Weston Walking Style & Technique
Weston's adaptable style
Edward Payson Weston walked in all conditions at every hour of day and night. On roads under the stars, in mud or two feet of snow, or on prepared tracks in smoke-filled auditoriums, such as Madison Square Garden, NY. His first public notice came at the age of 21 when he averaged more than 50 miles per day over ten days, and shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln. At age 71 he walked across the country in 77 hiking days, averaging 47 miles per day.
As one of the most durable walkers of all time, Weston knew a little something about the subject. Here are some of this thoughts as filtered though press accounts of his day.
Weston was known as the "Wily Wobbler" for his distinctive gait, perhaps because his wide hips contributed to a swinging stride, and he relaxed his upper body and shoulders without pumping his arms.
During Weston's 1867 Portland-Chicago walk, the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser wrote, "His walk is quick, even motion, a straight to the front step, striking heel-and-toe [ie, landing on the heel first - not the "heel-and-toe" method]. His body is well set upon his legs, the action of which is principally from the knees, he swings his arms but little and carries a small whip..."
After concluding his 1867 feat, Weston gave an exhibition of walking in Farwell Hall, Chicago, demonstrating his four, five, and six-mile gaits as he circumnavigated the hall. The fact that Weston could vary his method for different speeds begs attention.
Observations made during the 1870s
(1876) British Medical Journal - His ordinary rate of walking is about four miles and a half an hour; his walking is almost entirely from the hip, the knees being flexed and the knee joint having very little play.
(1876) The Lancet - Towards the end of his 275 miles he was walking at a pace which ordinary walkers would find difficult to keep up with. He did the last 60 miles without a rest at the rate of four miles and a half an hour... His feet and legs were free from swelling and his feet were unblistered... Mr. Weston disapproves of running.
(1876) Sportsman - "He is a tall [5' 7.5"], slight, and very thin man. His head, hands, and feet are small... He is remarkably wide in the hips... and in consequence his thighs are widely separated... To the wideness of the hips is, no doubt, in part owing to his peculiar gait. At each step the body receives a slight jerk, which at times of fatigue becomes almost a swagger. The knees are kept constantly flexed at a slight angle - very little movement of the joint can be observed; in consequence the foot is planted firmly and rather flat, and there is very little spring in his walk [probably observed on an indoor loam track]. But his progression is constant; there is none of the pause which may be observed between each step in ordinary walkers; and on getting a little accustomed to his appearance it becomes plain that his method is eminently serviceable in getting over the ground. The arms are allowed to swing, and are unflexed, in this point differing from English fast walkers. He does not appear to fix the thorax [chest, upper torso], but lets it move freely."
(1879) Anybody witnessing his style...would have noticed how he would work his head and shoulders more than any of his rivals. (P.S. Marshall's observation)
1909 transcontinental walk west
In 1909 Dr. George L. Meylan, Physical Instructor of Columbia University, said, "He has the mechanism of walking to perfection - the ability to use just the minimum of energy in covering a given space. Of course he has the "bent-knee" method - that's the French army way - the body forward, and the leg muscles used only in the middle of their range. It's just the natural way to walk; our stiff-legged method... is purely artificial. But Weston has perfect mastery, perfect balance." (NY Times, March 28, 1909)
1910 transcontinental walk east
New York reporter H.C. Long reported:
Weston's performance impressed his companions even more than the public following his progress. The railway man advised, "You'll see a little man with white whiskers, carrying a short stick, and walking all over his body. He'll be moving sort of slow. Yet take your eye off him and he'll be out of sight before you know it."
"Walking all over his body" proved to be a telling phrase. From a distance H.C. Long observed "an astonishing swing of the shoulders. It seemed as though he forged ahead as much through that swing as through his steady stride. When he came nearer and nearer I saw that his head, his waist, his forearms, moved in harmony with the backward-forward throw of the shoulders and the forward-backward push of the legs."
1926 article, Saturday Evening Post, NY Times
Weston's practical advice, paraphrasing and quoting freely:
Each person to their own gait.
Go slowly and easily, but keep going, with periods for rest and contemplation.
Allow the shoulders to swing free, with the muscles relaxed.
Lift the feet only enough to advance the body with every step.
The heel and ball of the foot land almost simultaneously, so the shock is distributed over the whole mechanism of the foot. The [stiff-legged] heel-and-toe method is unnatural.
Carry a short stick, swing and change it from one hand to the other.
Weston's NY Times obituary, May 15, 1929
"Mr. Weston had an elastic, swinging stride and legs that never seemed to tire."
"King of the Peds" by P.S. Marshall
"Physical Culture" magazine article by H.C. Long
"The Gentle Art of Walking" which consistes entirely of New York Times clippings.