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Dale’s Daily Data: Bunion Derby

Route 66 near Albuquerque, New Mexico (Getty)

Ever hear of the Bunion Derby?  It was the biggest foot race ever held to date.  It was back in 1928 when 275 runners lined up in Los Angeles, and in front of more than 200,000 people started a cross-country foot race to New York City. 

A 3,400 mile race across the country, more than 2,400 miles of the route was along the newly opened Route 66 that connected Chicago with Los Angeles.  Thru desert heat and torrential rain storms they went.   By the third day more than half of the runners had dropped out from exhaustion, injuries or illness.  One runner had to quit because of a bad tooth.  Another runner got hit by a car that sped away.   Only 55 of the starters finished.  And after 573 hours, 4 minutes and 34 seconds a 20-year old Oklahoma farm boy – Cherokee Indian Andy Payne came in first, claimed the 25-thousand dollar first prize, returned to Oklahoma and married his sweetheart.  He said before the race, he wanted to clear the mortgage on the family farm, and he could accomplish more in three months than it would take years to do otherwise.  And he was right, that’s exactly what happened.  He ran that race, won it and paid off the family farm, and never ran again for the rest of his life.    

But something else happened during that race, something that wasn’t known until years later.  When the runners came through Andy’s home state of Oklahoma, there was a delegation there to greet him.  A U.S. Army officer and official of the race, decided to see how Andy was doing at that point in the race.  He used his stopwatch to time Andy on the last measured mile of the course for the day.   He wrote the time in his notebook and it wasn’t until years later when researchers came across that notebook they found that Andy ran that final mile in under four minutes……nearly 30 years before Englishman Roger Bannister became the first man to officially break the four-minute mile. 

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