglaff (1904-1983) and Thelma Savereide Sieglaff (1907-2001).
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    95: Six-Day Race Part 4: First Six-Day Race (1875)


    By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch P.T. Barnum featured ultrarunners (pedestrians) in 1874 who were attempting to reach 500 miles in six days, to bring paying patrons into his massive indoor Hippodrome in New York City 24-hours a day. Even though the first attempts by Edward Payson Weston and Edward Mullen came up short (see part 3), America became fascinated by these very unusual efforts of extreme endurance. New York Life Building, where the Hippodrome once stood. But with the failures, critics cried out that it was all just a money grab on the gullible public. It wasn’t a true race. It was said to be similar to watching “a single patient horse attached to a rural cider-press” going in circles for six days until it dropped. Experienced athletes and educated doctors believed that walking or running 500 miles in six days was an impossible feat. P.T. Barnum, “a sucker is born every minute,” did not care what the critics thought, knowing he had a winning spectacle to spotlight. He was right and would put on the first six-day race in history, billed as "the greatest competitive trial of endurance ever attempted." Help is needed to support the Ultrarunning History Podcast, website, and Hall of Fame. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member P.T. Barnum promotes Professor Judd’s Six-Day Attempt By December 1874, Barnum’s circus was back in full operation in New York in the Hippodrome for the winter season. It was lit by many lanterns, featured chariot races, and presented a menagerie of 600 “wild beasts.” Barnum turned to a walker other than Weston and hosted “Professor” John R. Judd (1836-1911) at the Hippodrome. Judd had been a gym owner and trainer from Buffalo, New York but recently had moved to New York City. He had gained some fame training boxers and pedestrians and had previously issued a challenge for a walking match against Edward Payson Weston, which was ignored. Judd's former hometown wrote, “Judd is excessively muscular. His ‘professorship’ being not anything in the line of learning but simply that of gymnastics.” Another observer wrote, “He is a splendidly formed man, but with a figure better fitted for boxing or wrestling than for walking. He moves heavily and ploddingly, and on account of his great muscular development, he is obliged to keep his whole body in constant motion. He has great powers of endurance but is a slow walker.” Judd’s true background was suspect. He had been born in England and became very athletic. He claimed to have become a professor of Physical Culture, and trained the Prince of Wales and other royalty. In reality, as noted by those in Buffalo, New York, he was just a gym owner and trainer who liked to do exhibitions of feats of strength. His pedestrian experience was limited. Once he walked 105 miles in four days and claimed to have accomplished other long walks under an alias of John Davison. In 1871, there was a Pedestrian by that name that attempted to walk four days without eating or sleeping at Littlerock Arkansas City Hall. Judd had been announcing that he would do a six and a half day walk in the Empire Skating Rink in New York City. Barnum hired him to instead do it in the Hippodrome. The track was measured carefully the week before the event where Judd put on a five-mile exhibition walk, including walking backwards while carrying an anvil. On December 8, 1874, Judd started his attempt  but was said to have made very poor progress on day one.  Judd believed in holding a steady pace and could succeed if he walked 77 miles a day. His plans were different than those who tried before him. “He will carry a 100-pound anvil for a quarter of a mile on the fifth and six days and half a mile on the last half day.”  On day four he had reached 224 miles when he stoppe...
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    94: Six-Day Race Part 3: P.T. Barnum – Ultrarunning Promoter (1874)


