This is a podcast about the history of the sport of ultrarunning. An ultramarathon is generally a race of 50K (31 miles) or more. The sport became popular in the 1980s, but had been in existence since the late 19th century. This podcast will share history and tell stories about ultrarunning history generally before 2000.
87: The 100-miler: Part 26 (1979) - Old Dominion 100
The Old Dominion 100, established in 1979, was held in Virginia along the beautiful Shenandoah River. It was one of the first classic modern-era American trail 100-milers. Today, few ultrarunners have even heard about this race.
Old Dominion 100’s origin story is similar to Western States 100. It also emerged from the horse endurance riding sport. The Old Dominion 100-mile Run patterned its practices from Western States, established two years earlier in 1977. Old Dominion 100 gave East Coast ultrarunners a trail 100-miler on their side of the country.
Western States 100 claims it is the “world's oldest 100-mile trail race” (still being held), but technically Old Dominion 100 has legitimate rights to that claim because in those early years Western States was actually only 89 miles.
86: Jackie Mekler (1932-2019) - Comrades Legend
Jackie Mekler from South Africa was perhaps the greatest ultrarunner in the world during the late 1950s and early 1960s and was a five-time winner of the Comrades Marathon (54 miles). His path to greatness is particularly inspiring because as a boy in an orphanage, he became a self-taught runner, He was boosted by fierce self-determination that grew out of his lonely and harsh childhood experience.
Meckler broke the world records for 30 miles, 50 km, 40 miles, and 50 miles. He won the prestigious Comrades Marathon five times and once ran 100 miles in 13:08:36 at the young age of 21.
85: Mavis Hutchison – The Galloping Granny
Mavis Hutchison was a pioneer ultrarunner from South Africa who blazed the trail for women runners worldwide. She finished Comrades eight times in years when very few women ran. She had an impressive ultrarunning career that took her so many countries and went on to become one of the most popular women in South Africa.
84: Wally Hayward (1908-2006) - South African Legend
Early conditioning can be very important. Wally Hayward came from a very tough background. His father, Wallace George Hayward, the son of a coal agent, had been born in Peckham in London, England in 1880, and emigrated to South Africa sometime between 1901 and 1906, in his early twenties. It looks probable he actually arrived soon after 1904 when the sand bar which had restricted Durban Harbour to bigger ships was dredged and deepened. This allowed the weekly Union Castle passenger ships from Southampton to enter the port. Bearing in mind Wallace’s later employment, and absence from Union Castle passenger lists, it is possible that he served as a barman on one of these passenger ships, departing the ship at Durban.
83: Hardy Ballington - The Forgotten Great Ultrarunner
The forgotten man of Ultrarunning is arguably Hardy Ballington (1912-1974), lauded in 1939 in Natal, South Africa, as “the second Newton” and a “human machine”. Dominant immediately before and after the Second World War, he was awarded the prestigious Helms Trophy for his remarkable performances In England in 1937.
The authoritative Lore of Running, (2003) written by Professor Tim Noakes, advocated a training programme drawn up by Hardy Ballington and his archrival and friend Bill Cochrane. The program provided daily, weekly, and monthly training goals in terms of total distance covered; it was focused on gradual progression in training but did not specify the intensity of that training. The goal was to condition the body to run the long distances required for an ultramarathon. Ballington’s training strategy was still seen as relevant 70 years later!
82: Roller Skating Ultra Distances - 1885 Six Days
Professional ultrarunners/pedestrians of the late 1800s and early 1900s were constantly looking for endurance races or head-to-head matches to prove their abilities and make significant amounts of money. During the mid 1880s, some of them, including popular black ultrarunner Frank Hart, changed out their leather running shoes for roller skates during periods of endurance rolling skate fads.
While not technically ultrarunning, the emerging six-day roller skate races mirrored significantly the six-day foot races that had become the most popular spectator sport for several years in the United States. Why not put wheels on those ultrarunning feet and see what could be done? The results were fascinating, and in 1885 the Boston Globe left behind very detailed play-by-play results that revealed what these unique races were like. How many miles could an extreme endurance athlete skate in six days on primitive rolling skates?
Very interesting and entertaining!
As a runner and history buff, I really appreciate these . Great job!
Great for our sport!
Thanks Davy for your thorough research and great storytelling! Our sport needs this and isn’t being done like this anywhere else. Will be awesome to see this a couple years from now! Thanks again for what you do for the sport!
Would be 5 if....
Love the history but wish there was a history only version without the intro or the special effects. Seems like a lot of work that only distracts from the story.