A word might here be interposed as to the tactics of a race. In medium or long races an immense deal in the way of success depends upon the judgment with which a race is run. If you decide to pass an antagonist you had better spurt to do so, and not try to pass him slowly, as this may end in his shaking you off again. If you spurt by an antagonist you may possibly take the heart out of him, and he may shut up 'like a telescope' on the spot. Another reflection which a runner should always bear in mind is, that when the dreadful thought occurs to his mind that he is 'done,' it should be succeeded by the reassuring idea that his opponents are probably equally 'done' also. If this latter rule were always borne in mind we should not see, as we often do, cases in which the race does not fall to the swift but to the plucky. As a corollary to the two practical rules given above we may mention an anecdote which aptly illustrates them. We saw a match at Oxford between two cracks at 600 yards. The distance was rather beyond both runners, who were really quarter-milers. Before the run home was reached both parties had shot their bolt.
The one in the rear, feeling himself 'done,' decided that a desperate state of affairs required a desperate remedy, and pulling himself together, rushed clean past his antagonist with a spurt. The antagonist immediately shut up, but the winner was so much done that he could hardly crawl home in very slow time. We have since seen many important races where it has struck us that, had the beaten man made another effort, he could have turned the battle; but he has allowed himself to be defeated by some plucky ' cutting down' tactics of an inferior opponent. In the spring championship of 1879, M. R. Portal, the Oxonian, a beautiful mover and a magnificent runner, was cut down at the end by E. Storey, who won in 51 2/5 seconds at a time when Portal was quite equal to doing time a second better. In justice to Portal however, of whose merits Bob Rogers thought unutterable things, it must be said that he came to the scratch far from fit on that day. Want of condition is an admirable thing to breed irresolution in a race, and while it is easy to be game when one is fit, it is far harder for a jaded man to keep his gameness and a good head upon his shoulders.
One game little runner, E. A. Sandford, the Oxford miler, certainly won both his Half-mile Championships in 1874 and 1875 from faster men by pluck and judgment.
Out of condition.
Although the half-mile has always been an event at the championship meeting since its foundation in 1866, the half-mile races were usually competed for by the long-distance runners alone, until Colbeck won the Half-mile Championship in 186S; indeed, in 1867 an Oxford runner won the Half-mile Championship with a time of 2 min. 5 sec, which is what any moderate performer can now achieve. Colbeck's successor in the championship for two years was R. V. Somers-Smith, the Oxonian quarter-miler, after which the Hon. A. L. Pelham attained the honour. Pelham was the tallest man whom we ever recollect to have seen figure on the running-path. He made his first appearance in London while, we believe, he was still a schoolboy at Eton, and being as long and leggy as a colt and some three or four inches over six feet, excited great astonishment by his prodigious strides. At Cambridge he was a contemporary of G. A. Templer, who was also a fine quarter-miler, and who ran in 1872 a dead heat for the Half-mile Championship with T. Christie, the Oxford miler, in what was then the unbeaten time of 2 min. 1 sec; but in a race at Cambridge soon afterwards Pelham eclipsed the performance by beating for the first time 2 minutes over Fenner's path, finishing in the race in front of Templer. Pelham, with his prodigious stride, was too tall and leggy to spurt, and accordingly was not a first-rate performer at a quarter, and at the same time had not sufficient staying powers for a mile, so that he never made a good show for his University, as there is (more's the pity) no half-mile race in the Oxford and Cambridge programme.
He was purely a half-miler, and undoubtedly the best of his day, and no one until 1876 contrived to repeat his performance of finishing the distance within 2 minutes. A year or two later H. W. Hill appeared in his best form, and showed himself, when thoroughly fit, to be as good at a half-mile as any of the champions, although he occasionally had to succumb at this distance to Walter Slade, the miler. Slade in 1874 was holding undisputed sway over every distance from half a mile to four miles; but twice in the races for the L.A.C. Challenge Cup was beaten by Hill in the autumn. Hill. strangely enough, seemed never to be able to get fit until late in the summer, and, indeed, his running excellence apparently was quite as much due to persistent practice as to natural ability. Still, however Hill's speed and stay were obtained, he was certainly a magnificent performer at half a mile and 1000 yards. He was of about medium height, and weighed, we suppose, less than 10 stone, but, although not a sprinter, ran with the greatest dash and determination, and being faster than Slade, when he could beat him, won by sheer pluck in running the mile champion off his legs by forcing the pace.
Strangely enough, about this time another famous runner, who, like Hill and Pelham, was a half-miler and nothing more, appeared upon the scene in Ireland - L. H. Courtney. On two occasions Courtney met and beat Slade at this distance in Ireland, although he was by no means Slade's equal at a mile. Courtney was taller than Hill, and ran, like Clague and some other fine natural runners, with a springy action, bounding over the ground with a very light foot. However, at the end of 1875 Courtney retired, and early in 1876 Slade appeared to be the best half-miler left upon the path, as he had managed to beat Hill in the spring of that year, while Pelham had also apparently retired. In this year Slade again did some fine performances in Ireland, once beating 2 minutes in Dublin, and at Belfast soon afterwards beating 1 min. 59 sec. over grass. By this time great things were being whispered about of Elborough's capabilities at this distance, and by a happy thought the committee of the L.A.C. managed to get together all the four cracks of the day - Elborough, Slade, Hill, and Pelham - to compete for the L.A.C. challenge cup at the autumn meeting in 1876. The meeting attracted an immense crowd and produced a race the recollection of which can never be effaced from the memory of anyone who witnessed it.