Reading for Centurions

I have a huge personal library at home, covering a wide range of genres. And what library would be complete without an extensive sports related section. And what sporting section would be complete without a sub-section on pedestrianism and ultra distance. Here are some of  my books on that theme

Pedestrianism Pedestrianism Or An Account of the Performances of Celebrated Pedestrians During the Last and Present Century: With a Full Narrative of Captain Barclay's Public and Private Matches; and an Essay on Training
By Walter Thom, Aberdeen, 1813

This wonderful 286 page booklet, available online at, is a must for any serious sports historian. By far the earliest pedestrian book, it is an invaluable resource to the enthusiast.

The early chapters on Modern Pedestrianism trace the history of this sport from the late seventeen hundreds up to Captain Barclay's walk in 1809.
The middle chapters publish Captain Barclay's diary of his full walk of 1000 Miles in 1000 Hours.
The chapter On Training discusses the use of purgatives, emetics, sweats and diet on preparing the pedestrian for his forthcoming feats. Not for the faint hearted!

Free to download, then read for free on your own PC or device.

Thom also published the 2 volume History of Aberdeen in 1811, amongst others.
captain Barclay
The Celebrated Captain Barclay: Sport, Money and Fame
By Peter Radford (2001)

On 1st June 1809 Captain Robert Barclay undertook what was then the greatest sporting feat ever attempted - to walk 1000 miles in 1000 hours for 1000 guineas. Six weeks later, exhausted and on the verge of collapsing, he completed his challenge and instantly became the most famous sporting figure of Regency times. A fantastic read which traces Barclay's life and his 'impossible' feat. This was the event that definitively brought Pedestrianism into the public eye, and it is still discussed over 200 years later in various books.

A Man in a hurry
A Man In A Hurry
By Nick Harris, Helen Harris and Paul Marshall (2012)

For half a century Edward Payson Weston was one of the most famous people in the English-speaking world, as the first age of international celebrity unfolded. The godfather of the pedestrianism movement, he criss-crossed Britain and America on foot, earning fame, fortune and notoriety in an athletic career that saw him complete some of the most amazing endurance feats ever witnessed. In this entertaining and wide-ranging book, co-authors Nick Harris, Helen Harris and Paul Marshall, skillfully recreate a vanished world to tell one of the most amazing stories in sporting history. Part social history, part biography, part exposition of the seedy underbelly of Victorian society, this is a work that draws in elements of sporting genius, high stakes gambling, drug abuse, and marital scandal. A Man in a Hurry is one man's flamboyant athletic journey from the Gold Rush to the Jazz Age, the story of a dreamer, schemer and ladies man who met with Presidents and royalty, crooks and knaves.

Hard to put down once you start to read it.
King of the Peds
King of the Peds by P. S. Marshall (2008)

In what can only be described as a tremendous schievement, Paul Marshall has produced what I am sure will become the definitive study of pedestrianism, the hugely popular 19th century sport where massive amounts of prize money, a share of the gate receipts, and dazzling ornamental gold belts, were offered to successful athletes by ruthless promoters who made lucrative livings from the thousands of people who flocked to see them perform.

It was a world where men competed in appalling conditions, but exhibited unbelievable courage.  It was a world which could provide incredible riches, but at a terrible price for those willing to push themselves to the limits of physical endurance.

After considering all the evidence, Paul invites the reader to decide who deserves to be crowned King of the Peds"
Richard Manks
Richard Manks and the Pedestrians by P. S. Marshall (2008)

The above two books cover the final period of pedestrianism from the 1870’s onwards. What of the period before?

Paul Marshall, author of King of the Peds, has come to the rescue, publishing in December 2016 what I am sure will quickly become the definitive book covering the earlier period from 1800 onwards. Called Richard Manks and the Pedestrians, it is an exciting read of 198 pages, full of facts, newspaper articles, letters and of course drama and skulduggery. What’s even more noteworthy is that Paul is offering the book (in pdf format) freely, for the price of a donation to a charity of your choice. I have already procured a copy and have started to read it in depth.

AAA Official History
The Official Centenary History of the Amateur Athletic Association
By Peter Lovesey (1979)

Most avid readers know English writer Peter Lovesey, whether for his fiction or his sporting or his historical writing. On the sporting side, he has three books which should be of interest to ultra distance enthusiasts. I have the first two in hard copy and the third in ebook format.

This first of his books to be discussed is the History of the Amateur Athletic Association in England, written in 1979. The early chapters trace the start of Amateur Athletics, with the first Amateur Athletics Championships being held at the Lillie Bridge Athletic Ground in West London in 1880, right at the peak of the pedestrian boom.

The chapter Unbroken Contact documents the evolution of and early history of racewalking.

Not strictly ultra related but interesting to understand the evolution of modern sports from pedestrianism.
Wobble to Death
Wobble To Death
By Peter Lovesey (1980)

I have had this fantastic novel for years now. it is set in 1879 when multi-day pedestrian competitions, known as “wobbles,” were all the rage. The death of a contender, followed by a second murder, introduces Sergeant Cribb, who goes on to investigate sports-related deaths in a series of eight books.

It recreates so well the multi-day pedestrian racing scene, the crowds, the competitors, the intrigue, etc.
Kings of Distance
The Kings Of Distance
Peter Lovesey (1968)

Peter Lovesey's first ever book and the World Sports Book of the Year for 1968. To quote Lovesey

This, my first book, grew out of my strong interest in the history of athletics, It followed the careers of five great distance runners – Deerfoot, W.G.George, Alf Shrubb, Paavo Nurmi and Emil Zatopek – who competed at intervals of about twenty years from the 1860s to the 1960s. Little had been written about the first three, and Deerfoot was practically unknown, in spite of having been a sensation in his time. Each athlete was given a chapter and there were more chapters comparing them and the conditions in which they trained and competed. The foreword was written by Harold Abrahams, the Olympic champion later immortalised in Chariots of Fire.

Very expensive to purchase in hard copy but available as an ebook from Amazon for $4.99. You can't go wrong for that price.
Centurions History
The Centurions - A History (11th edition)
Published by The Centurions, May 2011

The History of the Centurions is a wonderful read. Now into its 11th edition and last published in May 2011, it traces the formation of the English Centurions and documents all their centurion qualifying events. A history in progress, the 2011 edition was 95 pages in length, and regular addendums are published to bring it up to date, as further walkers qualify for membership.

I have both the 1997 and the 2011 editions.
Sport of Race Walking
The Sport of Racewalking
Published by The Race Walking Association, Middlesex, 1962

It's been out of print for a long time but I am lucky enough to have 2 copies of this 1962 classic, published by the Race Walking Association. It covers the early days of pedestrianism, the coming of amateurism, the rise of racewalking and the many longer distance racewalking classics that were regularly held, up to the time of publication in 1962.

This is of course just the tip of the iceberg. Additional book details welcomed.