297: Pedestrianism

297: Pedestrianism

Brain Junk
Brain Junk
297: Pedestrianism

Hold onto your top hats, we’re striding into the historical world of competitive race walking! Can you even imagine walking 1000 miles in 1000 hours (FYI 1000 hours is nearly 42 days)

Image: Emma Sharp

Show Notes:

BBC: The strange 19th century sport that was cooler than football

Wikipedia: Foster Powell

National Galleries of Scotland: Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce

Ultrarunninghistory.com: The Barclay Match

Old Weird Scotland: The Celebrated Pedestrian

Atlas Obscura: How competitive walking captivated Georgian England

Wiki: Emma Sharp and her very fancy walking suit

Ada Anderson

The Pedestriannes: America’s Forgotten Superstars

Wikipedia: Pedestrianism

Edward Payson Weston

Ultrarunning history: The first Astley belt

First Women’s six day footrace

Smithsonian: The terrible 1904 Olympic marathon


[00:00:03] Speaker A: Welcome to Brain Junk. I’m Trace Kerr.

[00:00:05] Speaker B: And I’m Amy Barton. And today we are going to talk about the exciting world of competitive walking.

[00:00:18] Speaker A: Okay, so you said pedestrianism, and I was like, is it politics?

Is it some sort of social, cultural construct? I didn’t look it up, though.

[00:00:29] Speaker B: It’s 18th and 19th century competitive walking.

[00:00:35] Speaker A: I’m out there with my top hat. I have my monocle. Watch out.

[00:00:39] Speaker B: Yes. Oh, drat. What’s the show called? Brian Cranston was the Malcolm in the middle, and there is an episode where he does some trace walking. So if you haven’t checked that out in a while, it’s worth looking up because Brian Cranston has some sweet moves. But that is not the direction we’re going today. Let’s return back to the main trail here.

So let’s talk about what it is.

Indeed. It was foot wagers, which actually started in the 17th century, when terrible rich people would wager to see whose footmen could keep up with the carriage. No. Yeah, people are terrible.

Let’s see how fast the poor people can walk.

That’s exactly what it sounds like. And the dudes inside are bedding. It’s just like in the fast and furious where they lean their heads out of the carriage and they trash talk a little bit and then they go, and then their guys have to walk. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what it’s like, but that’s what I’m imagining. So that’s kind of the start. Foster Powell is supposedly one of the early proponents. He walked 100 miles in 21 hours and 35 minutes, which is wild.

[00:01:51] Speaker A: Go, Forest, go.

[00:01:53] Speaker B: Yeah, and I was doing the math on some of these mileages, and they’re pretty fast miles. Like, I toot along and I feel pretty happy and just a little bit sweaty at like 17 minutes or so. Feeling good about that.

So these people are doing some of these things. They’re often that sort of challenge. Like, I’m going to walk 1 mile every hour for blah, blah, hours or days.

[00:02:18] Speaker A: Wow.

[00:02:18] Speaker B: By the end of the 18th century, the popular press had grown. Industrial revolution is starting to happen. These feats of foot travel gained the attention of the people and were given the name pedestrianism. And they’re very similar to the modern ultramarathon because they’re really long distances in relatively short amounts of time. One of the most famous pedestrians of the day was called Captain Robert Barkley Allardyce. And they all have these great names. He was the celebrated pedestrian of Stonehaven. So he walked 1 mile every hour for 1000 hours. And he did that between June 1 and July Twelveth. And that is just crazy to me.

[00:03:03] Speaker A: Wait a second, wait a second.

[00:03:04] Speaker B: For 1000 hours, though.

Yeah. What? And he achieved it in about, it looks like about 42 days, this says. So. During the 19th century, people attempted to repeat this challenge. George Wilson, the black Heath pedestrian, attempted to walk 1000 miles in 480 hours. In 1815, he was arrested after three quarters of the distance for disturbing the peace because apparently the crowds got a little raucous. It was a very exciting time.

