My pedestrianism page refers to the race walking hype called pedestrianism and links to an extensive wikipedia page on the phenomenon. So the info here is not so much new as that it gives you a a nice visual introduction to its American history by way of a short video in which Matthew Algeo, the author of the 2014 Pedestrianism. When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport, introduces this largely forgotten mass sports craze.
The one paragraph description of the phenomenon from the author’s book page:
Strange as it sounds, during the 1870s and 1880s, America’s most popular spectator sport wasn’t baseball, boxing, or horseracing—it was competitive walking. Inside sold-out arenas, competitors walked around dirt tracks almost nonstop for six straight days (never on Sunday), risking their health and sanity to see who could walk the farthest—500 miles, then 520 miles, and 565 miles! These walking matches were as talked about as the weather, the details reported from coast to coast.This long-forgotten sport, known as pedestrianism, spawned America’s first celebrity athletes and opened doors for immigrants, African Americans, and women. The top pedestrians earned a fortune in prize money and endorsement deals. But along with the excitement came the inevitable scandals, charges of doping—coca leaves!—and insider gambling. It even spawned a riot in 1879 when too many fans showed up at New York’s Gilmore’s Garden, later renamed Madison Square Garden, and were denied entry to a widely publicized showdown. Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport chronicles competitive walking’s peculiar appeal and popularity, its rapid demise, and its enduring influence, and how pedestrianism marked the beginning of modern spectator sports in the United States.
Pedestrianism’s race walking history goes further back than this though (read the wikipedia page!). This older video – the way the iconic Western States 100 miler is depicted tells you that the metamorphosis of ultras from a niche sport to a mainstream ambition wasn’t completed yet – talks a bit about those (British isles, late 18th, early 19th century) days.