Tuesday, 24 April 2018
by Andy Milroy
The 24 Hour race of 1931
It is always interesting to get an eye witness view of a great race; frequently such a report appears in a magazine or book which goes out of print and is forgotten
Arthur Newton, the great pioneer of the Comrades and a great influence of the development of training for long distance wrote a book in 1940 called “Running on Three Continents” , which recorded his experiences of running ultras in Africa, Europe and North America. In it he recorded a detailed account of an indoor 24 hour race in Hamilton, Ontario on the 3 / 4 April 1931
The race was to be held on indoor on a specially constructed track of 13 laps to the mile. To help prevent dizziness, the `square’ track had banked corners. This helped the runners around the turns. The surface was made of a special composite boarding, which was not too hard on the feet, yet could take the wear of and tear from the repeated circling of the track without becoming too worn. The runners all wore crepe-rubber soled shoes.
Arthur Newton, who came from Rhodesia, collected together a field of seasoned veteran professionals from the Pyle Trans-Continental races. As well as himself and Pete Gavuzzi, his English partner, the other runners invited were Mike McNamara, originally from Queensland, Australia but was then resident in New York, Earl Lin Dilks, a railwayman from Newcastle,. Pennsylvania, Paul Simpson, a college athletic instructor from Burlington, North Carolina, Phil Granville, a Canadian Afro-American from Hamilton, Ontario, and Tom Ellis, a Canadian from Hamilton.
Gavuzzi had finished second in the 1929 Trans-Continental race. Simpson had finished fifth in the 1929 race and had also made a name for himself for outrunning a Texas cow pony. Granville was primarily a very good race walker, who held his national 100 mile record, but was also a strong runner. He had represented Canada in the 1924 Olympics as a walker, and won the Manchester to Blackpool race in Britain, breaking the course record. He finished third in the 1928 and sixth in the 1929 Continental race McNamara had finished seventh in the 1929 event. Dilks had run the 90 miles from Newcastle to Erie in 17 hours .in 1927. Both he and Ellis were veterans of both Trans-Continental races.
Newton himself had run three 100 mile races but was now approaching 50. He figured he had one last chance to set a world record on the track and was aiming at the 24 hour mark of Charles Rowell’s record of 150 miles 395 yards/241.763km set in the first day of a Six Day race indoors in New York fifty years earlier.
Here is Newton’s account of the race:
“A few days before the great race the men arrived and were put up at the Stafford House Hotel, at which we were staying: although constant rivals, we were the best of friends at all times, due no doubt to the sharing of troubles in those desperate Transcontinental races. Sundry details had to be worked out before we stepped on the track; for not only was the twenty-four record to be attacked but also that for forty miles. The latter was advertised and specially included because Gavuzzi fancied his chances were much better in a distance he was thoroughly used to than in the prolonged grind which was so much beyond anything he had yet attempted. At the same time it was, of course, possible that any one of us might strike misfortune in the shape of stitch or muscle trouble, sufficient to put an end to any hope of world’s records. So we had to arrange that at least two of us would be ready to tackle either the forty miles or the twenty-four hours. That meant that McNamara and I would have to hurry somewhat for the first twenty or twenty-five miles, after which, if Gavuzzi appeared to be safe, we could settle down more gently for the longer event.
With this as part of our programme, McNamara and I let Gavuzzi do all the real speeding at the outset, merely keeping within reasonable reach of him in case trouble occurred. In this latter event we two older men had agreed to leave whichever felt like it to take up the running for the forty-mile record while the other safeguarded the position by slowing down for the twenty-four hours’ work. This might not be good generalship but was the best we could do under the circumstances: having hinted at both records we had to deliver the goods.
It was a rare thing indeed for Gavuzzi to meet with trouble during a race, but he managed it this time. He was moving splendidly and apparently had the forty-mile mark “in the bag” as the Americans say, when just over twenty miles McNamara and I found we were beginning to lap him instead of his lapping us as had been the case up till now. Another half-mile and the trouble was obvious: he had to retire with muscle injury in a leg.
As soon as we knew this, McNamara and I had a word or two while circling the track and he told me he was going well and was quite willing to take on the work Gavuzzi had been obliged to leave. As he was several laps ahead of me this seemed to be the best course to follow, and off he went while I slowed down, knowing that I had got to make sure of keeping the pot boiling for the full twenty-four hours. At the time McNamara was only about a miles behind Gavuzzi, but he opened up and raced around that small track – thirteen laps to the mile – in a really astonishing way: he made up so much time that at thirty miles he was two minutes twenty seconds inside the professional world’s record for the distance. As he passed me again just after this he informed me that he was still quite good enough to continue for the next ten miles and went on at the same pace to obliterate the forty-mile mark as well. Never have I seen such brilliant distance running as McNamara then put up: at forty miles he was some three minutes ahead of the world’s record time again, and he was a man of forty-one!
But by that time it was obvious that if he were to have any sort of chance of staying the whole distance he would have to travel much more circumspectly, and he very wisely moderated his gait, though even then it took him only 6h. 7m 30s to complete fifty miles. At this point he was three miles ahead of me but by the time the hundred had been reached the gap was no more than a mile.
Plenty of experience at this sort of work had taught us that a short, sharp hot bath to remove the accumulated refuse from the pores of the skin would do more to brace us up for the rest of the journey than anything else, and we had accordingly arranged for this. No matter who was leading, McNamara and I had agreed that one of us should go off the track at a time and the other remain running until he returned: also that the second man should take precisely as long over his bath as the first, in order to prevent any possible advantage being gained by this means.
