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Legend of the Vanishing Runner

Updated on September 11, 2011

There is a story about an Englishman called James Worson who simply vanished into thin air while running a race. Many have believed it to be a tale of the supernatural. However, the legend actually originated from a story written by author Ambrose Bierce titled The Unfinished Race.

The story about Worson, supposedly took place on September 3, 1873. Worson was known to be a bit of a braggart when it came to physical prowess, especially when it came to running long distances. One day several acquaintances who had grown bored with his endless prattle demanded he prove his claims.

Worson’s two friends challenged him to cover a twenty mile distance from his home town of Leamington to the town of Coventry in England. The terms were he would have to do it in record time with them following behind in a horse drawn carriage and with him in sight the entire distance. Worson had no problems with these terms and thought he could easily accomplish the task set forth.

So, at sunrise on September 3rd Worson and his comrades met at the starting point and the race began. Worson set a steady pace along the unobstructed road and was making good time. Worson was pleased with himself, knowing he would have no difficulty in setting a new record. The two men followed behind in their carriage keeping him in their sight at all times.

Everything was going along smoothly until something happened several hours into the run. Worson stumbled as if having tripped over something. But the road was clear and there was nothing which could have made him stumble. The two in the carriage were close enough to witness the incident and they saw the road was clear of any debris or obstacles.

As Worson fell he screamed in pain and was about to hit the road face first when he suddenly vanished into thin air in plain view of the two men, one who happened to be carrying a camera. The two got out of the carriage and took photographs of Worson’s tracks leading to nowhere. But, who would believe such a photo? Anyone could have easily laid tracks on the road, stepped off the trail and took pictures of them.

However, as the story goes the two rushed back to Leamington and informed authorities about what they had witnessed. Naturally, they were taken as a couple of nut cases, but since it was an official report they were obligated to investigate. So with due diligence, search parties were formed and bloodhounds sent to sniff Worson out. But not a trace of James Worson was ever found…for all intents and purposes he had simply vanished from the face of the Earth.

Quite an incredible tale, wouldn’t you say? But, that’s all it is, an entertaining tale, an urban legend dreamed up by its similarities to an actual unexplained mystery…the disappearance of author, Ambrose Bierce, the one who wrote The Unfinished Race.

It was around 1913, when an older Ambrose Bierce, traveled to Mexico on an assignment to cover the ongoing Mexican Revolution. Bierce, an active journalist for many years saw history in the making and decided he should be the one to record it. His plan was to travel south and cover events from the rebel’s perspective.

But Ambrose Bierce never arrived. He vanished while on the trail and was never seen again.


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    • Daffy Duck profile image

      Daffy Duck 

      7 years ago from Cornelius, Oregon

      You write such interesting hubs. I love reading them.

    • New 2011 Mom profile image

      New 2011 Mom 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I've heard many tales, but this one I have never heard of.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very cool story. I'm still a sucker for urban legends. :)


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