Age of Pedestrianism - Centurions1911

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Age of Pedestrianism

Race Walking
The Origins of Race Walking
From the early long distance pedestrians to today's ultra race walkers.

Walking events, sometimes under a reasonable degree of scrutiny and sometimes not, really began to develop about the end of the 18th century and frequently featured professionals engaging in prodigious feats of 'pedestrianism' for considerable wagers. In 1773 Foster Powell walked from London to York and back in six days for a wager of 1,000 guineas, and in 1808 a Captain Howe walked 346 miles in six days and then, a fortnight later, walked 83 miles in less than 24 hours for a 200 guinea wager. The validity of some of these early efforts may well be questionable. James Watson must surely have been straining the concept of walking when he went from Whitechapel to Romford and back, 23 miles, in less than three hours, as must a Mr Rickets, who managed to get from Shoreditch to Ponders End (near Enfield in Middlesex) and back in an hour and 50 minutes, at a speed in excess of ten miles an hour!
History tells us that throughout the 19th century, the foot servant of a member of the aristocracy, often walked, jogged or trotted behind his master's coach and this developed into the practice where they would set their "man" to complete a certain distance in a fixed time for a wager with a fellow aristocrat.

Pedestrianism was then of a long distance endurance nature and usually with money involved.  Still we might imagine that this was the precursor of modern ultra-athletics (without the money!)
The most notable feat occurred in 1809 when Captain Barclay set out to walk 1000 miles in 1000 hours walking one mile in each of the 1,000 consecutive miles on Newmarket Heath for 1,000 guineas.
He completed the walk in 42 days with never much more than one hours rest, losing some 28lbs weight in the process.
[This was re-enacted in 2009 when jockey, Richard Dunwoody undertook the same challenge - supported by many present day Centurions]



Not all "pedestrians" were Centurions, but many created a great interest in sport of long distance walking in the late 19th Century. They were the forerunners of what we know today and were instrumental in the formation of the Brotherhood of Centurions in 1911.

Eventually, given the absence of any objective definition of 'walking', these events fell into disrepute and the activity (hardly worthy of description as a sport) declined. But in the 1860s, when athletics in general began to be organised on a formal basis, walking was on the scene again and the first Amateur Walking Championship, promoted by the Amateur Athletic Club, was held in 1866, when J.G. Chambers of Cambridge University won the 7-mile race in 59:32. The 7 miles continued to be contested until 1893, becoming the Amateur Athletic Association Championship in 1880, and track walks have, ever since, been included in the AAA Championships. The famous London to Brighton race was first held in 1886, promoted by the long-vanished Hairdressers' Athletic Club, and several other point-to-point events, now mostly abandoned because of traffic conditions, followed.

ent of race walking as a serious, well-regulated sport, some of the key dates:

The early 20th century saw the firm establishm
  • 1906: Race walking (at 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres) appeared in the Intercalated Olympic Games, with some controversy as the first two finishers in each race (the same men) were disqualified.
  • 1907: The Southern Counties Road Walking Association was formed in London.
  • 1908: The first Championship was held over 20 miles at Ruislip, the individual winner being Harold Ross of Tooting A.C. in 2:56:32, while the team prize went to Surrey Walking Club.
  • 1908: In the London Olympic Games, George Larner, a Brighton policeman, won both the walks 3,500 metres in 14:55.0 and 10 miles in 1:15:57.4.
  • 1911: The Southern Counties Road Walking Association became a national body. It subsequently took over from the AAA responsibility for track walking (in 1954) and from the women's organisations all responsibility for women's walking (in1980), thus becoming the first unified body in English athletics.
  • 1911: The Brotherhood of Centurions was founded.

Where does the style come from?
It is the only way to allow people to walk at speed without running. Clearly some of the early 'walkers' were running if their times are to be believed. Race walking rules demand that a part of a walker's foot is on the ground at any one time - when you run there are times when nothing is touching the ground.

More on the Centurions history

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