Shortly after the completion of the 100 miles McNamara went off, while I trotted round looking forward keenly to my turn. I expected him to take about four to five minutes and was beginning to be alarmed when ten had gone and he still did not appeared. A question to an official elicited the information that he would be back almost at once, so on I went. As a matter of fact it was twenty-one minutes before he re-appeared, which, of course, meant that I had to take twenty-one minutes over my bath, whether |I liked it or not. Rotten bad luck, but you couldn’t blame McNamara: muscle trouble had laid him out and he was obliged to resort to massage before he could come out again. So I had an extra long bath and returned feeling fifty per cent more energetic.
But with McNamara this was the beginning of the end : his earlier efforts would not permit of such an abnormally extended programme: his legs were giving in, and at 110 miles he was obliged to stop and retire.”
“After McNamara’s retreat the rest of us just carried on going round and round and round – the local paper reported it as “the nearest approach to perpetual motion” – with a half a minute’s stop for a drink now and again and an occasional glance at the clock to see how much longer it had to be borne. But at last the 150-miles mark was in sight, and what was still more to my liking, there would be time to crowd in a mile or two more before we stopped. I felt quite happy when I knew we had kept up our end of the contract, for it had been broadly advertised that we expected to exceed the hundred and fifty miles.”
Arthur Newton covered 152 miles 540 yards/245.113km., Lin Dilks [USA]117 miles and Phil Granville [CAN] 116 miles, Paul Simpson 115 miles and Mike McNamara 110 miles
Note: Mike McNamara set new track records for 30 miles – 3:13:29 and 40 miles – 4:31:31. At 50 miles he was 6:07:30. His 100 mile time was 14:09:45 and he covered 110 miles in 24 hours.
It was to be 15 years until Jack Holden, a winner of the European Marathon Championships, improved on McNamara’s time at 30 miles and 21 years until Derek Reynolds surpassed his forty mile mark. These marks were set in much shorter races; neither runner had to continue to 100 miles and beyond. It was to be 44 years until a runner attempted a similar feat when the Briton Cavin Woodward set 50 mile and 100km world records before carrying on to 100 miles.- also setting a world record at that distance. [4:58:53/6:25:28/11:38:54]
Interestingly the plan of campaign mentioned by Newton before the start of the Hamilton race was based on the assumption that either he or McNamara could cover over 150 miles in 24 hours if necessary to fulfil the contract. This gives a good indication of the Australian’s abilities. In another of his books, Races and Training, written in 1949, Newton wrote that he “had confidently reckoned on a fierce battle with McNamara over the last twenty or thirty miles”.
Newton stated in his book “Running on Three Continents” that the loss of time in connection with the baths and a nine minute stop caused by a faulty press camera would make it certain that several miles could be added to the record, “probably anything from ten to fifteen miles.” This assessment was made by the most experienced ultrarunner of the period.
Newton was not to learn from the Hamilton race. In 1953 when the British Road Runners Club promoted a 24 hour track race, the great Wally Hayward reached the 100 mile mark in 12:46:34 and was allowed to come off at that point for a shower and a massage. After half an hour he returned but by then had stiffened up. He walked for a short while, ran for a short while, then walked again before he gradually started running heavily and awkwardly, struggling this way to the finish. Hayward covered 159 miles 562y/256.400km. Reflecting on this run later, Hayward reckons he should have covered 170 miles/273.5 km.
Newton’s target, Charles Rowell’s record of 150 miles 395 yards/241.763km was set in just 22:28:35 and after that Rowell went on to set 48 hour and 72 hour records of 258m220y/415.411km and 353miles 220y/568.299km. Rowell would undoubtedly been capable of considerably further in a straight 24 hour race, undoubtedly well over 160 miles since he did not run for the last hour and a half when he set his day mark.
Newton reckoned that 162 to 167 miles [260 to 268km] was possible in 24 hours way back in 1931; twenty years later Hayward was estimating 170/273.5 km. All this suggests that today’s performers, 70 years after Newton, and 50 after Hayward should be a lot closer to Yiannis Kouros’ 24 hour track mark than they are.
The Hamilton race did not attract many spectators, and the `show’ made a loss and cost Newton £200. The runners got a `fee’ of just $10 and their expenses paid.
Mike McNamara – the forgotten Australia Ultrarunner
by Andy Milroy
Mike McNamara set world records on the track, raced across
contested multiday snowshoe races. Arguably he was one of the greatest
Australian distance runners between the Wars. However, aside from his races in America North America, until now very little has been known about
this enigmatic individual. Hopefully this article will give a fuller picture of
Mike McNamara and of his varied running career.
Michael Browne McNamara was born on the
11 April 1890 at Bollon, near St
He was the fifth child and third son of James McNamara who had been born in Australia , and
his wife Caroline Louise James, who had been born in Australia . He looks to have been
given the middle name Browne in memory of his paternal grandmother. The family
home was at 28 Spring Street, England , a north eastern
suburb of central Fortitude
and the young Mike looks to have grown up in inner city Brisbane . He later recorded that he had an 8th
grade elementary education so had probably left school at the age of 13 to
bring in money to help feed the family of nine children. Brisbane
By the time he was in his early twenties he was working as a fireman in the town of
, living at Rockhampton Bolsover Street not
far from the river. Rockhampton was
situated on the and was the major
port for Fitzroy
River Central Queensland. At this time it
was a fast growing city with a new rail link to the state capital . His competitive career as a runner appears to
date from this period. He seems to have been a professional, perhaps aiming to
make a couple of pounds to supplement his fireman wages. However all the
newspapers reporting professional sports - pedestrianism, horse racing, boxing
etc look to be in Sydney, none in Brisbane . The Sydney
newspaper, The Referee on the 14th
May 1913 reported under the headline PROFESSIONAL - Our Central Queensland correspondent,
