by Andy Milroy

Ultra runners constantly seek new challenges, and in recent years, the greatest of the standard distances , the 1000 miles, has become increasingly popular. Indeed, the event has taken over from the 6 Day race in multi-day racing. The history of the event stretches back well over two hundred years, making other events like the 6 Day, and even the 100km look like positive upstarts.

The earliest recorded 1000 miles thus far discovered took place in Birmingham, England in early 1758. The local pedestrian, or professional walker, George Guest, bet that he could cover the distance in under 28 days. He succeeded , with five hours to spare, covering six miles in the last hour.

Pedestrianism was to reach its heyday in the period of the Napoleonic Wars, and such 1000 mile walks became common. Covering 1000 miles in 20 days became a speciality of pedestrians like Eaton, Stokes, Jones , Crisp and Wilson. It was Wilson and Crisp who were to take the daily average up to 50 miles in such journeys.

George Wilson was a very famous pedestrian of the period, and became involved in great controversy when in the middle of one of his 20 day 1000 mile wagers he was stopped by the authorities and charged with causing a breach of the peace. He lost the wager and ended up in debtor’s prison. Unbowed, he then proceeded to walk 50 miles in 12 hours in a tiny prison yard, a mere 11 yards by 8, making 9.026 turns!

Wilson was not deterred by his imprisonment. On his release, in November 1816, he covered the 1000 mile distance in 17 days 23 hours 19 minutes 10 seconds in Hull. The following year Daniel Crisp drew a crowd of 10,000 people to watch a walk of 1,134 miles on the Uxbridge road, which he covered in 21 days. Perhaps in an attempt to surpass Wilson’s mark, the year after, on the same road, he walked 1,037 miles in 16 days 23 hours and 8 minutes, despite the Thames overflowing its banks during the performance, and flooding the road. On five occasions he had to wade for a quarter of a mile through water.

Daniel Crisp’s time for the 1000 miles was to stand for some sixty years until the upsurge in multiday racing in the 6 Day era. The American Edward Weston , the pioneer of the 6 Day, came to England in 1877, and as part of a series of wagers, he undertook to walk 1000 miles in 400 consecutive hours. This he did at the Northumberland Cricket Ground, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, completing the distance in 16 days 15 hours and 41 minutes. [This being the Victorian period, Weston did not walk on the Sundays, and altogether took over 150 hours rest.]

The record for the 1000 miles was to stay with Weston for the better part of a century. In 1975 a 1000 mile road race was set up between Siegfried Bauer of New Zealand and John Ball of South Africa, amongst others. This seems to have been the first 1000 mile RACE as such. It took place from Pretoria to Cape Town in South Africa. By the end of the fifth day, Ball led Bauer by around three and a half hours, but with a sustained piece of virtually non-stop running, by the end of the seventh day the New Zealander had taken the lead.. Despite a late surge from Ball, Bauer retained the lead to the end, finishing in three hours inside Weston’s mark, in 12 days 21 hours 46 minutes 30 seconds.

That mark remained an athletic curiosity until the small Australian town of Colac hosted their first international multi-day race. The town was the home of Cliff Young, who had won the Sydney-Melbourne in record time. Young had made a solo attempt on the 1000 mile best the previous year, but had been forced to retire by a back injury.

The 1000 mile race started with a run from Melbourne to Colac of 92.3 miles, followed by circuits of a 538.6 metre track in Colac. Tony Rafferty was the leader for the first 600 miles.[ Rafferty had 1000 mile experience, having run the distance solo], however he was forced to retire, and Bauer wound up as the only finisher in 12 days 12 hours 36 minutes 20 seconds.

The Sri Chinmoy organisation put on the first open 1000 mile race in New York in 1985, which was won by the modern multi-day pioneer , American Don Choi, in 15 days 6:24, from Trishul Cherns of Canada., The Sri Chinmoy event became an annual affair, and the next year Siegfried Bauer lined up for his third 1000 miler against Stu Mittleman[USA], who was better known for his abilities over shorter distances. After 6 Days the New Zealander had a narrow lead over Mittleman , but on the seventh day, Mittleman pulled out a two mile lead,. Bauer, suffering from an ankle injury was unable to respond. The American went on to surpass Bauer’s world best mark with 11 days 20:36:50, with the New Zealander again breaking 13 days for the distance.