    By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch The ultimate showman, P.T. Barnum of circus fame, was surprisingly the first serious ultrarunning promoter and established the first six-day race in America. He waswe famous for the saying “There’s a sucker is born every minute,” and figured out how to get America to come out by the thousands to watch skinny guys walk, run and suffer around a small indoor track for hours and days as part of his “Greatest Show on Earth” presented in the heart of New York City. In this episode, details of Barnum’s connection to ultrarunning history are told for the first time. In part one of this six-day series, Foster Powell started it all in 1773 in England, seeking to reach 400 miles in less than six days. In part two, nearly a century later, the challenge was restored in America with the famous walker Edward Payson Weston, who was both cheered and ridiculed. As this third part opens, Weston seeks more than anything to reach 500 miles in six days, which had never been accomplished before. He had failed in his first serious attempt, reaching “only” 430 miles and was called by some, “The Great American Fizzler.” P.T. Barnum soon enters the story to lend support. Help is needed to continue the Ultrarunning History Podcast, website, and Hall of Fame. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member Edward Mullen Seeks 500 Miles in Six Days Weston's failure to reach 500 miles spurred others to give it try, even those with little experience, in an attempt to cash in on wagers. A key figure in this history, Edward Mullen, of Boston, Massachusetts, came on the stage in 1874 to try to steal the spotlight from Weston. Mullen was a talented ten-mile walker, but unproven at ultra-distances. His "500 miles in six days" attempt came at the Washington Riding Academy at 26th Street and 6th Ave in New York City. Beacon Trotting Park It was reported, “Mullen has never, previous to the present time, engaged in any walking match for any long distance, the longest race hitherto being twelve miles.”  Mullen began his pedestrian career only a year earlier in July 1873 at Beacon Trotting Park, Boston, when he won a short-distance walking race. That was the first of many impressive wins up to ten miles. But it seemed rather bold for him to go after the 500-mile six-day barrier. The track for his attempt was said to be 17.3 laps to a mile (305 feet). He began his quest at 12:24 a.m. on June 15, 1874. “Mullen was dressed in full walking costume, consisting of white Guernsey, blue silk trunks and white hose, with Oxford shoes. He is somewhat slimly built, is about five feet ten inches high and weighs 130 pounds. As he turned to commence his journey, he started off somewhat slowly, his step, however, being elastic and springy.” He finished his first mile, in a very surprisingly fast time of 7:22. On day one, he accomplished the 115-mile 24-hours task, beating Weston's 115-mile time by five minutes. At that point he collapsed and had to be carried off the track by his backers. By day three, the determined Mullen had reached 233 miles on very swollen legs, one mile ahead of Weston's failed pace. Fraud Detected On day four, an observant New York Daily Herald reporter suspected that a "trick" was taking place as he counted Mullen's paces per lap. "The Herald reporter watched for some hours and finally concluded that the pace at which Mullen was walking did not agree with the time announced. This aroused a suspicion that there was something wrong with the track and that the walk was not an honest one."  He also noticed that Mullen was taking rests more than twice as long as Weston had during his walk, and yet Mullen kept pace somehow. Also odd, Mullen’s respiration was very labored after walking a stretch of only a few ...
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    93: Eric Clifton – Legendary 100-mile Trail Ultrarunner


    By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch Congratulations to Eric Clifton, originally from North Carolina, now of California, who was inducted into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame on November 19, 2021.  Clifton was the fastest and most dominating 100-mile trail runner during the 1990s as trail ultras became popular in America. His “go for broke” race strategy was legendary, as he demonstrated to the rapidly expanding sport that amazing speed on trails could be achieved. During his entire career, he has attained more than 60 ultra wins, including 17 of his 31 100-mile finishes. He was known for his colorful running tights and was the original “Jester” of ultrarunning. During the 1990s, Clifton had the most overall 100-mile trail wins in the world. He was a prolific ultrarunner and very fast, with more sub-15-hour 100-mile finishes on trails than anyone during that era. He would win by wide margins on hilly trail courses, sometimes by hours. He set more than 20 course records, still holding some of them after three decades. Help is needed to continue the Ultrarunning History Podcast and website. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member Eric Clifton was born in 1958, Albuquerque, New Mexico but moved to North Carolina when he was young where his father went into the milk business.  Eric started distance running as a senior at Northeast Guilford High School in 1976, in North Carolina, where he ran the two-miler. After finished his first race, he swore to himself that he would never run that hard, and that fast for the rest of his life. A friend suggested that he go out for cross-country. Clifton said, “Running cross-country? That sounds like me, I want to do that. I asked, ‘How many miles a day do you guys run?’ He replied, “About ten miles a day.’ OK, I’m out. He scared me away.” Little did Clifton know that he would average running 10 miles a day for much of his future running career. Serious Running Begins Clifton in 1978 in Greensboro, NC Clifton went to college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where running teams were not fielded. The running boom had not yet reached North Carolina. But in 1977, he started his true running career. As a college freshman, he read an article in the school newspaper about a professor who would be running in the Boston Marathon. He recalled, “I read this article and I was amazed. Wait a minute, there are races that are competitive events for people who aren’t in school doing track or cross-country? It blew my mind.” Within a week he entered his first race, a seven-miler. He had a blast and was hooked on running after that. Running at Boston became his primary goal. At the time, the qualifying standard for him was 2:50. He ran his first marathon in 3:38. As he kept trying, his finish times went up instead of down. It took him three years before his times dramatically improved. “I finally had a race where I didn’t die. I ran strongly the entire way and did a 2:39. And everybody asked, ‘What did you do?’ I replied, 'It was what I didn’t do, I didn’t die.'” But by the time he qualified for Boston, he had lost interest and did not run there until many years later. Triathlons 1981 First Triathlon Win In 1980, Clifton watched the Ironman on television in its third year and knew that the event was for him. During the ‘80s, Clifton shifted away from running marathons, turned to triathlons and excelled. He ran his first of several Ironmans in 1981. First Ultra - 1982 In 1982, Clifton ran in his first ultra, a 50-mile road race in Wilmington, North Carolina, called “The Lite Ultra” that ran on a four-mile loop. Don Aycock, age 30, originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, one of Clifton’s training partners, had subscribed to Ultrarunning Magazine.
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    92: Six-Day Race – Part 2: Edward Payson Weston (1870-1874)