writing from Rockhampton (10/5/13) says:— The half mile cycling event of £10 at
the Eight-hour Sports last Monday, was won by Thomas H. McDonald (15yds) from
E. Ricketts (40yds) and M. B. McNamara (65yds), after a very close finish.
[Eight hour sports were common – it just meant the programme of events lasted
eight hours, from to for example.] Other details of the young M B McNamara’s
running, or indeed cycling career, are not known although he apparently claimed
to run races from 440 yards to 10 miles. Queensland
The First World War was to change his life. When he enlisted in the 15th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (
AIF) on the 5th November 1914 his service record describes him as being 5
foot 10 inches (1.78 metres) although
later documents claim 5 foot 10 ½ (1.79 metres),weighing 10 stone 2 pounds (142kg), with a fair
complexion, blue eyes and fair hair. His religion was given as Roman
Newton, who knew him well, wrote in 1931 “He is quite unusually modest, and
more than a bit reserved”.
Three-quarters of the 15th Battalion
recruited as volunteers from ,
and the rest from Queensland .
McNamara was appointed initially to be based at Enogerra which was a Tasmania suburb. With the
13th, 14th and 16th Battalions 15th formed the 4th Brigade,
commanded by Colonel John Monash. Brisbane
The recruits from
and Tasmanian were brought
together when the battalion trained together at Queensland .
After a short period of training, the battalion then embarked on the transport
ship SS Ceramic in late December 1914. Broadmeadows, Victoria
Mike McNamara would have been in the army only about seven weeks when they left
The battalion stopped briefly at
, and then sailed through
the Albany, Western Australia Suez Canal. The 4th Brigade disembarked at on Alexandria 3 February 1915. Throughout
February and March an extensive period of training in the desert was
undertaken. It was on 10 April when the
15th Battalion went by train to ,
from where the troopships Australind and Seeang Bee took them to Gallipoli via
Mudros on the Alexandria in island
of Lemnos . Greece
The 15th Battalion was assigned to follow up the initial attack in the Gallipoli campaign, landed at Anzac Cove on the afternoon of 25 April 1915 and was rushed into the line on the left side of the beachhead. The thrust inland faltered and the 15th became isolated and in serious danger. This is when McNamara was promoted to sergeant when the unit’s sergeant was wounded. The following day he too was wounded, in his left arm.
We have a first hand account of the strain inflicted during this battle. “The noise was terrific – bullets always make a great noise passing over a valley, but we found that each shell made a roar like an express train. Machine-guns made it worse, and the heavy shells from the ships worse still, and the echoes from the cliffs at the back of us redoubled it, until we were nearly driven mad by the racket…Noise is not supposed to hurt anyone but under those conditions the strain was terrible.” Captain James Durrant of the 13th Battalion.
The wounded McNamara was taken to the
Hospital on the Cairo
ship. A fortnight later he rejoined the Battalion but perhaps he had returned
too soon. He seems to have picked up some kind of infection, an inflammation of
the joints. Such infections were far from unusual in the Gallipoli campaign. Derflinger Hospital
Only during the fiercest fighting did the proportion of wounded men evacuated from Anzac exceed the proportion being evacuated through illness. Fly borne diseases combined with the heat, dirt, shortage of water, poor diet, exhaustion and open wounds were a bigger threat than the enemy. Even when the sick and wounded were evacuated to Mudros, there was only relief from the bullets and shrapnel. The medical and nursing staffs were also plagued by diseases which stemmed from the inadequate hygiene.
John Baker, a private in the British Royal Marines recorded later “It was with great difficulty that we obtained water as the only water we got had to be brought in petrol tanks for the
. I remember the parched lips
and rusky throats whilst waiting for the water boats to appear on the horizon.
At last they were in sight. A loud cheer greeted them, then died away when the
enemy shells sunk them. That meant many anxious hours waiting for more. Every
hour seemed a year, we were parched, and our tongues hung out of our mouths.”
“food and water was a most vital question. I did not get anything for
practically a week” port of Alexandra
McNamara rejoined the Battalion on the 7th July. In the period from early June to early August (from before McNamara had been taken ill), the battalion’s personnel were almost completely replaced. A month later an offensive was launched to break the stalemate with the Turkish forces. The 15th Battalion was assigned to attack the Abdel Rahman Bair heights, known to the Australians as "Hill 971”
It seems likely that McNamara had not fully recovered, or his immune system was
compromised by his earlier wound and illness. Less than three weeks after rejoining the Battalion, he was admitted to hospital suffering from a feeling of weakness and debility, the next day he was transferred to Mudros Hospital suffering from a bacterial infection in his lymph glands, this swiftly became a fever and within a week he was diagnosed with bronchitis and taken to the hospital on Malta on the hospital ship SS "Itonus". Ten days later McNamara embarked hospital ship "Regina de Italia” for
where he was there admitted
to the 5th England . London General
He did not really recover from this infection and some six months later the Surgeon General of the
AIF diagnosed cardiac
enlargement. McNamara embarked at on the south
coast of Portland
for return to England
on the troop ship Themistocles. Australia
He arrived back in
on the Australia 25 June 1916
before catching leaving for Sydney
later in the day. Brisbane
On the 1st April 1918 Mike McNamara married Ethel Flora Bell, (born 31 Jan 1891)
a woman of Irish parentage, and the 1919 electoral roll Fitzroy (Rockhampton), shows McNamara and his new wife living at the Sisal Hemp plantation at Bajool working as a farmer. It is possible that this new work was as a soldier settler.
a woman of Irish parentage, and the 1919 electoral roll Fitzroy (Rockhampton), shows McNamara and his new wife living at the Sisal Hemp plantation at Bajool working as a farmer. It is possible that this new work was as a soldier settler.
