The British Ultra Fest has no main sponsor as such and we are appreciative of individuals, people and businesses providing financial support and “things in kind”. We are very grateful and happy therefore to announce that one of the institutions of long distance running in the UK, the Road Runners Club, have kindly provided funding towards the events.
The RRC is a national club, founded in 1952, and represents all road runners. The club has played a major part in the development of road running and was intimately connected with the classic London to Brighton race. The RRC supports runners joining as a first or second-claim club and produces a journal three times a year, Roadrunner, which contains a wide range of articles and information on road-running topics, with its main focus being the activities of RRC members.
One of the greatest British multiday runners of all time is James Zarei who, we are delighted to annouce, will be coming to the British Ultra Fest to start the race and to present the post race awards.
Heading the top of the 6 day records list with his amazing performance at Gateshead Stadium in 1990 when Zarei won the last six-day race to take place in Britain. His distance of 622 miles, was one mile short of the British record set in 1888 when George Littlewood covered 623 miles 1,320 yards at Madison Square Garden in New York. Amazingly the race was stopped for two and a half hours for a friendly football match to take place on the infield pitch costing Zarei a potential 15 miles and the British record.
James legendary performances continued in 1994 and 95 when he won the 164 mile Spartathlon. James and Patrick Macke are the only British winners of that race.
James is pictured here with Pam Storey at the recent Barry 40.
The last 48 hour race to take place in the UK was at Blackpool on the 8th July 1989. Richard Brown who will be running in the 6 day race this year won that event with just over 350 km. Richard holds the GBR 48 hour record with 401.210km which he set at Surgeres in 1991.
There was also a 48 hour race in 1988 in Blackpool where Hilary Walker ran 366.512km to set the current womens GBR track record.
The DUV lists three 48 hour races that have taken place in the UK with the first being the 48Hr Track Race in Gloucester in 1983 and the results show, if that is indeed the sum total of 48 hour races to be held in the UK, that there have been 42 people who have taken part in these events. Opportunity for age group records abounds.
These were the results of the 1989 race which can be found with more detail on the DUV website
The following article is reprinted with permission of the author, Malcolm Campbell.
“In a recent publication the last three words of a quotation by Jim Shapiro were omitted. The full quotation is:
‘It is not pain I feel but sinking.
My involvement with the world grows dimmer.
It occurs to me that it would be nice to keel over.
A barely audible whisper says it would be a way out.
It seems almost impossible to bother any more…
But I do!’
The words appeared in Jim’s book ‘Ultramarathon’ which was published in 1980, and tells the story of Ultrarunning up to the end of the 1970s. The multi day event was just about to take off and Jim had noticed this when he wrote ‘In 1979, Don Choi organized two 48 hour runs in California. Mutterings are occasionally heard from Tom Osler in New Jersey about possibly staging a 6 day wobble.’ I very much hope that Jim will write another book because the events of the 1980s are well worth recording. The first 6 day race of modern times took place in Woodside, California in July of 1980, and was won by Don Choi with 401 miles. The first Edward Payson Six Day Track Race took place a few weeks later in Pennsauken, Philadelphia. Don Choi was the winner again with 425 miles. The following year in Pennsauken, Park Barner completed 430 miles.
The development of the sport depended on the willingness of the runners to participate and the willingness of organizers to stage these very demanding events. Sponsors were available but they had to be educated concerning the athletic possibilities of modern day runners. To some extent the growth of the sport sprang from chance remarks or accidental meetings of interested parties. One runner in the 1981 Pennsauken Race who played a vital part in the growth was Geoff Richardson, a Scot working in America. Shortly after the race finished he returned to England determined to stage a similar event, and with the aid of three good friends, the first Nottingham Six Day race was organized. The winner was Mike Newton who became the first runner of modern times to pass the 500 mile mark. Multi day racing owes much to Mike Newton. Most established ultra runners in England were reluctant to take chances on a new event and many thought the race was doomed to failure. How wrong they were. Don Choi, Jim Shapiro and Wes Emmons came over from America. The Canadian, and Olympian, Paul Collins entered and Joe Record from Australia took part. The media loved the event and sponsorship was assured for a number of years.
In 1982, the Nottingham race was won by Tom O’Reilly with 576 miles and a new modern day record. At this point, students of ultra distance running were noting that in the 1980s there were a number of performances over 600 miles and that George Littlewood’s record of 623 miles and 320 yards, set at Madison Square Garden in 1880 was far beyond the capabilities of modern day runners. The race was now on to be the first to beat this record and the subject aroused worldwide interest. News of the event had spread to France, a country with a long standing tradition of distance running, and a Six Day Indoor Race was staged at la Rochelle in 1982; the race winner was Ramon Zabalo with 537 miles. The Nottingham Six Day Race was held annually from 1981 to 1985. The La Rochelle Race has been held annually from 1980. The Six Day Race is also firmly established at Colac in Australia where some outstanding performances have been achieved.