    By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch The six-day race became the most popular ultrarunning (pedestrian) event of the 19th century. In Part 1 of this series, Foster Powell started it all in 1773 when he ran 400 miles in six days in England. During the next fifty years, ultrarunners tried to match and beat his historic effort, especially during a four-year six-day frenzy of 1822-25. But after that, interest faded for the next fifty years until American, Edward Payson Weston came onto the pedestrian stage. Reaching the 1870s, the six-day challenge had not yet been exported outside Britain. But that changed as the challenge reached America and moved almost exclusively indoors, thanks to Weston. He became the most famous pedestrian in history. Weston was introduced in episode 54 for his impact on 100-mile history and in episode 26 for his famed transcontinental walk. Now we will examine his early impact of importing the six-day event to America, trying to reach 400 and 500 miles. Help is needed to continue the Ultrarunning History Podcast and website. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member Edward Payson Weston Edward Payson Weston (1839-1929) was born in Providence, Rhode Island on March 15, 1839. He was not particularly strong as a boy and took up walking to improve his health with exercise. As a teenager, he worked for a time in traveling circuses. He was athletic and won prizes in “wrestling, running, walking and leaping competitions.” He started long-distance walking by selling a book written by his mother door to door for 40 miles in Connecticut. When he was 22, after losing a bet, he walked from Boston to Washington to witness the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln, covering 453 miles in about 208 hours. In 1867, he walked from Portland, Maine to Chicago, about 1,200 miles, in about 26 days, resting on Sundays. That walk brought him worldwide fame. But later he also received criticism as he failed in some wagered walking attempts, and he was called a “humbug” by many. Weston's Fame Grows Weston walking 100 miles In April 1870, Weston walked 100 miles in 21:38:20 in New York City, an accomplishment that silenced many critics. (For more about his early walking career, see episode 54.) During 1870, Weston came up with the idea to attempt to walk 400 miles in five days, as pedestrians fifty years earlier were trying to do. Had Weston, in 1870, heard about Foster Powell’s historic runs? In July 1870, British newspapers were announcing that Weston was coming to England in August to make his attempt, so it is likely that he understood some of the British pedestrian history involving six-day running. Weston did not travel to England in 1870 because he could not find enough financial backing but said he would make his attempt in America during the fall. Did Weston truly walk? His distinctive wobbly walking gait was a swinging stride, with a relaxed upper body and shoulders without pumping his arms. The action came mostly from his knees. Starting in the 1840s, a “fair heel-and-toe” racewalking style was established for walking in competitions. Weston was criticized by some of not using a true heel-toe racewalk, that it border-lined on running at times, with both feet off the ground at the same time. Weston’s First Multi-Day Attempt - 1870 During November 1870, Weston made his attempt to reach 400 miles within six days, and he was confident that he could actually do it within five days. He may have thought that no one had accomplished it before, and he would set a record. (James Tenny, in 1822. had reached 400 miles in four days, 23 hours, 22 minutes.) Weston’s $5,000 wager agreement required him to reach 400 miles in five days, and he also needed to walk 112 miles within a 24-hour period ...
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    91: Six-Day Race – Part 1: The Birth (1773-1870)