What happened between 1919 and 1924 when McNamara next makes a documented appearance is unknown. Perhaps some speculation can reasonably be made based on his much later occupation as a poultry farmer.
During the later stages of the First World War, consideration had been given in
both a national and state level as to what to do with the returning
soldiers. The scheme was hatched that
they should be encouraged to become “soldier settlers”. Such settlers would be expected to clear and
prepare the land allocated and were required to work at least 48 hours per
week. Training would be given to men with no farming experience, and money to
purchase stock and equipment was available on what were said to be reasonable
repayment terms. Men who were less fit were encouraged to apply for land, and
to consider poultry farming or bee keeping. Australia
It is possible that later in the early 1920s McNamara opted for poultry farming, as I said, based on his later interest in the industry. However over the next few years the soldier settler scheme began to unravel. The Brisbane Courier in 1920 concluded “instead of the settlement becoming a success end in a ghastly failure. .The returned soldiers… cannot afford to maintain... the few unproductive acres....They want their farms to keep them, but, according to their own showing, they have been keeping the farms, and doing it by hard work and by using their small capital, now fast nearing its end.”
A later Royal Commission identified four main reasons for the failure of soldier settlers. These were: the selection of inexperienced settlers, lack of capital, the size of blocks of land allocated and the prices received for agricultural products. There were other major problems for those who had opted to become poultry farmers. In late 1922 again the Brisbane Courier recorded that “the average price of eggs being about 1/- (12 d) per dozen. It cost 10 ½ d to produce a dozen eggs at present, calculating only the food. That left very little for labour” Earlier that year poultry farmers had complained that “They were now paying 80 per cent, more for feed than hitherto.” The reason for the increase in price was the severest drought that
had experienced for two decades. In Australia ,
as elsewhere in Queensland
there was failure of wheat crops, dying sheep and cattle and disastrous
bushfires. (Morning Bulletin Rockhampton January 1923) Australia
It was against this background that McNamara may have heard of a talk by Mr. V. Kappler of the National Utility Poultry Breeders' Association in
. The talk to the Queensland
Poultry Breeders Association was widely reported in the Australian press. Kappler painted a very rosy picture of the
state of American poultry farming.
Assuming that McNamara had become a poultry farmer, it may well have
been this which was to prompt McNamara to leave the “ghastly failure” of the
soldier settler scheme and to seek a new start in the business in America . I must
stress once again, we do not as yet have any evidence that McNamara was a
poultry farmer at this stage in his life. America
The McNamaras emigrated from
in April 1924.
They sailed on the steamship SS Euripides which regularly made the Australia-England
run via the Sydney Cape of Good Hope. Michael Browne McNamara’s occupation was
listed as labourer. They arrived in Southampton
on the 27th April and less than three months later they resumed
their journey from that port to
on the SS Melita of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Lines. This time McNamara listed his occupation as
What McNamara and his wife did in
those three months is unknown. However it can be surmised that they went to see
McNamara’s mother’s family. It is possible that they lived near England Colchester in Essex. (A
Caroline Louise James was born in the Colchester registration district area in
1855.) It looks like they lived in a
rural area and it is possible that they were poultry farmers, possibly turkeys.
On arriving in
, the McNamaras
stated they intended to be permanent residents and planned to become
farmers. However in just over a month
they had travelled via Quebec
to Toronto and
crossed into the Windsor at United
States . Whether they had been looking for a
farm to rent in Detroit ,
or whether they had been seeking an easier way into the Canada
isn’t clear. In the early and
mid-nineteenth century many immigrants to the United States came via United States because
Canadian ports of entry did not have the same regulations that Canada ports did.
Coming to the U.S.
was easier. Canada
the 29th May 1924
the McNamaras made the border crossing at .
Their stated destination was Detroit and Mike McNamara’s
intention was to become a farmer. They reportedly had $900 on them. Madison,
Once again Mike McNamara disappears from history. He was eventually to wind up in
but he does not appear on the city census of 1925. Possibly he did try poultry farming in the
Mid-West, however by 1928 he was in New York City . Reputedly just
before the Trans-America race was announced the failure of a partner he had backed with all his money
left him close to penury. New York
We have not managed to discover any details of McNamara’s running and walking
professional nor amateur. However he must have had some experience as a runner
or walker in order to contemplate entering a race which would cover the
3,423-miles from Australia
to Los Angeles . New York
The suspicion must be that in
he did not have the time, energy or inclination to develop his
running talent. Remember at the age of 24, he had joined the Australian
Imperial Force and soon after been sent overseas. There had been no potential coach to spot his talent and
persuade him to commit to the sport. With no one to push him, McNamara’s talent
remained largely hidden until the pressure cooker of the 1928 race. Australia
The Great American Transcontinental Footrace was to be run across
from America to Los Angeles , via New York , to promote the
opening of Route 66. A training camp was
set up at the Ascot Speedway on the eastern edge of Chicago .
Runners were required to report to camp by Los Angeles, California February 12th, 1928 “for final conditioning
for the race.” It was reported that there were over 400 initial entrants. Fewer
than 200 reported at Ascot. Among them was
Herbert Hedeman, a fellow Australian, who
hand been living in one room in with his wife
and five children. When the Official Program was printed there were 249
entrants listed. On New York March 4,
1928, when the race started, there were 199 runners who actually
crossed the starting line.
