The next great ultramarathon walker was the American Edward Payson Weston, the man who was to inspire one of the most heroic and interesting eras in the history of running.
Weston, who became known as the “father of pedestrianism,” was bom in Providence, Rhode Island, on March 15, 1839 (Osier & Dodd, 1977, 1979). He first gained fame in 1861 by walking 713 km from Boston to Washington DC in order to attend the inauguration of President Lincoln. In 1867 he walked 2,135 km from Portland, Maine, to Chicago in 26 days. Thereafter his goal became that of covering 800 km in 6 days or 144 hours. He finally succeeded at his third attempt in December 1874, thereby winning a gold watch plus the title “Pedestrian Champion of the World.”
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The following year Daniel O’Leary, an Irish immigrant to North America, walked 800 km in Chicago and challenged Weston to a match to decide the “world champion.” The race, held from November 15 to 20, 1875, was won by O’Leary, who covered 800.4 km to Weston’s 720 km.
The following winter Weston traveled to England, where he was unbeaten in a series of races. His best performance (801.6 km) was achieved at the Agricultural Hall in London, where he met Sir John Drysdale Astley, a Baron and member of Parliament, who agreed to back Weston against anyone else in the world.
Meanwhile O’Leary, learning of Weston’s great successes in England, traveled to London and challenged Weston to a showdown in London in April 1877. Again O’Leary triumphed with a new world record of 837 km to Weston’s 816 km. Despite losing £20,000 on Weston, Sir John Astley decided to sponsor the
Official world pedestrian championship. He donated the Astley Belt, valued at <£100, and £2,000 in other prizes for the “Long-Distance Challenge Championship of the World.”
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