111: Ultrarunning Stranger Things – Part 1: Two Tales

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By Davy Crockett. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch On March 3, 1879, at the Fifth Regiment Armory in New York City, during Peter Van Ness’ attempt to walk 2,000 half-miles in 2,000 consecutive half-hours, one of the most shocking events in ultrarunning history took place. Van Ness, sleep deprived, drunk, and in intense pain, got hold of a gun and shot his trainer, Joseph Burgoine, in the arm, next took a shot at his manager, Simon Levy, grazing his silk hat. Panic resulted among the spectators. It could have resulted in mass murder. How could this be? The sport of ultrarunning during the 19th century was truly filled with tales of strange things that are unthinkable and shocking to us today. Taking a tangent from the six-day history which will continue, enjoy these bizarre tales. This episode will present two bizarre and shocking stories that have never been fully told and have been forgotten -- the Van Ness shooting, and the head-scratching story of John Owen Snyder, "The Indiana Walking Wonder," who may have walked and run more miles in three years than anyone in history. Please help the ultrarunning history effort continue by signing up to contribute a little each month through Patreon. Signup and get a bonus episode about the first major six-day race held in California. Visit https://www.patreon.com/ultrarunninghistory Peter Van Ness Peter Lewis Van Ness (1853-1900) was from Brooklyn, New York. He began his famed professional pedestrian career in 1876 when he started to walk six-day matches against women, reaching 450 miles. He was about six-feet tall and was known to plod along in “rakish style” and a strange gait, wearing striped stockings up to his knees. He had walked in several six-day races and had success in 50-mile races. On January 27, 1879, Van Ness, age 25, started his 2,000 half miles in 2,000 half hours competition in New York City against Edward Belden (1856-1926), age 22, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The venue was in the old Fifth Regiment Armory located in lower Manhattan, at Hester and Elizabeth Streets. The wagering stakes between the two were huge, $500 ($5,800 value today). Belden was trying to cover the 2,000 half miles in consecutive 20-minute segments. A track of sawdust and loam was created in the Armory’s drill room with eleven laps to the mile. The 1,000 Mile Match Begins View from Armory, many street peddlers Everything started out well during the first week. Both started to complain of calloused heels and Van Ness suffered from headaches. But both looked well and didn't show signs of exhaustion. "Van Ness walks with a free and easy movement of his whole body, keeping a sharp eye on his opponent and laughing and talking with friends in the room. His walk is strongly suggestive of a hungry man on his way to dinner." His fastest half-mile was clocked in 4:20. Belden wore velvet trunks, red socks and a light-colored vest covered with medals. After a couple of weeks, Belden hit his knee against one of the stakes of the ring and it was feared that we would have to quit. "A speedy application of liniment relieved the pain and kept down the swelling so that the effects of the blow soon wore off." Van Ness was said to be very nervous and cross, and "frequently has difficulties with his trainer when 'time' is called, and he has to appear on the track." The dismal hall had strong odors of stale cigar smoke and beer. A small Italian orchestra played tunes on a harp, violin, and flute. After 20 days, Beldan was a mess. “His feet are a mass of blisters and it is almost impossible to wake him up.” The stress put on both men, physically and mentally was incredible. On Feb 23rd, after 28 days, Belden was successful in his grueling task and reached his 1,000 miles. “After finishing his journey, he retired to his room, donned citizens’ clothes, returned to the track and walked three half miles.” Van Ness was at 672 miles and continued.

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