The runners were subjected to a strict training schedule that started at After breakfast they ran 25 to 50 miles to prepare for the promised 40 to 75 miles a day. Lunch was served at and the afternoon was also devoted to more training. Dinner was served at and the runners were allowed to relax and have their injuries treated before lights out at The official program called the arrangements for feeding the runners a “traveling cafeteria deluxe." They were promised eggs, cereal, toast and fruit for breakfast and “soup, salad, roast or boiled meat, several vegetables, both cooked and raw, a dessert and all the milk, tea and coffee desired” for dinner. Harry Sheare, runner #123, told the newspaper: “Pyle pulled the best one three weeks before we started. He notified all runners that they must assemble in
Park , to train and then for three
weeks charged each man 50 cents per night for bed and 50 cents for each meal.” Los Angeles
The race started at Ascot Speedway in
and finished in Los Angeles
Square Garden .
199 runners left New York City on Los Angeles,
California March 4th, 1928 at 55 runners finished on May 26th, 1928. Only men
were allowed to enter the race. The race took 84 days to run from coast to
coast. The Bunion Derby followed Route 66 from to Los Angeles . From Chicago to Chicago the race ran wherever the
promoter, C.C. Pyle, could get the town to pay a fee. Dr. K.H. Begg, a
prominent medical expert, predicted that the race would take five to ten years
off the runners’ lives. New York City
The runners ran an average of 40 miles a day, nearly the equivalent of two marathons. The shortest distance they ran was the first day, 17 miles from Ascot Speedway in
to Los Angeles .
The longest distance was 74.6 miles from Waverly, Puente, California to Deposit, New York , the 79th day. The race ran from New York through California , Arizona , New Mexico , Texas , Oklahoma , Kansas , Missouri , Illinois , Indiana , Ohio ,
and New Jersey .
The race covered a total of 3,423.3 miles (5505 km). New York
During the race itself, the runners’ times were clocked daily. All runners started at the same time and they had to reach a designated checkpoint. As each runner crossed the checkpoint, his time was logged. Each day’s time was added to the last. The fastest cumulative time would win the race.
In the 1920’s amateur athletes represented the purity of the sport, and the Olympic games exemplified this spirit. The runners who entered the Transcontinental Foot Race had little concern for their amateur standing, considering the chance to win $25,000 well worth the loss of their amateur status. To put things in perspective, the Ford Motor Company was paying factory workers $1,200 per year at the time. The winner’s prize thus represented 20 years' wages.
The runners ranged in age from 16 to 63 and came from all over the world. Some of the runners left jobs to run the race; others ran just to be able to say they had done so, but for the most part the runners were men who had nothing to lose.
The early leaders who pushed the pace were soon forced to retire. The more cautious had to cope with the heat, the burning sands of the
Desert, with few drinks available from the race. Those with trainers accompanying them were at
an advantage. In his book on the Pyle races, Harry Berry recorded that “It was
not hard to tell if a man has taken part in the 1928 race. A look at his right
shoulder and ear, was normally sufficient. Running from West to East, the sun
beat down on that one side. It blistered exposed skin within the day. These
burst and became sores, and were enlarged, leaving permanent scars.”
From desert the route moved in to
and the Arizona Rocky Mountains. The road climbed from
an altitude of 2,000 to 5,000 feet in just two days. The 52 mile stage into
on the eleventh day marked a crisis point for many of the runners. Peach Springs AZ
Until that point runners who did not complete the day’s stage were allowed to go back the next day to where they had stopped and then carry on. Now runners who failed to reach the checkpoint by were disqualified. Many runners withdrew at that point, reducing the field to one half the original numbers. McNamara was among that number “unable to continue”. His lack of long term training meant that he had never been in contention at any point, he had struggled to survive. But the hard work he had put in would show dividends later.
At the finish Pyle did not have the money to pay the promised prize money. Fortunately the boxing promoter, Tex Rickard advanced Pyle $40,000 and the millionaire father of one of the runner, Harry Gunn, made up the balance.
At the finish of the 1928 race, the now professional runners looked around to find some means of making a livelihood. Tex Rickard sought to recover his money by putting on a 26 hour team race. There were forty runners, of whom sixteen completed the race. Among them was a team of Mike McNamara and Alfred Middlestate. They finished out of the money in 13th place.
The two Australian veterans of the 1928 race, McNamara and Herb Hedemann, decided to pool their resources and built their own motorised caravan. Their financial circumstances did not allow for any luxuries. However I suspect that the partnership between the two Australians also benefited McNamara as a runner. Hedemann was a vastly experienced professional runner who had won the world mile title, beating Hans Holmer, in 1913. In 1924 Herb Hedemann had written to an Australian newspaper, from
where he was then living, stating “I claim to be the best coach of an athlete,
especially flat running… I can guarantee my ability, as can both
and Transvaal Athletic bodies, for whom I have done service” and claimed
“thirty years' study, experience, and knowledge of pedestrianism”. Arguably McNamara was getting more than a
partner, he was getting a very experienced coach. Natal
However he would benefit not just from Herb Hedemann’s advice, to a considerable degree the 1928 and 1929 Trans-America races were a university for distance training. Not only was there the like of Willi Kolehmainen, who had helped guide his brother Hannes to Olympic glory, there were numerous other Finns and Swedes, then among the most successful distance runners in the world. Allied to those was the like of Olympians Estonian Juri Lossman, American August Fager, Canadian Philip Granville and of course, Arthur Newton. Not surprisingly
’s partner Pete Gavuzzi became a
successful coach in the 1930s. The evenings after a long stage would have meant
long discussions about the one thing they all had in common – long distance
running. Ideas and experiences would
studied and dissected; the less experienced runners eager to gain an edge which
might bring financial success in the professional races. Newton
Up until the 1929 Trans-America race McNamara had not been a major force as a distance runner. He needed the high mileage of the two Pyle races to get himself into shape. The partnership with Hedemann plus the unrelenting hard daily mileage of the 1929 race made him a great runner. Obviously as a veteran of the 1928 race in preparation for the 1929 race he had trained hard, simulating the daily mileage that would face him, but it was more likely the 78 days of racing distances from 22 to 82 miles, across all kinds of terrain and weather conditions, built him into the strong, versatile distance runner that we later see.
