At 19 years old, Walter George told his friends that he would run 4:12 for the mile. This was curious for three reasons. First, Walter George had never run the mile before. Second, he had never run any race before (although as a boy he could allegedly outrun both foxes and foxhounds) Third, in 1878, at the time of George’s boasting, the mile world records stood at 4:24 for amateurs and 4:17 for professionals. 

Nevertheless, he entered a mile race and won in 4:29. The next year, he won the mile at the first Amateur Athletic Association championships. He also won the four mile. A month later, he ran a mile in 4:23 and set his first world record. He spent the next year sick, but the following year he ran 4:19— the first amateur athlete to run under 4:20. 

At this point, only three athletes in the world could run as fast as Walter George, and they all ran professionally. In 1882, he applied to the AAA for special permission to race these athletes. They denied him; he sailed to America. 

That fall he ran three races against Lon Meyers— the American record holder in every distance from 50 to 1760 yards. Meyers won the first race of 880 yards, 1:56 to 1:57. George won the second race of a mile, 4:21 to 4:27. In the third race of 1320 yards (three quarters of a mile), the two runners ran dead even into the final stretch. With the finish line looming, Meyers’ vision blackened, and he staggered across in 3:13. Walter George finished upright in 3:10, though he too collapsed immediately after. 

In 1883, he missed the AAA mile due to illness but won the ten mile. The next year, he reclaimed his title in a new world record of 4:18. He then won the four mile, ten mile, 880 yard, and cross country titles, too. With undisputed titles and untouchable amateur world records in every distance from the mile to the one-hour run, Walter George turned professional. 

The two world record holders in the mile— Walter George (4:18, amateur) and William Cummings (4:16, professional) faced off for the first time in August, 1885. Thirty thousand screaming fans stormed a stadium meant for only eight thousand and lined up along the track, now soggy from the light rain. Despite the climate and clamor, Walter George ran 58 seconds for the first 440 yards, with Cummings right behind him. They sailed through halfway mark in 2:01. At three quarters, George pressed on. Cummings faded and began to walk, so George started to celebrate his first professional victory halfway through his last lap, and jogged in at 4:20.

Cummings got his revenge in the next race over four miles, and the following race over ten miles. The two men met for a Mile Rematch in 1886. This time, twenty thousand fans stood rapt as Jack White—Deerfoot’s primary rival—fired the gun to start the race. George took the race out in his habitual 58, followed by his standard 2:01. Again, the two milers went through three quarters in 3:07, but this time Cummings pulled desperately ahead. Unable to jog it in, George ran his rival down, storming through the final stretch and finishing in 4:12, his final world record.

No one would run faster for the mile until Norman Taber, almost 30 years later.

Like most boys in his time, Walter George grew up running after, to, or away from everything, but he had no formal experience with training or racing. In fact, in 1878, when he declared himself heir apparent to the World Record, he worked fourteen-hour days as a chemist’s apprentice; he had no time for training. Instead, he stood behind the pharmacy counter doing high knees, in what he called “One Hundred Ups.” 

One Hundred Ups consisted of leaping from foot to foot and driving the knee upwards, first as balanced as possible, then as fast as possible, until you were essentially running in place— lightly, quickly, powerfully— for one hundred steps. While his co-workers snuck off for five \-minute smoke breaks, Walter George snuck off for five minutes of One Hundred Ups. While his co-workers partied through the weekends, Walter George did the same, but then he took a salt bath before winning a race or three. 

As his career progressed, he transitioned to more traditional training methods of the time: long walks, a few sprints at the track, and time trials, but his first world records were set on a steady regimen of One Hundred Ups in between customers. His career reads like a testament to adaption: No time to train? Train at work. No opponents in England? Go to America. No opponents left? Turn professional. 

His training techniques are not recommended— he routinely ran time trials days before races, and he drank for twenty four hours then soaked in a salt bath immediately before running under 4:20 for the first times. His attitude, however, is enviable: Make It Work. 

Some sources:
Walter George’s Wikipedia Page

“Beer and. Brine” Book Review by Runner’s World

Walter George vs. Lon Meyers by Runner’s World