    By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch Recently, the six-day race received some attention in ultrarunning news because the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) announced that they would no longer recognize the six-day event or keep records for it. This shocked many ultrarunning historians and particularly runners who participate in multi-day fixed-time races.  After a brief uproar, the new IAU leadership back-peddled, somewhat admitted to their ignorance about six-day ultrarunning history and agreed to continue to recognize the event that has roots in the sport going back nearly 250 years. Ultrarunners who exclusively run trails may wonder, “what is this six-day race and why is it important?”  The six-day race is an event to see how far you can run or walk in a period of 144 hours or six days on roads, tracks, or trails. Six days was a historic time limit established to avoid competing on Sundays, respecting local laws of the time and the religious beliefs of many of the participants. Help is needed to continue the Ultrarunning History Podcast and website. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member Six-Day Background Today, the six-day world record is held by Yiannis Kouros of Greece, who covered an astonishing distance of 635 miles on a track in New York City in 1984. Later in 1988, he covered 639 miles on a paved loop course at Flushing Meadows, also in New York. Historically, the six-day race grew out of solo six-day challenges, motivated by significant wagers and fame. They were first accomplished by ultra-distance walker/runners referred to as “pedestrians” who covering staggering distances during the late 1700s. Recent research has discovered that there were far more athletes than previously known, who took up the six-day challenge in the early 1800s. These occurred exclusively in Britain. Their grueling runs/walks were accomplished outdoors on dirt and muddy roads/trails, frequently in harsh weather conditions. In the late 1800s, as attention was revived for these six-day solo accomplishments, egos and greed of participants and organizers also grew. The six-day challenges evolved into competitions in America between multiple walkers, and the six-day races were born, attracting thousands of spectators. It became the most popular spectator sport in America for more than a decade. How did the six-day challenge begin?  Here is the story. Foster Powell, the Father of the Six-Day Race Long before the six-day races began in the late 1800s, there were numerous six-day walking feats that have been mostly lost in history. The first famous British “pedestrian,” Foster Powell (1734-1793) started the focus on walking/running for six days and can be considered the “Father of the Six-Day Race.” Foster Powell was born in 1734, in the small village of Horsforth, Yorkshire, England, near the city of Leeds. His father was William Powell, a prominent farmer. When Foster Powell was 28, in 1762, he moved to London to work as a law clerk for a “temple lawyer” at an inn. There were a group of inns in London called the “Inns of Court” attached to Churches, used as offices for clerks and lawyers. These inns consisted of sections called the Inner Temple and Middle Temple. In 1766, Powel moved, and went to work for his uncle at New Inn (next to Clements Inn), another inn for clerks and lawyers. He worked and lived there for the rest of his life. Powell worked hard but was the object of ridicule by his fellow clerks who regarded him as “a milksop and a muff.” He was described as “a cadaverous-looking young fellow, thin and apparently weak. He was thought very little of, either in respect of his mental or physical qualities.” He was “a quiet inoffensive lad, shy, and somewhat unsocial,
  • Ultrarunning History podcast

    90: JFK 50 – America’s Oldest Ultramarathon


    By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch In 1963, President John F. Kennedy unintentionally played a role that provided the spark to ignite interest for ultrarunning both in America and elsewhere. The door was flung open for all who wanted to challenge themselves.  An unexpected 50-mile frenzy swept across America like a raging fire that dominated the newspapers for weeks. Tens of thousands of people attempted to hike 50 miles, both the old and the very young. Virtually unnoticed was a small club 50-mile event hiked by high school boys in Maryland, that eventually became America's oldest ultra: The JFK 50, founded by Buzz Sawyer. Help is needed to continue the Ultrarunning History Podcast and website. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member Kennedy's Push for Physical Fitness While running for president, Kennedy had campaigned with a goal to improve the nation’s physical health, and once in office he made that a priority. He feared that the future generations would be spectators of sport rather than participants on the field of play because of their lack of physical fitness. In 1961 a “Fit as a Fiddle” newsreel was produced by Kennedy’s Physical Fitness Program targeting youth to understand the importance of physical fitness. Also, that year, 200,000 copies of a song called “Chicken Fat” was distributed to all schools with the lyrics, “Nuts to the flabby guys! Go, you chicken fat, go away!” Fitness Test for Marines General David M. Shoup Back in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order that every Marine captain and lieutenant should be able to hike 50 miles in 20 hours. In 1962 Kennedy discovered this order and asked his Marine Commandant, David M. Shoup (1904-1983), to find out how well his present-day officers could do with the 50-mile test. Shoup made it an order to his Marines. Twenty Marine officers were selected to take the test in mid-February 1963, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. News Article Starts the Frenzy An Associated Press article published nationwide on February 5, 1963, shared the story of the 50-mile test. It received intense national attention. President Kennedy never directly challenged the American public to take the 50-mile challenge, but the article inspired many across the country, who were eager to test themselves too. The Public Starts Hiking 50 Miles Naïve, untrained, civilians, immediately decided to hit the road without much planning to undertake the challenge in the middle of the cold winter. On the very evening after the article was published, Lt. Colonel James W. Tuma, age 48 (1914-1990) from Michigan, stationed at Fort Huachuca, near Tucson, Arizona, immediately decided to start a 50-mile hike through the Sonoran desert. You would think, Tuma, who held a Ph.D. in physical education, would have more sense, but away he went. He hiked through the night, not sleeping. He said, "Everybody was nice along the way, wanting to give me a ride." The next morning, he finished his 50 miles with a sprint for a time of 13.5 hours and was credited as the very first one to finish 50-miles at the start of the nation-wide craze. Robert F. Kennedy's 50-mile Hike On February 9th, four days after the story went public, Attorney General Robert F Kennedy decided to take the challenge himself and hike 50 miles. Without any specific training, Kennedy hiked away on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal towpath (the future home of the JFK 50) with his dog Brumis and some aids. After his 50-mile hike, Ethel Kennedy helps RFK recover. After 25 miles, the group was ready to give up. But the press had caught wind of what Kennedy was doing, and a helicopter arrived soon after with photographers and journalists. So, Kennedy set off again.
  • Ultrarunning History podcast