Ladies got in on this Emma Sharp, and she’s a sharp dressed woman. She’s had this terrific pantsuit. She made an attempt in October of 1864 and is thought to be the first woman to complete the challenge of 1000 miles in 1000 hours. Just like, when are they sleeping? What are the injuries like? They have to have lost toenails.

[00:04:01] Speaker A: Yeah, because they didn’t have like, sporty shoes, right? No, it’s leather and maybe there’s wool or something in there as padding. These people are so much tougher.

[00:04:12] Speaker B: Yes, probably not rubber soles even.

[00:04:15] Speaker A: Oh, yeah, they didn’t have a pace car.

[00:04:18] Speaker B: Yeah. Ada Anderson did 1500 miles in 1000 hours, and she was called the champion, lady Walker of the world champion, because the feat was already achieved by a man in 1852. So we had to remind everybody she’s the lady that did this in a dress. Oh, the chasing. Can you imagine the chase? No, those poor ladies didn’t have leggings.

[00:04:42] Speaker A: Her thighs on fire. Wow. They didn’t have anything better to do?

[00:04:46] Speaker B: No, it was a really big deal. They had indoor arenas that they set.

[00:04:50] Speaker A: Up just walking in circles around an arena.

[00:04:53] Speaker B: Yes, in an arena. So that’s another facet of this. So this racewalking was regional? It is the 18 hundreds.

There’s not a rulebook yet. And so was it heel toe, heel toe. Did 1ft have to be on the ground the whole time to consider it walking? Or was it allowed that you trotted or even ran? But more, the thing was that you did it within the time period. So rules and wagering were a big deal with this and apparently caused some trouble sometimes, because I think you’d have to set your rules every time. What kind of injuries did these people have? And these really long, they didn’t have Gatorade. There’s no electrolytes for them. Maybe they were drinking pickle water.

[00:05:38] Speaker A: Oh, gosh. Or were they doing stuff like, I was thinking of the marathon in the Olympics, the one where.

[00:05:48] Speaker B: Oh, that really bad one. Yeah.

[00:05:50] Speaker A: Where people were dropping like flies, and they were giving them arsenic.

[00:05:53] Speaker B: And one guy got disqualified for chewing coca leaves. They’re like, you seem awfully sprightly, my fellow.

[00:06:02] Speaker A: I’m fine.

[00:06:03] Speaker B: I am great.

[00:06:06] Speaker A: And so I was thinking, people are walking. You’re walking through the countryside. Was there the kind of cheating, like the fellow who hopped in a car and then got back in the race? Are they hopping on a horse? And then they’re like, wow, he’s such a sprightly walker. Yeah.

[00:06:22] Speaker B: There certainly probably could have been, but they also were fairly well observed, it seems like, because there was no Internet or tv, and so if you weren’t out doing your farm work, you might have a following. Now, if you’re walking a large distance from point a to point b, maybe not as much, but in this particular instance of this race, they created arena. Everybody had their own little area, so they had their little tent, and some of them were pretty elaborate. And the walkers would do their big stretch and then they’d go take.

[00:06:54] Speaker A: I’m just. I’m looking at the Wikipedia article and it’s crazy. Ultra marathon.

[00:07:01] Speaker B: Wow.

It’s sort of the founding father of some of these future events, because there is this. As media became more popular and more accessible, people could more widely know about this. But are you comparing apples to apples? Or was running allowed? So there came a point at which things began to get quantified and formalized.

[00:07:25] Speaker A: Well, yeah. Especially, I feel like you hit a 15 minutes mile walking. You’re cooking, you’re going along. Right.

[00:07:33] Speaker B: That heel toe, 1ft needs to be on the ground.

[00:07:36] Speaker A: Yeah. And to go faster to trot. Oh. Can you imagine if somebody was like, I’m just jogging along.

Fists. Fists would be thrown. Yeah.

[00:07:47] Speaker B: Because the muscles involved are really different if you are keeping a foot on the ground. The fair heel toe rule, as it was known, this is a modern race walking rule, apparently. Still, that to be considered to be walking, a foot has to be on the ground and it has to be back to front.