Fred Lebow took an interests in the Six Day Race and became determined that the first man to best Littlewood’s record would do so in New York. The New York Road Runners club organized two Six Day Races and the first of these was held in 1983. The race winner, Siegfried Bauer, completed 511 miles which was a better performance than the mileage indicates. The temperature during the entire race was particularly hot.
The following year, Lebow signed up Kouros and Ramon Zabalo and the ancient record (Littlewood’s record) was finally beaten when Kouros added a few yards to his World Record and Zabalo completed 593 miles.
In many ways, 1984 marked the end of an era. There would be other good performances over six days, but no other runner would pass Littlewood’s mark, and only two runners would pass the 600 mile mark. Stu Mittleman ran 577 miles at Boulder County, and Patrick Macke ran 579 miles at La Rochelle. The great French runner, John Gilles Boussiquet, ran 605 miles at La Rochelle in 1984, and the following year his fellow countryman, Gilbert Mainnix ran 609miles at the same venue. The highlight of Eleanor Adam’s career came at Colac in 1987 when she beat her own World Record with 521 miles.
After Littlewood’s record was beaten a number of major sponsors lost interest in the event. It became difficult to justify the considerable traveling expenses involved for competitors who, at their best, would be unable to complete distances that had been achieved over 100 years ago. In 1982 Cliff Young, a 62 year old farmer, won the inaugural Sydney to Melbourne foot race. He achieved worldwide publicity and became a National Hero, and the race was assured of a place in Australian history. Westfields Corporation realized the publicity value of the race, and it has become the most costly event on the ultra running calendar.
The Westfield run was dominated, as the six day race had been dominated, by Kouros and in 1987 he completed the 1060 KMs between Sydney and Melbourne in a time of 5 days, 14 hours and 47 minutes; he was nearly 26 hours in front of the second place runner. Quite clearly, the sponsors of other runners could be forgiven for wondering if they were getting value for their investment. 1988 was Australia’s Bi-Centenary Year and the Westfield organizers were determined to make maximum use of the publicity for the event. The course was altered slightly and the new distance was measured as 1015 KMs. Yiannis Kouros was persuaded to accept a 12 hours handicap and started at 23.00 hours, whilst the rest of the field started beforehand at 11.00 hours. A number of runners expressed some concern at the arrangements, but in fact Kouros was paying them a great compliment in only giving them 12 hours start. In any event, he overhauled the entire field and finished about 4 hours ahead of second place Richard Tout. The handicap made his race time 6 days, 7 hours, 14 minutes. Richard Tout’s time was 6 days, 11 hours, 18 minutes. Although there are no serious challengers to Kouros over six days, it seems likely that Richard Tout presents the greatest threat to the supremacy of this great Greek athlete.
Meanwhile, a new event had emerged on the multi day calendar. The 1,000 mile race! In the 1970s there had been a two-man challenge between John Ball of South Africa and Siegfried Bauer from New Zealand. Bauer won this race which took place in South Africa and he was to win over the same distance in Colac (Australia) in 1983 with a time of 12 days, 12 hours, 36 minutes. This race started in Melbourne and the competitors ran to Colac, a distance of about 92 miles, where they continued around an accurately marked circuit in the Memorial Square of the Town. In 1985, the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team in New York organized a 1,000 mile road race in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, New York. That great pioneer of multi day racing, Don Choi, was still around and it seemed most appropriate that he should win this inaugural event. His winning time was 15 days, 6 hours, 24 minutes. In the same year, a 1,000 mile track race at Gateshead in England was won by Malcolm Campbell with a time of 15 days, 21 hours, 7 minutes. This had been the first 1,000 mile track race for nearly a century and, unlike the old 6 day records, the old 1,000 mile track times were quite modest. The Australian runner, Tony Rafferty, won a 1,000 mile road race in England in 1986 with a time of 14 days, 16 hours, 45 minutes. An outstanding 1,000 mile run was produced by the American, Stu Mittleman, at Flushing Meadow (a Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team race) in 1986 when he finished 25 hours in front of the second place runner with a time of 11 days, 20 hours, 37 minutes. Mittleman’s record for 1,000 miles seemed secure against all known competitors over the distance, and posed certain questions for outstanding performers over lesser distances.