Pete Gavuzzi was later to tell me “The first race was an amateur event. The second was professional.”
The Australian pairing were much more in evidence in the second race. Hedemann won the 5th stage of 37 miles from
to Havre de Grace in
to lead the race on cumulative time. McNamara made a more cautious start but by
the 16th day he was lying in 8th place, one ahead of Hedemann. They were to
stay in these positions for stage after stage, with McNamara moving up to 7th
by Day 40 with Hedemann in 9th. The two men seldom won a stage, but were solid
and consistent. Wilmington
A good day was on the 56th stage when Guisto Umek won the 34.4 miles from Van Horn to Sierra Blanca with Hedemann and McNamara in joint third in 4:58:10. Hedemann pushed harder over the next ten days and moved up to 8th, but was still around 10 hours behind McNamara. They were to finish in those positions. McNamara in 7th and in the money, with an elapsed time of 627:45:28 and Hedemann in 8th in 631:23:48. The expected prize money of $US 2,000 and $US 1,750 respectively, never materialised.
With no likelihood of another trans-continental race forthcoming after Pyle’s financial disaster in 1929, the `Bunioneers’, as they had been called, had to seek other avenues of endeavour. They quickly formed an information network, primarily in
North America, keeping each other advised of potential
races in which they might make some money. In the meantime most of them drifted
back to their old occupations.
In July 1929 a two man team 6 Day race was arranged at the Ascot Speedway Stadium,
. The aim was
to surpass the mark made by the French team of Orphee and Cabot set in 1909 at
the Los Angeles .
Johnny Salo and Sammy Richman emerged as the winners, with 749.5 miles, ahead
of George Rehayn and Niels Nielson with 642.5 miles. The runners each received
$5, less than a cent a mile. Herb Hedemann ran with another Pyle professional,
Pat Harrison. They finished with 424 miles. That may have been Hedemann’s last race;
he had a wife and five children to support. He appears to have made his way
back to Madison Square Gardens
and later worked from a real estate broker. McNamara was to stick with the
professional running. New York
Later that year two man teams were pitted against teams of horses in another 6 Day race, this time indoors in
The runners were to run alternately four hours a piece, as were the horses. The
runners set off at seven miles an hour, the horses, who were on a track outside
the runners, were some fifteen miles ahead at the end of the first day. Philadelphia
By the close of the second day, the runners and the horses were on level pegging, but the horses were beginning to get restive, going around and round the small indoor track. The jockeys were finding that despite their best efforts the horses would drop into a walk for a few laps. Eventually the horses refused even to trot, and just walked around listlessly.
Unknown to the spectators, new horses were then substituted, but soon they too ended up in exactly the same state, and once again had to be replaced, this time by the original horses. By this time the runners were firmly in the lead.
The winners were Salo with a new partner Joie Ray, who had originally turn professional after being recruited by Tex Rickard to run in indoor marathons against Olympic marathon champion Boughera El Ouafi. Salo and Ray’s final distance was 523.3 miles, ahead of
and Gavuzzi on 521.25 miles, with the horses Redwing and Fleetwood third with
510.5 miles. The first two teams of runners were to receive $500 per man, but
the failure of the horses had meant a greatly reduced attendance on the last
two nights, and thus a reduction in the runners’ fees of 25 per cent was
professional ultrarunning was dying. However in United States , there was an opportunity
for trained ultra performers to make money – snow shoe racing. The first
snowshoe races in Canada
had been promoted in 1926, the first from Canada
to Swinton over 300 miles, and won by a 47 year old Eugene Cloucette. This
proved so popular that in 1930 the Peter Dawson Marathon was held over 500
miles. This was a team event, and Montreal
and Gavuzzi entered, as did Ray and Salo, along with Dilks, Souminen, Granville
and Mike McNamara Much to the disappointment of the local snowshoe enthusiasts,
the winners were Newton
and Gavuzzi, from Ray and Salo. Newton
Earlier in 1930 in a 15 miles track race, won by Joie Ray in McNamara had finished fifth in an event way below his best distance, out of contention from the first mile.
In August that year, McNamara entered 26 hour team race Men v Horses at De Lorimier in
. His partner was the diminutative Ollie Wanttinen. Their team covered about 225km
during the 26
hours, beating the horse Little
Brother, ridden by Russell Kingsley, who finished eight miles behind. Four horses abandoned
the race. McNamara and Wanttinen had beaten perhaps more fancied runners
such as Edward Fabre, Johnny Salo and
Jole Ray. Quebec
In February 1931 in the 200 miles 1st February 200 miles Ushers Green Stripe snowshoe race with 8 daily stages. McNamara, raised in the heat of Queensland, felt unprepared for the cold of Quebec. It was reported “He has a sweater and tuque woven in one piece, the tuque being so constructed that it covers his face entirely, except for a small aperture over the eyes, and a breathing space.” He also had heavy coloured googles made, which fitted over tuque, to protect his eyes from the glare of the unrelenting whiteness of the snow, as well as giving some defence aginst the cold and driving snow. He also had specially knitted trunks and underwear, and a huge number of socks. It was said the combined weight of all this was twenty pounds – just under 10kg! Despite all these precautions. McNamara was led in for the last four miles suffering from snow blindness by Ollie Wanttinen, who was a fellow competitor on the first stage.