    89: Spartathlon Part 2 (1983) – The First Race


    By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch Spartathlon, an ultra of 246 km (153 miles), takes place each September in Greece, running from Athens to Sparta and with its 36-hour cutoff. It is one of the toughest ultramarathons to finish. In Part 1 of this series, episode 88, the story was told how Spartathlon was born in 1982, the brainchild of an officer in the Royal Air Force, John Foden. Three servicemen successfully covered a route that was believed to have been taken in 490 B.C., by the Greek messenger, Pheidippides. The 1982 trial run set the stage for the establishment of the Spartathlon race. The race's 1983 inaugural year is covered in this part won by Yiannis Kouros of Greece. Help is needed to continue the Ultrarunning History Podcast and website. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member The Founding of Spartathlon in 1983 The Three Finishers. After John Foden and two others finished the historic 1982 trial run between Athens and Sparta, Foden told those at the finish, “You need to make the route we have run, a race.” However, he did not think seriously that a race would be organized anytime soon.  Michael Graham Callaghan (1945-2013), an Athens businessman, and a member of the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce (BHCC) in Greece was the driving force and the founder of the formal Spartathon race. Back in 1982, Callaghan had helped Foden organize his trial run and obtained sponsors.  Callaghan was at the finish in Sparta and awarded the three finishers crowns of olive leaves. A month later, Callaghan received a kind letter from Air Marshal Thomas Kennedy from the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Germany, thanking him for his support of Foden’s 1982 RAF expedition run from Athens to Sparta. The letter included, “John Foden has told me about the invaluable help you gave the expedition when it found itself in financial straits that made its abandonment seem certain, and also in revamping its low-key publicity into a campaign that achieved international TV and press coverage. I should like to thank you most sincerely for your interest and your enterprise which prevented the possible cancellation of the expedition, and your initiative in recognizing that its success could be used to reinforce the friendly relations that exist between Great Britain and Greece. We are all very much in your debt.” This kind letter further helped Callaghan become captivated with the idea for a race and he charged ahead to make it happen. Plans for Spartathlon come together Just four months after the historic 1982 RAF expedition, in February 1983, the Hellenic Amateur Athletics Association (SEGAS) announced that Spartathlon would be held on September 30, 1983. The name for the race combined the Greek words for Sparta and Feat. Officially that first year it was called, the “Open International Spartathlon Race.” A multi-national team of supporters came together led by Callaghan and was based at the British Hellenic Chamber of Commerce in Athens. Under Greek law, Callaghan was not allowed to be the actual president of the organization, but he was the first race organizer. Foden said, “My idea to have a race would never have taken off if were not for Callaghan’s energy, enthusiasm and talents as a salesman. At the start he might not have known much about running and relied on the advice I gave him during visits to Greece, but he soon became very knowledgeable.” A group of Athens-based British businessmen were signed up to be the main sponsors for the 1983 race. Entrants Forty-four men and one woman from twelve countries were entered into the first Spartathlon. They arrived in Athens four days before the race, on September 26, 1983, and took a two-day bus ride to preview the course and sight-see.

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