In six day races there are competitors who run quite slowly to achieve great distances by not sleeping very much. Others run quite briskly but rest more often. There are a few exceptional performers who are able to manage with very little sleep and are still able to run well. These are, of course, the Champions. However, their ability to manage with virtually no real sleeping periods has only been tested over 6 days. They are not certain to manage for 10 days without a ‘trade off’ – and thereby lies the interest of the 1,000 mile race.
Eleanor Adams won a 1,000 mile stage race in England in 1987 with an overall time of 16 days, 23 hours, 9 minutes, and this was the best time ever recorded by a lady over the distance. One can only imagine the time Eleanor Adams might achieve in a ‘go as you please’ event and she has done much to encourage the increase in standards of lady multi day runners, and like Don Choi, must be considered one of the truly great pioneers of the sport.
This article was started before the Sri Chinmoy 1,000 mile race took place in New York. The race started on 20th May 1988 and Yiannis Kouros was to become the IAU World Champion with the incredible World Record time of 10 days, 10 hours, 30 minutes, 35 seconds. The second place finisher in that race was the Canadian veteran, Michel Careau, who now has his sights firmly set on a Six Day Race. Third in the race was Sandy Barwick from New Zealand, who set a ladies’ World Record of 14 days, 20 hours, 45 minutes, 16 seconds.
It really is difficult to identify where multi day racing in modern times began in earnest. America, France, England and Australia have all been the venues for events of great significance. When the Nottingham Six Day Race was held for the last time in 1985 it seemed likely that ultra distance running would revert to more standard events. The 24 hour race had become popular and this race is without doubt one of the most demanding of ultra distance races. Perhaps we are to see a revival of multi distance running in England and perhaps this time the top runners might get it right. In the early part of November there is to be a 48 hour track race at the Blackpool International Stadium. Organized by Stan Jewell, a most experienced Race Director, it promises to be an event of great significance.
Later in November, at the Gateshead International Stadium, we shall see the return of the Six Day Track Race. This event will be held to celebrate the British Record of 623 miles set by George Littlewood a century earlier, a race which may also be of some significance in future years.
There is perhaps a preoccupation with records where sponsorship of events is concerned and it is sometimes forgotten that the event is, above all, for the enjoyment of the competitors. But it is appropriate to finish this article as it started, with a quote from Jim Shapiro:
‘Without limits, boundaries or definition, there is no sense to any of it.’”
Malcolm Campbell “Multi Day Racing.”
IAU Newsletter, September 1988.
Although the classic Six Day race developed in the 1870s, the event has a much longer history. A hundred years earlier the first great British pedestrian or professional distance athlete, Foster Powell, had come to fame with the feat of walking from London to York and back, some 396 miles/637km in less than six days. It was a feat he attempted several times in his career, and was to be copied by later pedestrians.
A later pedestrian, Thomas Savager, walked 404 miles from Hereford via Leaminster to Ludlow in 1789, and in October 1811 another pedestrian called Rimmington reputedly walked 480 miles/772 km in six days in Holt in Dorset. In 1824 the pedestrian Macgowal made a wager to walk 400 miles in 5 days 12 hours. This challenge was probably a response to John Phipps Townsend breaking Foster Powell’s record and taking just 5 days 14 hours and 50 minutes to walk from London to York and return two years earlier.
Thus by the mid nineteenth century the six day event was already recognised, and the possibility of covering 500 miles in that time being considered and debated. However to ignite this into widespread interest and to make the organisation of six day races a commercial success was to take considerable showmanship. An American pedestrian, Edward Payson Weston, was such a showman.
In 1861 Weston undertook to walk from Boston to Washington to attend the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. Delayed by heavy snow, Weston missed the inauguration, but he had averaged 51 miles a day over the 453 mile course.
Weston’s professional career took off in 1867 when for a $10,000 wager, he completed a walk from Portland, Maine to Chicago, some 1,326 miles in 25 days, not walking on Sundays. The following year he walked 100 miles in 22:19:10 at White Plains, New York, in what was claimed to be a world record. (In fact a faster time had been set some eighty years earlier.)
Through into the early 1870s Weston made a series of well publicised walks against time. 400 miles in five days, was accomplished, and then in 1874 he made a series of attempts to achieve the widely regarded as impossible feat of walking 500 miles in six days,(the maximum period of allowable non-stop activity between Victorian sundays.) He was not without competition. In August 1874 another American pedestrian called Avery attempted the feat and on failing declared, that no man living could walk the distance in that time. Yet on the 14-19 December, 1874, in one of the major turning points in ultra history, Edward Payson Weston finally achieved that distance,
The publicity generated immediately inspired others to become would-be pedestrians. The greatest of these was Daniel O’Leary, an Irish door to door book salesman, who quickly established his ultra walking credentials. A challenge match with Weston was arranged in Chicago. The Irishman covered 503.3 miles, some fifty miles ahead of Weston’s final distance. The latter had played a waiting game, expecting O’Leary to collapse.
