Lewis Bennet was raised on running. On the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, he dominated “The Creator’s Game”— the original version of lacrosse, played over hills and fields and forests— with his unmatched endurance. Stories told that he even raced a horse to death.

He emerged from the reservation in 1856 under the name Deerfoot and won his first race: five miles in twenty-five minutes for a prize of $50. He raced his way south, where in 1861, in Corona, Queens, New York, he faced a team of British “pedestrians,” or long-distance prize-runners. Though he lost, the manager of the team saw his potential and brought him to England to race a nation of professionals. 

Pedestrians lived off prize-money and gate-receipts, so Deerfoot played up his Native American persona to attract crowds and challengers. He donned his moccasins, a short, beaded skirt, an eagle feather atop his head and nothing else. Bronze, bare-chested and six-feet tall, he towered over his pale, Victorian competition. 

He lost his first race, won his second race four days later, won his third race a few days after that, then won 25 off his next 27 races. He tied a race, causing speculation that he was throwing contests, then won his next 14 races. 

He won so often that nobody would bet against him, so his manager took him on a barnstorming tour of rural Britain. For five months, he raced near-daily despite traveling on foot to each of his races. Burnt out, with little meaningful competition, Deerfoot quit the tour and returned to London to win titles and world records. 

He broke the one-hour world record in October of 1862. The following January, he broke it again. On Good Friday, he broke it once more, this time in the midst of a 12 mile race (he broke the 12 mile world record but lost the race, as his opponent was given a 100 yard handicap). He failed to finish his next four races, so he returned to America, where his twenty-two months of nonstop racing had turned him into a legend.

Little is known of his training. He built his endurance through a childhood of lacrosse and traveling by foot. In England, he raced so often that he famously said “I have never trained.” If he was not racing, he was running to his next race. While we may not be able to glean specific workouts from Deerfoot’s schedule, we could all benefit by adopting his purposeful approach to the sport: he ran to race, and he raced to win— not much else.

Some sources:

American Indian Magazine Article

Deerfoot’s Wikipedia Page