McNamara seems to have recovered quickly from the snow blindness. On the 6th stage he finished fifth, ahead of Wantinen and Joie Ray. Reportedly he later won a 25 mile stage which prompted the headline - AUSTRALIAN WINS IN SNOWSHOE
It was to be in April 1931 that McNamara’s real abilities were shown. Arthur Newton arranged a 24 hour race indoors so he could have a crack at Charles Rowell’s world professional record. The race was on a specially constructed track of 13 laps to the mile. To help prevent dizziness, the `square’ track had banked corners. The runners all wore crepe-rubber soled shoes.
“It was a rare thing indeed for Gavuzzi to meet with trouble during a race, but he managed it this time. He was moving splendidly and apparently had the forty-mile mark “in the bag” as the Americans say, when just over twenty miles McNamara and I found we were beginning to lap him instead of his lapping us as had been the case up till now. Another half-mile and the trouble was obvious: he had to retire with muscle injury in a leg.”
McNamara took up the chase for the forty mile record. Newton recorded that “he opened up and raced around that small track – thirteen laps to the mile – in a really astonishing way: he made up so much time that at thirty miles he was two minutes twenty seconds inside the professional world’s record for the distance. As he passed me again just after this he informed me that he was still quite good enough to continue for the next ten miles and went on at the same pace to obliterate the forty-mile mark as well. Never have I seen such brilliant distance running as McNamara then put up: at forty miles he was some three minutes ahead of the world’s record time again, and he was a man of forty-one!”
McNamara then deliberately slowed but still reached fifty miles in 6h. 7m 30s. At 100 miles his time was . He then came off for a bath, he then needed a massage and as
put it “his earlier efforts would not permit of such an abnormally extended
programme: his legs were giving in, and at 110 miles he was obliged to stop and
Mike McNamara’s new world track records were for 30 miles – and 40 miles – . McNamara’s also deserves closer examination. Only the phenomenal Charlie Rowell had run a faster 100 miles indoors – in 1880 and two years later, and Rowell had not set records at shorter distances enroute!
As an Australian professional track 100 mile mark, it was to last nearly forty years until George Perdon ran in
in 1970. Melbourne
It was to be 15 years until Jack Holden, a winner of the European Marathon Championships, improved on McNamara’s time at 30 miles and 21 years until Derek Reynolds surpassed his forty mile mark. These marks were set in much shorter races; neither runner had to continue to 100 miles and beyond. It was to be 44 years until a runner attempted a similar feat when the Briton Cavin Woodward set 50 mile and 100km world records before carrying on to 100 miles.- also setting a world record at that distance. [//]
Interestingly the plan of campaign mentioned by
before the start of the Newton
race was based on the assumption that either he or McNamara could cover over
150 miles in 24 hours if necessary to fulfil the contract. This gives a good
indication of the Australian’s abilities. In another of his books, Races and
Training, written in 1949, Hamilton
wrote that he “had confidently reckoned on a fierce battle with McNamara over
the last twenty or thirty miles”. Newton
race did not
attract many spectators, and the `show’ made a loss and cost Hamilton £200. The runners got a `fee’ of just
$10 and their expenses paid. Newton
In August 1931 came the 500 mile Peter Dawson Relay. The former elite marathon runner, Joie Ray had now teamed up with McNamara, obviously seen as the emerging distance star among the Pyle runners after his
performance. They were tipped as the favourites to win, but perhaps McNamara
still had the Hamilton
race in his legs, and he had problems with them from Day 1. However he and Ray still finished third
and Gavuzzi and August Fager (a former
Olympic athlete and local Newton
runner Johnny Jokela. Quebec
Hoey seems to have won the 1932 race but in February 1933 the Professional Snowshoe championships were held in
. The race was dominated by Finnish immigrants
and local Quebec
runners used to the conditions, but McNamara held his own finishing 8th
in a 162 miles. He was third on the 27
miles third stage, fifth behind three Scandinavians and a French Canadian on
the fourth stage and on the fifth stage Quebec
was fourth behind three former Scandinavians. The final 12 mile stage saw him finish sixth, to finish in eighth place overall and in the prize money.
Interesting in the local papers the first names of the runners was commonly used. However McNamara was always referred to as M B McNamara. As
had commented “He is quite unusually modest, and more than a bit
reserved”. Among the Pyle runners he was
known as Mac and in a letter he wrote to Earl Lin Dilks in 1930 which was
addressed to Earl , he signed it Mac. In
those days it was not uncommon for initials to be used in results and nicknames
were used, first names being reserved almost exclusively for family use. Newton
The Great Depression was to force the end of this short-lived experiment in professional athletics. McNamara was forced to find another career, which is the tough days of a massive economic recession was not easy. In the 1930 census he is recorded as being an unemployed handyman, but over the coming years he was able to turn this skill into a more permanent job. Later we find references to him being a superintendent. A building superintendent was, and is, the manager responsible for repairing and maintaining a residential building. McNamara would have been expected to take care of small repairs and other problems such as minor leaks or blockages, the heating system, and the security of the building. If there are major repairs required they will co-ordinate and supervise the work of the contractors.
