Feb 1, 2021
On March 4, 1928, a motley
assortment of nearly 200 marathon pros, amateur sports enthusiasts
and random publicity-seekers took to the starter's pistol from Los
Angeles' Legion Ascot Speedway to begin an incredible 3,423-mile
trek (half of it on a brand-new Route 66 highway) to New York's
Madison Square Garden as part of the "C.C. Pyle International
Transcontinental Foot Race of 1928" dubbed the "Bunion Derby" by
the sports press - in pursuit of their share of a combined $48,500
in cash prizes offered by archetypal sports promoter Charles C.
("Cash & Carry") Pyle.
Pyle was the P.T. Barnum of
sports promotion, who first came into prominence by convincing
collegiate football standout Red Grange to turn pro. Grange helped
Pyle make a fortune, which he later parlayed into a similar turn
promoting the first professional US tennis tour, converting top
amateurs like Suzanne Lenglen.
But it was the transcontinental
ultra-marathon concept that would be Pyle's legacy: "It will be the
greatest free show ever offered the American public," Pyle boasted.
"The runners will go through hundreds of towns, each of which will
be assessed for advertising. Thousands will flock to these towns to
see the runners. We'll sell them programs and tickets to our
traveling side show."
On May 26, just 55 survivors stumbled into the Garden, where a
19-year-old Oklahoma Native American named Andrew Payne crossed the
finish line to win - an 84-day journey comprising a total running
time of 573 hours, 4 minutes and 34 seconds - a roughly 16-hour
lead over second-place finisher John Salo of Passaic, NJ.
The prize money was held up for a week, but was finally doled
out by fellow promoter Tex Rickard, who bailed out Pyle from an
estimated $150,000 loss on the endeavor. Incredibly, Pyle
came back for a second (and ultimately final) run in 1929 - with