I’m A Running Researcher: Sam Hayes

This post is part of the I’m a Running Researcher series. See all profiles in this series here.

Who are you?

My name is Sam Hayes I am a Planner and Geographer, currently a Research Fellow in Urban Ecology at the University of Salford.

What is your background?

I have taken a somewhat convoluted route to running research. Initially I studied Biology and Education, later moving into Environmental Management and ultimately completing a PhD in Town Planning. My PhD and early work were concerned with the sustainability of Local Plans and the procedural, and perhaps a little technocratic, aspects of strategic planning. But this was always connected to desire to research how we can live in our towns and cities more sustainably, and so my research has gradually morphed more towards a focus on green spaces and sustainable practices. Currently my research is looking at green spaces in a couple of ways, with a historic lens and as a site of running practice.

How long have you been researching running?

I’ve been thinking about researching running since March 2016 (I’ve checked the date because I wrote a blog about it), but I’ve only really been doing running research since 2018/19.

How did you get into researching running?

Well, as I mentioned, I wrote a blog about running some time ago and this really sowed the seed. I was interested in the way that as you run you move through multiple land uses (once a planner, always a planner) and I started thinking about the possible conflicts or overlaps between these uses. But that has developed a little, so now I would say I’m interested in the way that Planning and our (built) environment does/doesn’t support physical activity (like running), for example through design or infrastructure. As well as a better understanding of the experience of running in different settings and environments, for example in parks or along streets.

What running research have you done?

I’m currently analysing the data from my first running project, Running about the Place. The idea of this project is to look at the connection  between running, green spaces like parks, and runners’ mental health or well-being. I’m also working with Simon on some very recently collected data looking at the experience of running during the COVID-19 restrictions.

How do you research running?

By running with runners. I’ve used running interviews – basically I attach microphones to myself and a runner, they take me on a run, and we chat while we’re out and about. It’s been such a joy to run with people and chat about their running, they’ve also shown me some amazing green spaces around Greater Manchester. It’s been an absolute pleasure. More recently, dictated by lockdown, I’ve been looking at running and exercise practices through Twitter, which has been wonderful, but a very different experience.

What is the most significant, important, surprising, interesting, unusual, or favourite finding emerging from your research?

Well, if I have to pick just one thing, I would say the way that running in green spaces provides a connection to nature for many of my runners, and that in their practice they develop a relationship with nature through very local green spaces. These aren’t National Parks or famous protected landscapes, but they are very important places nonetheless and I think it adds further weight to the evidence in support of local green spaces and their value. And, if I can add a small second thing, it would be around the way transitioning in and out of parks and other green spaces should be thought about more.

Do you run?

Yes. I’ve been running for about 10 years. Over that time I have run alone, with a local Harriers club, with a local LBGT club, I’ve done mass participation road events and competitive trail running events (never upsetting the leader board). From the outset the primary motivator for my running has been de-stressing and managing my mental health. Particularly during my PhD, the Rochdale canal was a sanctuary. That’s the other thing which I have developed over that time, a love a running in green spaces. Hence my research. It’s a very personal topic for me.

Where can I find out more?

You can find out more at my own Environmentalist Blog and you can follow me on Twitter @DrSamHayes1. You can also read something Simon and I wrote together offering some reflections on exercise and lockdown.


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