Ask the Goat: The history of transcontinental racing

Editor’s note: Chris Knodel’s five-month run across 13 states begins Jan. 16. He starts in California and travels through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia into Washington D.C., totaling 3,080 miles in 140 days (averaging 22 miles per day). The goal is to inspire a healthier generation and fight childhood obesity.

* Jan. 8: Training for 3,100 miles
* Jan. 1: Funding a race across the USA
* Contribute to Chris’ online campaign

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For nearly 65-years, large-scale transcontinental racing was dead.

The 1980’s witnessed two events that helped carry the torch forward. In 1980, Canadian cancer-survivor and leg amputee Terry Fox pulled the world’s heart-strings as he began his transcontinental Marathon of Hope from Canada’s Atlantic Coast. His goal was to run a marathon a day across the country to his home in British Columbia, and raise the equivalent of one dollar for each of Canada’s 24-million residents.

Ask the Goat by Chris Knodel

Ask the Goat
by Chris Knodel

In America, the news showed clips of his painful journey. His characteristic prosthetic leg swing and friendly waves (not to mention his charismatic smile) literally rallied millions to follow his westward progress. After 144-days (and 3339-miles), Fox succumbed to illness and had to abandon his trek. He raised more than $23.4 million for cancer research (essentially reaching his goal). Terry died of cancer on June 28th, 1981, but the fire of running across countries had been rekindled.

April 1985, witnessed a two-man charity race that spanned across the US from Manhattan NY to Anaheim CA. Sponsored by the Ford Motor Company & Coca-Cola, this 3560-mile Lou Gehrig Race for Life saw England’s Malcolm Campbell and American Marvin Skagerberg battle for a $25000 purse. The leader place changed eleven times over the course of the three months and proved fiercely competitive. Each leg averaged around 41-miles a day. Skagerberg ended up beating Campbell by a mere sixteen minutes. Unfortunately, the fundraising yield was less than projected and the talk of making this an annual event died quickly.

In 1992, the running world was shocked to hear of another organized race across the country’s mid-section. Twenty-eight athletes began the journey from Huntington Beach CA on Saturday, June 20th, 1992. Other than the start and finish, little of the Inaugural TransAmerica Footrace would resemble the Bunion Derbies –perhaps with the exception that it was plagued by the same logistic, financial and support issues that seem omnipresent throughout every ‘racing’ transcon. Shortly before the start, Runners World had become the title sponsor. By the August 22nd finish, the magazine had all but washed its hands of the event. There were 28 starting competitors; 13 crossed the line in Central Park. The finish mirrored the start, in that the arch was quite simply two ladders with a broomstick suspending the race banner. The first to cross the victorious line was David Warady, with an impressive cumulative time of 521:35:57.

The competitor standings are as follows:

The competitor standings are as follows:

Barry Lewis recounts this 1992 transcontinental event in his Running the TransAmerica Footrace. In it, he is as candid and honest as a vested participant can be. He pulls few punches when discussing the challenges faced by all parties, from the organizers to the competitors. By the end of the work, you are left feeling that the entire enterprise was a disaster –a chaotic exercise in running futility. But you close the book smiling for those who made it.

Chris Knodel is a Mangum Track Club member and Sandhills Region native. He is the author of “More, Better Quicker – The Irish Goat: A Fat-Boy & His Path to Ultra-Distance.” His column will appear each Thursday on

Filed in: Latest Headlines, Outdoors, Sports

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