Click main image below to view enlargements and captions.

Running Print, Portrait of Johnny Day, “The Pedestrian Wonder” Champion Race-Walker, 1866 (Sold)

Johnny Day, The Pedestrian Wonder, and Champion of the World.
Newbold, London: August 11, 1866
Hand-colored lithograph
18 1/4 x 12 7/8 inches, overall

This item is sold. It has been placed here in our online archives as a service for researchers and collectors.

Portrait of Johnny Day, the so-called “pedestrian wonder,” with descriptive and statistical information in the lower margin. The undefeated child world champion runner was born at Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, June 20th, 1856. He is shown in his red athletic shorts on a winding dirt road in the country, leaning against a milestone draped with “a handsome gold medal by J. Soward Junior, of London.” The print, executed in 1866, states that Day was 3 feet, 11 1/2 inches tall and weighed 4 stone. Among his 101 match wins in Australia and England, 11 are described in the margin, such as “a 5 mile Match against time, July 26, 1865, Great Yarmouth won by 3 minutes” for a 50-pound prize.

Description

Competitive walking appeared around 1600 in England. It appears to have grown from the practice of having “footmen” accompany the English aristocracy on their journeys by horse-drawn coach. The footmen hurried off ahead of the coach to carry messages or make advance arrangements at the inn or country house that was the coach’s destination for the evening.

It became an amusement of the nobility to match their footmen against one another in races and place large bets on the results. Eventually, talented footmen were trained to compete in matches arranged over varying distances, and a class of professional pedestrians evolved.

The rules were fairly loose, however it was understood that footmen were expected to keep pace with their master’s carriages without actually running. According to Phil Howell:

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.

One of the more popular goals involved covering at least 100 miles in less than 24 hours. Those meeting this goal were (and still are) called Centurions…

The early 19th century saw the return of races between men. Town-to-town events, supported by gambling, became quite the rage — even becoming the most popular sport in England for a while.

Full publication information: Newbold, 303 and 304 Strand, W.C., London: August 11, 1866.

References:

Howell, Phil. “A Brief History of Racewalking in the United States.” North American Racewalking Foundation. 1996. Online at Run the Planet. http://www.runtheplanet.com/resources/historical/rwushistory.asp (13 May 2009).

Milroy, Andy. “1000 Miles: a history.” Ultramarathon World. 1998. http://fox.nstn.ca/~dblaikie/uw-1000m.html.

Additional information

Century

19th Century