Marathon runners are goddamn weirdos. I never feel more unsafe than when I’m driving the highway behind a car with a “26.2” sticker on it. Not because I don’t trust their driving ability, but because somewhere inside of that vehicle, someone is, and always will be, running from something. You don’t just wake up and go full Forrest Gump one day without some untreated issues. 

I get it; there’s the feeling of accomplishment in running such great distances, and I absolutely respect the determination and desire it requires. But I also absolutely don’t fully trust those people, either. These are humans that have a mental Michael Myers on their heels at all times. It just so happens that their preferred way of dealing with it is to throw on a pair of short shorts and run 10,000 laps around the neighborhood, stopping to take shit breaks behind your garage before powering on. 

But even these people have nothing on the characters, and events, that made up the most batshit Olympic event in history, the 1904 marathon in St. Louis ...

It Was Stupid, STUPID Hot

There are two types of humidity: the kind that makes it mildly irritating to bring in the groceries, and the kind that feels like you’re inhaling the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s thick ass the second you take a breath. Stay Puft butt is what the competitors of the 1904 marathon were faced with when race day came to St. Louis. With temperatures in the 90s and 90% humidity to match, the stage was set for a complete mess from the start. 

Before the start of the Olympic Marathon in 1904, in Francis Stadium, Saint-Louis.

via Wiki Commons

The long sleeve blouse on number 3 was a bold choice.

It’s hard not to imagine what these racers must have smelt like on a day like this. I’m pretty certain they weren’t rolling on 24-hour deodorant before hitting the line in 1904. In fact, I think the baseline smell for a man at that time, before sweating, was slathered with mayo and microwaved anal glands of a roadkilled raccoon, so this may have also been the foulest Olympic event ever. But, what’s one thing you can always count on during a hot day? Something that all runners need? Water. Cold, clear, flowing water is a vital part of any race. Well, any race but the 1904 Olympic marathon.

Let’s Run A Little Water Experiment

Inarguably, the single worst time to run an experiment is when you’ve brought together the best in the world and have asked them to compete against each other on the highest stage. You don’t see the organizers of the shotput saying one year, “Shit, I don’t know. Give every third guy a live hand grenade and see what happens.” 

That kind of thinking is essentially what Olympic organizer, James Sullivan, decided to do. Interested in studying the effects of dehydration on the human body, Sullivan limited runners to just two water stations during the race, a water tower at the 6-mile mark and a well at mile 12. 

James Edward Sullivan, 1909

via Wiki Commons

"Do humans need water? No one has ever known the answer … till now!"

This is so diabolical that you almost have to love it. It’s also probably the only way to improve the ratings for the next summer games. People are a lot more likely to tune in on the edge of their seat, wondering if Olympic director Dr. Erwin Superevil just needed more data on pooping at altitude, so he dosed all of the pole vaulters with remote-controlled laxatives to detonate at the apex of their jump. I would kill to watch that event and would really love for Dr. Superevil to get the vital numbers on pole vault poop that could usher in an entirely new scientific age.

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Kicking Up Dust

So far, we have extreme heat and limited water access. But we need the hat trick of dipshit running conditions. How about a goddamn dust storm? That should do the trick to set the stage for Satan’s Spartan Race. Alongside the runners, a caravan of cars carrying their coaches and doctors zoomed beside them, as if the competitors were lowly War Boys made to run through the Mad Max wasteland, taunted by the racing cars ahead of them. 

Sam Mellor of the Mohawk Athletic Club running alone, along the dirt road, in the Marathon Race at the 1904 Olympics.

Missouri History Museum

This was the actual color of the air. 

This was, apparently, not an awesome idea because the cars spun up clouds of dust that blasted back into the faces and lungs of the runners. William Garcia got it the worst, as he inhaled so much dust from the clouds that it ripped his stomach lining and caused internal bleeding. Just further adding to details that make this race sound more like some eternal punishment in an old Greek tale and not an enjoyable sporting event to test the best of the best.

