Marathon craze just a revival, say old-timers (1909)

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Marathon craze just a revival, say old-timers like Lantry

Long distance and go-as-you-please races were all the rage in the early eighties

Ex-Fire Commissioner won world’s amateur championship in three hours at Old Manhattan Field

by Vincent Treanor

The Marathon craze which hit New York with the success of John Hayes at the last Olympic games in London and extended throughout the country, with the arrival of Dorando and the subsequent races of Longboat isn’t new.  Old-timers (and there are a lot of them left in New York) say the Marathon craze is simply a revival of the old-time long distance game which was so popular hereabouts in the early ’80s.  Then there were any number of so-called long distance men good for eleven miles in an hour, and some of them are around yet.

There’s “Sparrow” Robertson, who is now building the tracks for these latter-day Marathoners — the “Sparrow” was as good an hour runner as one could find anywhere — and Jim Cahill, now superintendent of the Third Avenue Road, who has records that compare favorably with the present day boys.  Queckberner, the old hammer thrower, could go some too.  James E Sullivan, now President of the AAU, was a walker above the ordinary, and Francis Lantry, ex-Fire Commissioner and Tammany Hall district leader, once held the belt emblematic of the world’s championship, won in a three hour race at old Manhattan Field.

Even to this day, “Commissioner” Lantry — he’ll never lose that title — is an enthusiast in the long distance game.  He takes in all the big races, for in his mind’s eye he can picture himself doing the same thing a score of years ago, when he was the Ben Holladay of the old and original Irish-American A.C., which had headquarters at Thirty-first Street and Second Avenue.

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“Yes,” said the Commissioner today, “I used to run and win, and I don’t see much difference in the Marathons of today and our old three hour go-as-you-please races.  They used to hold a lot of these in my time, and I remember an annual feature was for a championship belt.  It was an amateur event, but the entries came from all over the world, and you have to win the belt twice to own it.”

Won race in 1882

“I think it was in ’82 that I won it, beating and Englishman named Kinsley, I ran twenty five miles easily in the time, but could have done better.  I covered twenty three and a half miles in two hours and a half, and was so far ahead then that I walked the last half hour. I forfeited all claim on the belt by not competing the following year.

“Up to the time I won that race, the winners had been getting away with it by covering twenty three or twenty four miles.  The Sunday before the race, over at the old Scottish-American grounds, now the New West Side AC, I did twenty six miles in three hours in front of a crowd of club members, so it was a cinch, on dope, that I would win.

“I never made much of a hit at the hour game. ‘Sparrow’ Robertson could beat me in a race of that length any time, and even today the Sparrow’s old record of 10-7/8 miles in an hour would stand a test. Sparrow made that record over the old Williamsburg AC grounds, and it was many years before it was beaten.”

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Gives advice to runners

“The runners today pay too much attention to each other, I think.  I saw that New Year’s Marathon at Yonkers, and I think John Daly would have won if he had followed the advice I have him a week or so before.

“Daly wasn’t sure he could last the Marathon distance, being used to the five and ten mile jaunts, but I assured him he could.  Running over a distance is much easier than doing a quarter or a half.  It doesn’t test the heart action so much.  If a man will run at an even pace, as I said to Daly, instead of trying to run along with the leader, he will make a good showing.

“I told Daly to run each mile at a pace that would keep him near the record, and to pay no attention to anybody else in front or behind in the race.  He did this for a while, and at the seventeenth mile was in front.  Then he began to make a hot race of it the rest of the way with Fowler and forgot all about his schedule.  The result was that condition told and Fowler won.

“No, the present day runners are not such an awful lot better than those of years ago, although I think we had better tracks to run on. Our tracks were the real cinder paths, while nowadays there is a mixture of dirt in the courses.”

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Photos: The start of the Brooklyn Marathon, February 12 1909

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