92: The Six-Day Race – Part 2: Edward Payson Weston (1870-1874)

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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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