An Interesting Cast Of Characters

Just one look at the pictures of the racers from this event makes you think that you could hop straight off of your couch, grab one last bite of your frozen taquito, step into a time machine, and maybe podium in one of the events of these games. It looks more like every country just drove around town and threw whatever dudes they could find into the back of a truck and told them they were now an Olympic swimmer or some shit. 

While most of the competitors in the 1904 Olympics had this vibe, there were two standouts: South African runners Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani. These dudes weren’t even supposed to be in the race at all. Brought over to St. Louis as part of a traveling exhibition on the Boer Wars, these two were message runners turned sideshow act, now turned Olympic runners. And the dudes could go. 

Len Tau (left) and Jan Mashiani of the Tswana tribe of South Africa

Jessie Tarbox Beals

The look you give when told you’re running a marathon you didn’t even know was happening. Also, one of you is shoeless.

Running barefoot, Len really stood out and positioned himself as a real threat to win the whole thing until … a goddamn wild dog chased him off of the course. I shit you not. As if he was a video game character catching unwanted aggro while he was in the middle of an intense boss fight, Len had to shift his focus from winning a marathon that he never signed up for to not being eaten by a weird, dusty, hot, maniac St. Louis dog and he dropped to the back of the pack.

What’s A Race Without A Little (Actually, Major) Cheating?

The race’s first “winner” was American Fred Lorz. Early in the race, ol’ Fred just wasn’t feeling it. With his stomach cramping up and his body telling him that he was in the middle of something extremely goddamn stupid, Fred hitched a ride. He was initially hoping to cruise back to the stadium and probably hang out and drink a ton and watch the corpses of the other competitors roll across the finish line, but the car broke down because it’s damn 1904, and this was probably like one of five cars on the planet.

Then Fred got a great idea. What if he, I don’t know, just got back in the race? Having been driven a good chunk of the distance, Fred made a physical recovery and crossed the finish line way ahead of his competitors. As he was accepting his awards, people figured out his bullshit, most probably because they saw him bang a Fast and Furious style e-brake just before the checkered line and step out for the finish. With the crowd turning on him, Fred claimed he was just having a laugh and that the whole thing was a joke. 

Frederick Lorz at the 1904 Olympics.

via Wiki Commons

A move that you absolutely have to respect and fits perfectly with this total farce of a race.

The race’s eventual winner was about as clean as Fred. Before he was literally carried across the finish line (a move that seems illegal in the parameters of a traditional race), American Thomas Hicks took down a classic mid-race performance enhancer of eggs and rat poison, chased with a shot of brandy. Hicks kept falling down and running out of gas, so his coaches would run up to him and give him a dose of rat poison, somehow a stimulant at the time, and a few egg whites in what has to be the worst video game powerup of all time. 

Thomas Hicks and supporters

via Wiki Commons

What looks like a great support group is actually a team of rat poison doping enablers.

But it would work. Hicks would perk up for small stretches, and his team would come over and give him a refill until he finally reached the stadium, unable to cross the line. That’s when his team carried him over the finish, his legs running in the air to make the whole thing “legit,” as this star-studded Looney Tunes race of total buffoons finally found its champion.

The Real Winner

Though the record books might indicate that the rat poison fiend Hicks was the gold medalist, I’d like to throw out a different, true winner. Cuban, slick long-sleeve shirt man, Andarín Carvajal.

Cubanian athlete Andarín Carvajal at the 1904 Olympic Games. Chicago Daily News negatives collectio

Library of Congress

Here he is just looking around, wondering how in the hell his life led him to this mess.

If for no other reason than competing in sleeves AND leather boots, Carvajal gets my nod because of his approach to the race. While setting a nice pace, Carvajal decided to eat some peaches from a passing car and then take a little nibble on an apple from a nearby orchard. Then, like any good human, after enjoying some juicy fruit under the hot summer sun, Carvajal lay down, mid-race, and took a little cat nap. 

Though he woke up completely out of the running, he also reemerged as the true embodiment of every single one of us watching this from afar and an example that, Christ, if you ever find yourself in hell and your punishment is to run the 1904 Olympic marathon, make sure you trail Andarín Carvajal and do exactly what he does, because that guy made the most of one wild ride.

Top Image: via Wiki Commons

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