I’m a Running Researcher: Julie Cidell

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 Julie Cidell, and I’m a Professor in the Department of Geography and GIS at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

What is your background?

I’m primarily an urban geographer, focusing on critical geographies of transportation and mobility. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are all in geography, and I taught at a community college and two different California State University campuses before getting my current position.

How long have you been researching running?

I haven’t done much lately, but I spent about four years doing research and producing a couple of articles and book chapters in 2013-2016.

How did you get into researching running?

I started running once I got tenure, once I had the time to exercise and the desire to get rid of the “tenure thirty [pounds].” At the same time, I was reading a lot of work on mobilities, and it seemed like the experiences I was having as I learned to become a runner were very relevant to the growing literature on the physical experience of mobility. I also volunteered at our hometown marathon and gained a new appreciation all of the non-runners who participate in constructing the space of a road race.

What running research have you done?

I had a piece in Social and Cultural Geography in 2014 and a chapter in Event Mobilities by Hannam et al. in 2016. Both are about road races and the special kinds of spaces and places that are created in a major event like a marathon or half-marathon. I was especially interested in the article in how runners and others occupy spaces during the time-space of a road race that are normally forbidden to pedestrians, like the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit or Times Square in New York, drawing on Tim Cresswell’s concept of transgression. In the chapter, I developed the three stages of event mobilities as gathering, eventing, and dispersing to analyse the different kinds of bodily mobilities that take place before, during, and after events.

How do you research running?

Participant-observation, whether as a runner or volunteer.

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

Just getting a grasp on all the different mobilities that are involved in a major road race is quite remarkable. Making sure people, food and water, clothing, traffic, and emergency vehicles are all in place or accessible is really a year-round task for event planners. It’s also a major task for runners to manage their personal logistics around a race, very dependent on the weather and the micro-geography of the race course.

Do you run?

I ran some in my twenties, but only really started after getting tenure in my thirties (see above). I’m very slow, but I enjoy being part of a sport where the elites, amateurs, and beginners are all on the same course together. I have a goal to run a half marathon in all fifty U.S. states, and I’ve checked off fifteen so far. It’s been hard to keep running during COVID without a race to aim for, but at least I’m healthy and able to run.

Where can I find out more?

You can find out more about my work on my website http://cidell.space


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