In 1932 McNamara’s father died in
five years later so did his mother. Brisbane
There is no evidence that he returned to
during this period, but an intriguing journey took place in 1937. The Brainerd
Daily Dispatch. Australia
in April 1937 carried the headline : BRITISHER GETS TURKEY Minnesota EGGS FROM AITKIN TO IMPROVE ENGLISH FLOCKS. The story
was that an English poultry fancier, M B McNamara had travelled to Aitken in to acquire
turkey eggs to take with him to Minnesota
when he sailed to England
the following week. How McNamara had known of the Aitken poultry farm is
unknown, but it does suggest that he had previous experience in the industry in
the England . United States
A week later Mike McNamara and his wife Ethel set sail from
arriving in New York Southampton in on the
10th of May. In England they proposed to
stay with Arthur Newton since they gave his address 9 Cottingham Chase,
It is not absolutely clear why the McNamaras travelled to
and the turkey eggs England
add to the mystery. If his mother’s family kept turkeys, and the eggs were a gift to his relatives, this might explain the eggs.
The leading South African
ultrarunner, Hardy Ballington had travelled to to
attempt to break England ’s
Newton to London Brighton and Bath Road 100 mile records. Arthur Newton was probably the person who
had initiated this and
he had probably contact McNamara and invited him across.
During both events McNamara travelled in the same car as
, and acted as handler for Ballington,
running along side him when necessary despite being dressed in everyday
clothes. In appalling conditions
Ballington took a second off of Newton’s previous best over the London to
Brighton course (5:53:42) but in better conditions took over an hour off of
Newton’s time on the Bath Road run (13:21:19) At some stage photographs of McNamara, Ballington and
Newton posed in running gear was taken. The 100 mile run took place in early July and
the McNamaras returned to New York in late August. Whether they visited turkey or other poultry
farms in that time is not known. Newton
The possibility is that the trip in 1937 was not just about the
to London Brighton
and Bath Road
races. This could explain why Ethel came as well. They were maybe looking into
the possibilities of poultry farming in the .
Perhaps they had already made contact with English poultry farmers and
were bringing the turkey eggs as a way partly of funding their journey and also
of exploring possibilities of poultry farming in UK . The assumption must be that it did not work
out. But the dream obviously persisted. England
McNamara’s involvement in the London to Brighton and the Bath 100 mile, travelling across the Atlantic, does raise the question as to whether he was involved in coaching and handling distance runners in New York. Both Arthur Newton and Pete Gavuzzi subsequently coached other notable runners. Unfortunately the runners who might have been able to help give information on this are no longer around; however one distinct possibility as to someone he might have coached is Mike O’Hara, a prolific marathon runner, who ran his first marathon in 1937. O’Hara lived in
and, one would have suspected, would have moved in the same Irish Catholic environment
as McNamara. The first club O’Hara ran for was St Anselm’s AC. O’Hara even latterly was one of the first
modern New York
US ultra runners and was running
marathons until the 1960s. It would be surprising if the two had not known each
other, O’Hara ran over fifty marathons whilst McNamara was living in . New York
By the time of the 1940
census McNamara was recorded as getting $1200 a year (about the same as Ford
Motor factory workers were earning.) Since building superintendents often got
cheaper rent or even free rent, in addition to their salary, depending on the
size of the building, McNamara may have been able to build some savings to
enable him to make choices to suit him in his later years. Neither he nor his wife had become
naturalised Americans by then. US
By the early 1950s when Mike McNamara reached his early sixties, they decided to move back to
. They appear on the 1954 Australia electoral roll as living on Queensland Settlement Road,
The Gap, which is a suburb of . McNamara is recorded as being a poultry
farmer. This was to continue until at least 1963, but by then he had moved to Brisbane Kaloma Road.
Shortly before he died he seems to have made a request to see his WWI service records for some reason. He died in September that year and was buried at
Ethel also died that year. We have found no evidence that the couple had any
children, but three of Mike McNamara’s siblings out lived him and probably
handled the estate when he died. Nudgee Cemetery
Michael Browne McNamara was one of the most notable Australian distance runners between the two world wars. One of the most knowledgeable experts on distance running in this period, Arthur Newton, wrote of him in 1931 that “
men will be well advised to study his action, if they wish to make themselves
good enough to be candidates for their country at the next Olympics.”
What could McNamara have achieved at the marathon? An estimate of a likely marathon time - even pace based on his 30 mile time gives 2:49:19 – but remember he had to accelerate over the ten miles from twenty miles onwards to make that 30 mile time. 2:49 would rank him in the top 60 marathon runners in the world for 1931 Aside from Roland Bateman in 1928 in Sydney [2:45:51.4] it looks unlikely that any other Australian had run faster by 1931 His 30 mile was a split in a race where he covered 110 miles in 24 hours and 14:09:45 for 100 miles.... Running the two Trans-Continental races meant that the Pyle runners (including McNamara) were the best trained distance runners in the world. The marathon was too short. But Mike McNamara showed their potential over the shorter distances.
But M B McNamara was not just a fast runner, he was versatile. The two Trans-Continental races, particularly that of 1929, showed his abilities in long point to point races across demanding terrain, which contrasted sharply with his world records at 30 and 40 miles set on a small, indoor track followed by the drive to push on to 100 miles following those exertions. Add to that his capacity to challenge even experienced snowshoe performers, conditioned from childhood to cover distance across icy snow, and his abilities reveal their rare qualities.
Arthur Newton wrote of Michael Browne McNamara that he was “quite unusually modest, and more than a bit reserved”. In 1930, despite having run two Trans-America races and other professional races, he still described himself in the 1930
census as an unemployed handyman. Perhaps it was his innate modesty that led to
Mike McNamara becoming US ’s
forgotten Australia ultrarunner.
I would like to thanks
Michael Peters for his great help in researching M B
McNamara’s life and Paul Foisy for his support in piecing together his snowshoe
career in . Quebec