In 1876 and 1877 Weston and O’Leary travelled to Britain, where Weston had outclassed the native walkers the previous year. Despite being defeated by a couple of British walkers in shorter events, O’Leary again emerged the winner in a two man match event against Weston. 70,000 people came to watch the race and Sir John Astley, the promoter, was so taken with the event that he decided to promote a whole series of such races for the Astley Belt, for “the Long Distance Challenge Championships of the World”. Because of disputes about the fairness of Weston’s walking action, the events were ‘go-as-you-please’ – open to both walkers or runners. Weston did not contest the first Astley Belt race and O’Leary won yet again with a new world best of 520.25 miles with Britain’s Harry Vaughan in second.
O’Leary returned to the States and defended the belt against the overly optimistic John Hughes who offered him little opposition. However in 1879 O’Leary had to defend his title against a much tougher opponent, British newcomer Charles Rowell. The latter wore down his opponents with his relentless dog-trot and emerged the winner with 500 miles, and the remarkable sum of $20,398 – this at a time when the average working man’s annual salary was around $500.
Weston wasn’t finished with the six day event. He took up running, and using his wife’s inheritance for his $500 entry fee, he entered the fourth Astley belt race to be held at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, London. Rowell had injured his heel and withdrew from the event. After a tough battle over the first three days against the Briton Henry `Blower’ Brown, Weston emerged the stronger. At that stage Astley bet him he could not complete 550 miles in the six days; he did so, setting a new world best for the event.
By the fifth Astley Belt race, a completely professional set up was in place. All the runners had managers; the price of admission to spectators was one dollar and gate receipts were carefully monitored by the performers. Rowell set off strongly and had a commanding lead by four days into the race, however at that point he was taken ill and took eleven hours off the track. Samuel Merritt (USA) closed on him but the Englishman recovered enough to walk for most of the sixth day, ensuring that he won with 530 miles to Merritt’s 515.
The Astley Belt event was not the only such competition. O’Leary had sponsored a belt competition in his own name to develop new talent, and there were in fact a wealth of multi-day races spread across the English speaking world. Although concentrated on the Eastern seaboard in the USA, there were pedestrian events across America, even in the gold fields of California.
The first all woman six day match seems to have taken place between Mary Marshall of Chicago and Bertha Von Hillern in January 1876, and was won by Marshall with 234 miles. A rematch was held in New York in November in which Hillern turned the tables and won with 323.5 miles, when Marshall had trouble with her feet. When the British pedestrienne Ada Anderson came over to States it became fashionable to attend such events. Americans Bertha Von Berg and Amy Howard forced the record upwards.
The pedestriennes’ rewards were not as great as the men’s, even in the major venues, despite the newspaper coverage their races generated. In May 1880 a World Championship race for a gold, silver and diamond championship belt was held in San Francisco, with many of the top women performers taking part. Amy Howard of New York set new world bests for 24 hours of 95 miles, and 410 miles 251 yards for six days beating Sara Tobias, who also covered over 400 miles. However the winner received just $1000, and Tobias $750.
These major championship events were just the tip of the iceberg. Variations on the 6 day race were held in cities across Britain and the East Coast of the United States, and included the popular 6 x 12 hours and 6 x 10 hour events, designed to maximise the pedestrian activity during the period when most spectators would be present Some enterprising promoters had a travelling circus, complete with tent, in which pedestrians would “compete”, showing off their paces to new audiences intrigued by the novelty of these endurance events.
Even in Australia such events were contested with William Edwards winning a six-day tournament over 432 miles around Melbourne in 1882.
The six day record continued to creep ever upwards under the pressure of the sustained international competition. Frank Hart ,the professional name of Fred Hichborn, perhaps the first major African-American ultrarunner, regained the six day record for the States in 1880, after Blower Brown had taken it in mid-1879, and in 1881 his fellow Americans John Hughes, Robert Vint and finally Patrick Fitzgerald edged the record ever closer to 600 miles. In February 1882 Rowell returned to the scene in earnest. At the Madison Square Gardens, New York in a blitz start he set new world bests for 100 miles (13:26), 24 Hours (150 miles) and 48 hours (258 miles/415km), reaching 300 miles in 58:17:06 (a record which still stands today despite the efforts of Yiannis Kouros!) During a rest period Rowell inadvertently swallowed some vinegar which eventually forced his retirement, and it was left to his fellow countryman, George Hazael, to be the first man to cover 600 miles/965km in six days.
