PLUSWALKING
 
For as far back as we know, people either walked to get somewhere, or ran for relatively short distances (for hunting or competition, to avoid or escape danger, etc.).  The longest running race in the ancient Olympic Games was a track event of about 5000 meters (about 3.1 miles).  As an exception, messengers (such as the legendary Phiddipides of Greece) often ran very long distances to deliver their messages.
 
Then, sometime about 1600 in England, the world of walking began to get a bit more interesting. Dr. William Gordon Wallace, in his 1989 doctorate dissertation on "Race Walking in America: Past and Present," wrote the following.
 
"Competitive walking of man against man appeared sometime late in the 16th century or early in the 17th in England. It became the custom in that period for members of the English aristocracy to employ 'footmen' to accompany them during their travels across country by coach. These were in effect servants whose duties included the carrying of messages and documents, hastening ahead of the family coach to make arrangements at inns for an evening's food, drink, and sleep, or advising the country house staff of the imminence of the family's arrival."
 
"Heavy wagering being a part of the excesses practiced by the nobility at that time, it was inevitable that masters began to match their footmen against one another in races. With sizeable sums at stake these noblemen increasingly sought footmen who could demonstrate speed and stamina. They were then trained as 'gladiators' to compete in matches arranged over varying distances. Thus it was that a class of professional pedestrians evolved on the British scene."
 
"There seems to have been no serious attempt to define the rules by which these competing footmen were to vie against one another, custom decreeing that footmen keep pace with their master's carriages without actually running. Sometimes the expression 'fair heel and toe' was used in an attempt to delimit the footmen's mode of progression. It was commonly understood, however, that they were 'allowed to trot, as necessary, to ward off cramp'."
 
Competition between footmen gave way during the second half of the 18th century to men racing against time over long distances. "Pedestrians" (as the walkers were called) could win a very handsome fee for walking dozens--or even hundreds--of miles within a proscribed time. Side bets were, of course, very welcome.
 
When Dr. Wallace noted "men racing against time over long distances," "long" sometimes meant racing thousands of miles--or almost continuously for up to 6 days. The Pedestrian tradition began to fragment as men (both racers and promoters) sought novel ways in which to make more money, or to have bragging rights for their exploits. The chart shown below outlines the evolution of fast-and-far walking as it created the marathon and race walks of equivalent distance in the modern Olympic Games.
 
This section of eRaceWalk.com looks at the various elements of fast-and-far walking as we know it today, along with a few commentaries of my own. For a more detailed history, see the A Brief History of Racewalking that presents more of Dr. Wallace's findings.
 

WALKING: About 1600 in England, men began to wager on whose footman (they were required to walk) could walk faster, and walking races began to appear.  Footmen could occasionally trot "to ward off cramps."

RUNNING

WALKING [1]

WALKING RACES: By the early 1800s, races between footmen had been replaced by wagering events where professional walkers ("pedestrians") raced for money.  Such races could be found in both England and the United States, and the British-American rivalry was intense.

RUNNING

WALKING [1]

PEDESTRIAN RACES: Professionals walked in wagering events using a "fair heel and toe" technique.  Then, in 1878 at the Astley Belt Races, the British also allowed a "go as you please" technique where men could run.  The runners won, of course, and long-distance running was born.

RUNNING

WALKING [1]

"FAIR HEEL AND TOE": Over time, rules were added for some events to limit loss of ground contact and bending of the knees. Walking first appeared in the 1904 Olympics' "all-rounder" event.

"GO AS YOU PLEASE": These runners went on to become the marathoners in the first Modern Olympic Games in 1896.

RUNNING

WALKING [1]

RACE WALKING:
walking fast with updated rules [2]

LONG-DISTANCE WALKING: walking up to hundreds of miles [2]

LONG-DISTANCE RUNNING:
running up to hundreds of miles

RUNNING
NOTES
  • [1] My "Walking" category includes hiking and modern-day fitness walking, powerwalking, and speedwalking--though I recognize that some persons in the latter three regimens walk much faster and/or much farther than their compatriots.  (See the Types of Walking page for more details on these groups.
     
  • [2] While both race walkers and long-distance walkers generally observe the two rules of race walking (maintaining contact with the ground, and having a straight knee for part of each step), long-distance events very often relax or eliminate enforcement of the straight-knee rule. For more information on these categories of walking, see the Race Walking, Long-Distance Walking, and Other Pluswalkers pages of this section.
 
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