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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > November 2017 > Great Adventures: The Bunion Derby

Great Adventures: The Bunion Derby

Pat Kinsella follows in the countless steps of an event that redefined the meaning of cross-country running: the 1928 Trans-American Footrace from Los Angeles to New York
EL RENO CARNEGIE LIBRARY X2, CHARLES KASTNER, PRIVATE COLLECTION X1
ON YOUR MARKS… Race competitors line up for the start of the Oklahoma stage (main). The official programme (right) claimed there were 275 participants, but only 199 made it through the intensive training

One mid-afternoon in March 1928, a motley mob of men left a racetrack in Los Angeles and began an extraordinary 3,422-mile footrace. The epic event, quickly dubbed the Bunion Derby, sent them across scorching deserts, over freezing mountain ranges and through merciless amounts of mud, endless dust-blown prairies and car-choked city streets from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.

With competitors hailing from all over the world, and every kind of social and ethnic background represented, the 84-day race ignited excitement and outrage in equal measure, with black athletes subjected to dreadful abuse and intimidation in the segregated South.

The race, which followed the newly forged, rough-as-guts Route 66 Highway for the first 2,400 miles, was organised by CC Pyle, a colourful character with flexible morals whose grand schemes occasionally outgrew his ability to deliver.

On average, ‘Bunioneers’ ran 40 miles a day, in all kinds of conditions, typically with no decent food and very shoddy shelter waiting at the end of each leg. Stages could extend to almost 80 miles, with competitors facing potential disqualification if they failed to finish by midnight.

“It’s not even good foolishness”

Competitor Andy Payne’s father’s opinion of the race across America

Some runners adopted stray dogs along the way; one, a German shepherd named Blisters, kept pace with the race for 500 miles. Others found the energy to entertain themselves in the evenings by dancing – until one competitor sustained a race-ending injury during a jig.

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About History Revealed

"With the release of Victoria and Abdul, starring Judi Dench, we uncover the story behind Queen Victoria's love affair with India. From the dawn of the British Empire to Indian Independence, follow the Crown's tumultuous rule of the subcontinent. Also inside, get a blow-by-blow of the first mass tank battle of World War I, and find out how these machines have developed over the last 100 years. You can also meet the real Prince of Persia, Xerxes, and find out what happened after his infamous fight against 300 Spartans."
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