Marathons are commonplace now, but one of the earliest 20th-century long-distance races was the multiday, coast-to-coast Transcontinental Foot Race, little known now but an event that captured the world’s imagination in 1928.
The race began in Los Angeles and finished in New York City, covering 3,423.5 miles. Out of the 199 runners who began on March 4, 1928, only 55 finished 84 days later. Newspapers called it the Bunion Derby. The race was conceived by Oklahoma businessman Cyrus Avery at the height of the Roaring ’20s, a time of optimism and excess. Charles Lindbergh had recently made the first solo trans-Atlantic flight. People tried to outdo each other with outrageous stunts. Dance marathoners danced for days, and pole-sitters sat atop flagpoles for weeks to set and break records. Avery teamed up with C.C. Pyle, the “P.T. Barnum of Professional Sports,” to organize the race. The nearly 200 men of all races and nationalities who started the race faced a variety of obstacles—extreme weather, poor food and living conditions, prejudice, and injury. Speno’s detailed, engaging narrative brings the times and the race vividly to today’s readers. Chapters are broken up into topical subsections (on the “Good Roads Movement” and international participation, for instance), and plentiful archival material complements the lively narrative.
An absorbing story of colorful times. (photos, maps, statistics, bibliography, source notes) (Nonfiction. 10-16)