Meanwhile the first modern 1000 mile track race had taken place in Gateshead in 1985, not far from the venue used by Weston one hundred years earlier. The previous best track mark had been set by a William Gale, who had covered 1000 miles in 16 Days 16 hours en route to a longer performance. The race was won by Malcolm Campbell, who had recently returned from a Trans-America match race. His final distance of 15 days 21:07:43, introduced this new format of the event.

The growing interest attracted Yiannis Kouros, who held the 6 day world best to the New York road 1000 miler.. The Greek covered 408.773km/254 miles in the first 48 hours, and 1028.370km /639 miles in 6 Days. Despite suffering from lack of sleep Kouros pushed on to cover the distance in a remarkable 10 days 10 hours 30:35

Since the Greek’s epic run a number of strong performances have been set in New York, most notably by Al Howie, the Canadian based Briton, who has a best of 12:01:42:52 to his name. Among the recent stars is the Latvian runner, Georgs Jermolajevs, who also ran 12:01 and 1000 miles Rimas Jakelaitis of LIT who ran 11:23:07:21 in New York in Sep 2000

However the growth area has been the track 1000 miles. Campbell’s mark was broken by the veteran Tony Rafferty in difficult conditions at Glanville, Australia in 1989. His time of 14 days 11:59:04 was surpassed by Jermolajevs in his first ever 1000 mile, on the track at Odessa. His time of 13:23:25:18 was not ratified, and it was Gary Parsons, another Australian, who took the record with 13 days 17:37:21 in Nanango in 1994.

In March 1996 Parsons improved this to 12 days 19:44:34, and this mark was surpassed twice during that year, but neither mark was eligible for ratification. Alfredo Uria, who had run against Parsons in the 1996 Nanango race, . ran 12:17:59:09, only to have his mark disallowed through incomplete lap recording, and Vladimair Glazkov’s 12: 13:32:41 suffered a similar fate.

Lithuania’s Piotr Silkin improved Parsons’ best to 12 days 04:06:00 at Odessa and then improved to 11d 13:54:58 at Nanango, Australia in March 1998 to set the current world best.

Female runners came late to the 1000 miles . In 1864 Emma Sharp covered the distance in 1000 hours – 42 days at Quarry Gap, Laisterdyke in Britain, and twelve years later Bella St Clair completed the distance in under 40 days with 39 days 14 hours in London. Perhaps the most notable British pedestrienne of the period, Ada Anderson , took the time down to below 30 hours with 27 days 19 hours at Kings Lynn in 1878.

The first modern 1000 mile mark was set in a two person match road stage race in 1987, when Eleanor Adams, [now Robinson] covered the distance in 16 days 22 hours 51 minutes., but it was an American, Suprabha Schecter who was to set the event on its way. She ran 14 days 20:18:24 at New York in 1989.

This mark was shattered by one of the most remarkable multi-day performances of alltime. In 1991 New Zealander Sandra Barwick covered 804.672km /500 miles in 6 days en route to 12 days 14:38:40 , behind her Canadian Antana Locs ran 13 days 23:18:32.

The best female road since then has been by Australian Catherine Dipal Cunningham with 13 days 20:18:40 last year.

In 1996 the first women 1000 mile track mark was established by Sandra Brown (GB) at Nanango, Australia with 14 days 10:27:21. At Nanango in March 1998 Eleanor Robinson GBR clocked 13d02:16:49 to set the current world track best..

In the close to two hundred and fifty since George Guest’s 1000 mile performance in Birmingham, the event has come a long way. Surprisingly it still has a place in this modern metric world, even in such unlikely places as Odessa in the Ukraine and Baracaldo in Spain. Perhaps the attraction is that it is of such duration that to many people covering that sort of distance on foot is unimaginable. As Dave Cooper has said of the 24 hours – `If it wasn’t hard we wouldn’t do it, we would go and find something harder’ The 1000 miler is definitely `something harder!’

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2 Comments on The 1000 miles – History

  1. Julius says:

    As lithuanian I am proud that World record belongs to Piotr Silkin but I Just don’t understand why it belongs to Silkin if Kouros ran 1000 miles 27 hours faster.

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