A recent (ish) article on the BBC News Magazine by Jim Connolly (I must be much quicker with my responses to current affairs!) asked the very interesting question of who are runners? The article collated a list of the ten different sorts of runners, which I have listed below. Incidentally, Jim Connolly also presented an excellent Radio 5 Live programme about why people run – the link is here, but as I am not quick off the mark with these things (yet), it is no longer available on iPlayer.
I like this article for a few key reasons. Firstly it demonstrates that people run for many different reasons and the practice, experience and meanings of running are by no means homogenous. This has been a principal argument of my research to date and something I will continue to explore over the course of my PhD. I really appreciate having the little biographical details about each runner featured, how long they have been running and what sort of training they do as it gives a very human and ‘real’ face to what could be quite abstract running types. These bios reveal the very different rhythms of running and how people run very different mileage, frequencies and speeds – but that is ok, they are all runners. The article also touches upon the plethora of ‘things’ running provides runners, whether time to themselves or fresh air etc. A point that resonates with much of my own work that seeks to show that running is never just running and to unpack the practice in all its sweaty glory.
Thinking about how I might be able to use these running types in my own work however, has proved more problematic and I do take issue with some of the tenants of the article (but I do not want to be too critical – I really do like the article). Firstly, why limit it to ten? I’m sure this will be due to editorial restrictions or journalism clichés but I would argue there are many more than ten types of running. In my own work I have discussed running to escape, running as a chore and running as a commute – none of which feature in the list. Now an article highlighting all of the infinite types of running is obviously wholly impractical to write or read, yet I think an awareness of those not included is certainly needed – the use of the word ‘the’ in the title is authoritative yet finite.
The biggest issue I faced when thinking this through though was the use of running ‘types’. When writing my undergraduate dissertation I similarly wanted to discuss running ‘types’ but found this conceptually too restrictive. By ‘typing’ runners, running ‘identities’ become fixed and without the possibility of flux or flow between types. Connolly certainly documents how people have changed categories – beginning as a weight loss runner and now a classical club runner – but the use of ‘types’ conceives such changes as conversion or transitional ruptures: they were this type of runner and now they are this type of runner. Borrowing a phrase from the great geographer-runner John Bale, I would encourage the use of ‘ways’ of running instead as this accommodates much greater flexibility in runners’ practices. This conceptualisation fixes the identity or characteristics to the running and not the runner, the runner is free to adopt whichever ‘way’ of running they wish. This much more easily explains the transition from weight loss running to club running for example. It also leaves open the possibility for a runner to adopt more than one category at the same time or to return to a previous category. Reading the list, I can recognise myself in all of the running types and while I would probably identify most strongly with the classic club runner, I certainly run for mood-boosting reasons, I often run in the mornings, I have done my spot of barefoot running and right now, I am much more of a lapsed runner than anything else (but see my New Year’s Resolutions). Ways of running allows for such flux, such changes in the reasons why people run and demonstrates further the heterogeneity of running and the many gifts it provides.
The ways of running will be at the crux of my research and I will explore the concept and its manifestations much further, hoping to understand how they may coalesce, flux and transition within a runner, through space and over time.