18th- and early 19th-century Britain
During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, pedestrianism, like running or horse racing (equestrianism) was a popular spectator sport in the British Isles. Pedestrianism became a fixture at fairs – much like horse racing – developing from wagers on footraces, rambling, and 17th century footman wagering. Sources from the late 17th and early 18th century in England write of aristocrats pitting their carriage footmen, constrained to walk by the speed of their masters' carriages, against one another. By the end of the 18th century, and especially with the growth of the popular press, feats of foot travel over great distances (similar to a modern Ultramarathon) gained attention, and were labeled "pedestrianism".
Distance feats and wagering
One of the most famous pedestrians of the day was Captain Robert Barclay Allardice, called "The Celebrated Pedestrian", of Stonehaven. His most impressive feat was to walk 1 mile every hour for 1000 hours, which he achieved between June 1 and July 12 1809. This feat captured the imagination of the public, and around 10,000 people came to watch over the course of the event. During the nineteenth century, attempts to repeat this particular athletic challenge were made by many pedestrians including the renowned Ada Anderson who developed it further and walked a quarter-mile in each quarter-hour over the 1,000 hours. Another popular goal was for competitors in long distance walks to walk 100 miles in less than 24 hours, from which they earned the nickname "Centurions". Enormous cash prizes were offered for these races and they were a popular activity for the press, crowds of working class spectators, and the betting public until the 1880s.
Growth and controversy
Interest in the sport, and the wagering which accompanied it, spread to the United States, Canada, and Australia in the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century, Pedestrianism was largely displaced by the rise in modern spectator sports and by controversy involving rules, which limited its appeal as a source of wagering and led to its inclusion in the amateur athletics movement—and eventually the creation of racewalking.
Pedestrianism was first codified in the last half of the 19th century, evolving into what would become racewalking, while diverging from the long distance cross country fell running, other track and field athletics, and recreational hiking or hillwalking. By the mid 19th century, competitors were often expected to extend their legs straight at least once in their stride, and obey what was called the "fair heel and toe" rule. This rule, the source of modern racewalking, was a vague commandment that the toe of one foot could not leave the ground before the heel of the next foot touched down. This said, rules were customary and changed with competition. Racers were usually allowed to jog in order to fend off cramps, and it was distance, not code, which determined gait for longer races. Newspaper reports suggest that "trotting" was common in events.
This longer form of "ultra marathon" walking was especially featured in the popular press, and in the decade after the Civil War in the United States was a source of fascination. Edward Payson Weston, a reporter for the New York Herald won a $10,000 prize by walking 1,136 miles from Portland, Maine, to Chicago in thirty days in 1867. In the United States a series of Women's competitions were staged, special indoor tracks were built in some towns, and intra-community long distance Pedestrianism came into vogue. Along with sensational feats of distance, gambling was a central attraction for the large, mostly working-class crowds which came to Pedestrian events.
In the United Kingdom, member of Parliament Sir John Astley founded a "Long Distance Championship of the World" in 1878, run over six days, which became known as the "Astley Belt Races". While marking a peak in press coverage of such races, the Astley Belt Races also allowed a wide interpretation of rules, with trotting, jogging, and even some running allowed. In part, this competition was inspired by a desire to clean up the perception of the sport as corrupted by gambling interests, and this led to a push amongst some to codify Pedestrianism as an amateur sport. This was the same process happening to British track and field athletics which eventually gave rise to the Modern Olympic Movement.
Amateur sport and racewalking
Walkers organised the first English amateur walking championship in 1866, which was won by John Chambers, and judged by the "fair heel and toe" rule. This rather vague code was the basis for the rules codified at the first Championships Meeting in 1880 of the Amateur Athletics Association in England, the birth of modern athletics. With football, cricket and other sports codified in the 19th century, the transition from professional pedestrianism to amateur codified racewalking was, while relatively late, part of a process of regularisation occurring in most modern sports at this time.
This codified racewalk was included when the International Olympic Committee formed in 1893. In the 1904 Olympic Games the "all-rounder" event, father of the decathlon, included an "800-yard walk". It was only in the unofficial "Interim Olympic Games" of 1906 that racewalking became a separate event and since the 1908 Olympic Games in London, it has been an official event in every summer games.
Foot racing was a form of competitive running and walking of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Usually it involved feats of endurance which would now be classified as ultramarathon. It evolved into pedestrianism.
- Pepys Diary, 30 July 1663, accessed 24 August 2008
- CITY OF HULL ATHLETIC CLUB: The Origins of Our Sport. Refers to Samuel Pepys writing of Footman races in 17th century London.
- JK GILLON. ROBERT BARCLAY ALLARDICE: THE CELEBRATED PEDESTRIAN, (n.d.)
Peter Radford. The Celebrated Captain Barclay: Sport, Gambling and Adventure in Regency Times. Headline Review, New Ed, (2002) ISBN 978-0-7472-6490-3
- SPORTING EVENTS.; PEDESTRIANISM EXTRAORDINARY. A REMARKABLE TEST OF ENDURANCE—ONE THOUSAND MILES WALKED IN ONE THOUSAND HOURS—DE WITT AND GOULDING BOTH ACCOMPLISH THE FEAT—THE CONTESTANTS STILL WALKING. FORTY-SECOND DAY. New York Times, February 27, 1876, Wednesday, Page 2.
- See Walsh (1867). pp. 508–10 "I. DESCRIPTION OF PEDESTRIANISM: Quick Walking." in which "pedestrianism" is used for both "quick walking" by the "toe-and-heel" rule and "running". He references the skepticism about records and code enforcement.
- Phil Howell (1986)
- Pedestrianism The New York Times, 13 May 1874.
- Kelly Collins. Old Time Walk and Run: Ultramarathon Running, Lehigh University, 11 December 1996
- For a time the a sport columns in the New York Times bundled prize races for horses, running and walking events: The Turf.; TROTTING—RACING AND PEDESTRIANISM (this example June 12, 1860)
- PEDESTRIANISM IN LONDON.; THE GREAT INTERNATIONAL MATCH. AN EARLY VISIT TO AGRICULTURAL HALL—HOSPITALITY OF MRS. C'LEARY—SIR JOHN ASTLEY'S SPEECH TO THE CONTESTANTS—DESCRIPTION OF SOME OF THE PEDESTRIANS—AN IMPUDENT FELLOW RULED OFF THE COURSE—LOOKINGFOR AN EARLY BREAKFAST—PROGRESS OF THE MATCH. The New York Times, Page 1, April 1, 1878, Wednesday
- Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports, A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton
- Phil Howell. A brief history of racewalking in the United States, Reprinted in Run the Planet (n.d.) and originally credited to "Walk Talk", the Walking Club of Georgia, (1996).
- Tim Erickson. A POTTED HISTORY OF THE RULES OF RACEWALKING, 24 June 2004.
- Popular Recreation and The Rationalisation of Various Sports, Shelfield Sports & Community College, Walsall, England (n.d.).
- John Henry Walsh. Manual of British Rural Sports: Comprising Shooting, Hunting, Coursing, Fishing, Hawking, Racing, Boating, Pedestrianism, and the Various Rural Games and Amusements of Great Britain. Routledge, Warne & Routledge, London (1867).