[00:08:07] Speaker A: Yeah. I had no idea that people, and it’s such long distances. And here’s the thing, England is. I’m sorry, England, it’s not that big. And so to be like, let’s just go for a thousand hours. And I was like, are you walking.

[00:08:21] Speaker B: To three loops around England?

I lapped the island thrice.

There was big prize money in it for this, though. You’re like, that guy just walked through so many fields and he made ten grand in the late 18 hundreds.

[00:08:43] Speaker A: Wow.

[00:08:43] Speaker B: Like Edward Payson Weston. He was a reporter for the New York Herald and he won the ten grand by walking 1136 miles from Portland, Maine to Chicago. So it did make it to the US a little bit, although it was largely overseas in the UK.

[00:08:59] Speaker A: How far is the big trail, the one that we have in the United States?

[00:09:07] Speaker B: Appalachian trail. Yeah.

That has been a thing over the years to walk that.

[00:09:13] Speaker A: Okay, so that’s 2190 miles from Canada to. Not Canada all the way down.


[00:09:21] Speaker B: From the top to the bottom.

[00:09:23] Speaker A: Yeah. And then there’s the PCT that goes from Canada down to know also.

Wow. And they were just like, I’m just going to walk this with my crappy.

Just dang.

[00:09:39] Speaker B: The US staged a women’s competition. Special tracks were built in some towns and they had little community events. Elsa von Blumen was one of the US pedestrian ladies and she would walk a hundred miles, which now doesn’t seem as great when you see the thousand miles.

[00:09:57] Speaker A: I don’t know, but I’m over here. Like, I’ve walked in these shoes for approximately 300 miles and I need new shoes for my feet and my arches. What a baby. Oh my goodness.

[00:10:10] Speaker B: Yeah.

And to get into the more formal events, like if a guy is walking through the english countryside, I guess you can just go and watch. But the arena ones, there was a fee to get in. But this is where we loop back into that industrial revolution. If you just got off of your shift at 07:00 a.m. You could go see and bet on a guy in a race because they’re still walking.

[00:10:34] Speaker A: But just to do it on a track around.

[00:10:38] Speaker B: No, it’s kind of fun when the guy falls down in cramps.

But I’m also not a fan of certain types of racing where it’s just that left NASCAR.

[00:10:51] Speaker A: We’re looking at you.

[00:10:52] Speaker B: We are? Yeah. I want to see some rallying. I’d like somebody to possibly be going off into the sticks.

[00:11:01] Speaker A: Yeah.

[00:11:02] Speaker B: So in the 1878 is an era when they started formalizing, UK member of parliament Sir John Asley founded a long distance championship of the world. And it was a six day race.

[00:11:14] Speaker A: Wow.

[00:11:15] Speaker B: And that’s one where they allowed trotting and jogging and even some running. I think it was probably up to the contestant. But the important thing was the mileage, the long distance endurance.

And they were trying to clean up the perception of this sport because it was corrupted by gambling.

[00:11:34] Speaker A: Oh no, you corrupted my walking with gambling.

[00:11:38] Speaker B: Yes. So that led to the codification of rules and everybody enjoys some codification.

[00:11:47] Speaker A: Wow. That was not where I thought that was going to go at all. Well, done.

[00:11:52] Speaker B: Good job. That was one of those where I’m sort of casually scrolling along through social media or something and you do that.

[00:11:59] Speaker A: What?

[00:12:01] Speaker B: Yeah.

[00:12:04] Speaker A: Wow. Well, if you’re like me, I will be re listening to this podcast while I am out for a morning walk because I listen to them when they come out just to double check. So join me. Walking while listening to people talk about walking.

It’s like 20 minutes of that 1 hour, 1 mile. You only have 999 hours to go. Just listen to it again and again and again on a loop. Yeah, that’s fine. But if you don’t want to listen to it on a loop, you can listen to other episodes. Just ask your smart speaker to play Brain junk podcast wherever you listen, like and subscribe. Check out our merch store. I love saying that. Makes me feel super cool at
brainjunkpodcast.com. And click on shop and Amy and I will catch you next time when we share more of everything you never knew you wanted to know, and I guarantee you will not be bored.

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