In a time when American Track and Field still included events like sack-races and tug-of-war, Lon Myers singlehandedly legitimized the sport with fervent, feverish racing, fast times, and oversea-odysseys against the world’s best runners. In a career spanning a decade, Myers would win twenty-eight national championships across three countries and hold every American Record from fifty yards to a mile. 

Born a sickly child in Richmond, Virginia, Lon Myers moved to New York City with his family after high school. A doctor recommended Myers take up athletics to combat his endless afflictions, so in 1878 he began running for the Manhattan Athletic Club. He won his first race, over 440 yards, in fifty five seconds. He won his fourth race, also over 440, in forty nine seconds— a world record— despite losing a shoe 120 yards from the finish. He won his first national crown in 1879, then won two more that afternoon. At the year’s end, he declared “next season I am going to alter all of the records from 100 yards to the mile,” which he did.

In 1880, he won American titles in the 100, 220, 440 and 880 yards all on the same day. Three days later he repeated the feat in Montreal to win the Canadian titles. 

In 1881 he toured England with the first American track stars to go abroad and won every race he ran, except for a 100 yard race in which his competition was given a head start. He even won a 440 while running sideways up the homestretch, taunting a particularly pompous opponent.  

In 1882 he faced Walter George, England’s greatest distance runner, over three races. He won the first (880 yards), lost the second (1720 yards) in an American Record, then— after a brief delay to battle pneumonia— lost the third (1320 yards) by collapsing through the finish line, unable to be resuscitated for hours afterwards. 

In 1883 he had malaria. In 1884 he sailed to England where Walter George refused to race him, so he returned to America and won the 220, 440 and 880 National Titles. In 1885 he had malaria, again. When he recovered, he tried England once more, where he won twenty-five races, including English titles at the 440 and the 880.

In 1886 he turned professional so that he could race Walter George (who had turned professional for a series of races against the world-record holder in the mile). They raced three times in Madison Square Garden, over 1000 yards (for which Myers held the world record), 1320 yards, and 1760 yards (for which George held the world record). Myers won the first race, then the second, then, as brass bands blared and boisterous fans brawled, Myers won the third race, sweeping the series and triggering bedlam as crowds stormed the track in celebration. 

Myers retired soon after, and died of pneumonia at just forty-one years old. Despite his ceaseless racing— often racing several times a day and always to the point of collapse— he never quite outran his susceptibility to illness. While he wrote articles about training for “The New York Sportsman” that would now be considered obsolete, his approach to competition remains timeless: scorn your limits– race till you drop.