Rowell was never to dominate the six day event again. In an epic struggle in 1884 he was defeated by American Pat Fitzgerald when the latter set a new world best of 610 miles/981km, but by now the pedestrian era was on the wane. In 1888 a new American star, James Albert became the first man to run over a 1000km in a six day event with 621.75 miles, and in November the Briton, George Littlewood travelled to New York for an attempt on Albert’s record. After a four day struggle with Daniel Herty, a consistent US performer, the Briton broke the world best with 623.75 miles/1003km. Apparently he could have gone further, but did not want to make his task too difficult next time.
There was to be no next time for Littlewood. The interest in the six day event had declined in the face of competition from the more energetic and exciting cycling events.
The great public attention given to professional ultrarunning had inspired the amateur long distance runners on both sides of the Atlantic. In February 1882 the British runner, James Saunders achieved a new 24 hour amateur best of 120 miles 275 yards/193.3km at the American Institute Ring in New York City, setting a 100 mile mark en route of 17:36:14 – strangely enough there appears to have been $100 prize money! Despite this, Saunder’s mark is credited as the amateur world record in contemporary recordbooks. A year later, Peter Golden set an American amateur 50 mile best of 7:29:47 on the track at Williamsburgh.
Golden was to go on to set a ‘world record’ of 352.5 miles for six days as a professional in 1899 on a minute twenty laps to the mile track – a mere 88 yards in circumference! By then the golden age of the event was over. Pat Cavanaugh, an Irish American was the most successful runner during the declining years with 532.125 miles/856km in 1902, also setting a two man relay world best with Peter Hagelman of 770.5 miles/1240km the previous year. But by 1903 the event was gradually petering out.
Chinese-American Don Choi’s pioneer work in multi-day races in 1979 and 1980 in California revived a whole new branch of the sport. Without his work, there would probably be no present day 48 hour or 6 Day races. Choi then Park Barner edged modern 6 day record well over 400 miles, but the former glories of the 6 day event began to emerge when Briton Mike Newton became the first man to covered 500 miles /800km in a modern 6 days at Nottingham in November 1981. Tom O’Reilly took the record past 900km the following year at the same venue.
Women soon tackled the event led by the pioneer Marcy Schwam who covered 384 miles/617km in 1981. It was Britain’s Eleanor Adams who drove the track record upwards, eventually reaching 866km/538 miles.
1984 saw George Littlewood’s 6 day mark beaten by Yiannis Kouros – 635 mile/1022km. This performance had a major impact on the event. Without the mystic of the hundred year old record, and the world best now beyond the reach of many, interest in the event subsided again.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s there was again a revival in the event when first Australian Bryan Smith, and then James Zarei, the Iranian born British based runner, exceeded 1000km/ 621.3 miles on the track. It was in this period that New Zealander Sandra Barwick set the current women’s track best of 883.6km/549 miles. In 1992 the La Rochelle indoor race saw Frenchman Jean-Gilles Boussiquet set an absolute best for the event, covering 1030km/640 miles, with fellow countryman Gilbert Mainix, also running over 1000km in second place. After this upsurge in performance, once again it was some years before such levels were to be matched.
Meantime on the road, the American based British/Australian runner Catherine Dipali Cunningham, set new world female marks for 6 days, 811km/503 miles in 1990 and 820km/510 miles in 2001 in New York
In 2005 Yiannis Kouros set a new absolute best on the track at Colac, running 1036 km/644 miles, and since then the German Wolfgang Schwerk has been dominant, running 1010km/627 miles at Erkrath in 2007. William Sichel has emerged as the strongest British protagonist in recent years.
It is difficult to judge just how good the current 6 Day records are. The marks set in the nineteenth century were very tough in relation to other events, primarily because of the levels of prize money on offer..
A comparison with the mile event, which was high profile then and has remained so over the decades since, is possibly useful. The world mile record has progressed by some 13% over the past 120 years. Similar progress in 6 Day performances would result in a record of over 1126km/700 miles. The 6 Day has not had the same level of competitive pressure and certainly not the same level of prize money on offer in the 20th and 21st centuries as the mile event, but if such comparable prize money was on offer, then perhaps such a distance could be expected.
The six day event continues to be a focus for multi-day runners all over the world, but there are relatively few such races, due to the cost and commitment needed to organise such a prolonged race. Consequently the number of six day runners is not large. The race continues to have a unique place in the sport of Ultrarunning, and for many remains a fascinating and formidable challenge.