Sporting heroes: Littlewood’s walk on the wild side


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The Independent Online

This week marks the 125th anniversary of a seemingly everlasting British record set by George Littlewood. The Sheffield athlete was a professional pedestrian. The sport of pedestrianism is not practised today, though we still see its influence in ultramarathon running.

In 1888, at Madison Square Garden, New York, Littlewood broke the world record for distance covered by foot over six days, travelling almost 624 miles. Quite incredibly he did this having survived a bizarre accident on day five. Littlewood was bathing his feet in alcohol in an attempt to heal blisters when a spectator struck a match and dropped it into the foot-bath, leaving severe burns on Littlewood’s feet. Littlewood, not wanting to give up, marched on. The culprit was never caught.

While the British record still stands, as a world record it was eventually surpassed after lasting almost a century. In 1984, Greek ultramarathon runner Yiannis Kouros went almost 636 miles with two hours still to spare until the six-day limit, also fittingly in New York. He then broke his own world record in 1991 running 664 miles, which remains today.

Kouros is a phenomenon. He holds practically every modern running world record on track or road over time periods from 12 hours to six days and distances from 100 to 1,000 miles. He claims to hold at least 160 world records, though accounts and opinions vary.

Kouros last broke a world record in 2005 at 49 years old but, surprisingly, he has never run farther than 12 kilometres in training.

Kouros credits his success not to training or natural talent, but to his mental ability.

“The pain is the reality but your mind can inspire you past it,” he said. “I look to the countryside, music, and art, to help inspire me.”