I’m A Running Researcher: Rob Mann

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

Who are you?

Hello! I’m Rob. I am currently both a PhD student and Graduate Research Assistant in the Department of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter.

What is your background?

I completed my undergraduate degree in Sport and Social Sciences (BSc) at the University of Bath. This was followed by being awarded an Economic and Social Research Council Health and Wellbeing PhD studentship (1+3). This studentship began by completing an MRes degree, split across the Universities of Bath, Bristol, and Exeter. My PhD research followed the MRes degree, based at the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre (University of Exeter). This research has been completed in partnership with England Athletics. Throughout this academic ‘journey,’ distance running has been the focus.

How long have you been researching running?

Ever since I started to take running more seriously, I guess – 2011 onwards. By this definition, research includes pouring over training guides and athlete (auto)biographies! Using a more formal definition of research, my undergraduate dissertation was my first attempt at researching running. This work was related to the ‘distance running social world’ of parkrun. Since then, my PhD research has focused on the health and wellbeing of competitive adolescent distance runners.

How did you get into researching running?

I guess that I just allowed my main sporting interest to dictate my research interests. I am particularly fortunate that I have been able to keep this going beyond my undergraduate degree, having been able to span a variety of research disciplines. Part of my motivation for focussing on a paediatric population is related to wanting to give something back to the distance running community, supporting the long-term development of talented youth athletes.

What running research have you done?

I have recently submitted my PhD thesis. The primary aim of the thesis was to describe and evaluate the extent of the injury and illness problem in competitive adolescent distance runners (13-18 years) in England. This thesis also investigated the validity of session rating of perceived exertion, in order to quantify internal training load in this population, and explored potential correlates of injury.

My current research focus is related to co-creating evidence- and practice-informed injury prevention measures for distance runners enrolled on England Athletics’ Youth Talent Programme, in addition to a number of spin-off projects.

How do you research running?

As you may be able to tell from the aims of my thesis, I am a bit of a methodological generalist. As a result, how I have researched running has involved quantitative and qualitative methods – reflective of a QUANTqual weighting. This has included physiology, injury and illness surveillance (epidemiology), and seeking to better understand psychosocial responses to injury (via interviews). My current work is largely structured around focus groups with key stakeholders (e.g., athletes, coaches, and physios).

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

One of the most important findings from my thesis is related to the fact that competitive adolescent distance runners, irrespective of sex, are likely to be training and competing whilst also experiencing at least one health problem (i.e., injury or illness). This was identified across two separate studies, whereby a willingness to ‘push through’ pain (akin to presenteeism) can be seen as a silent issue that needs to be addressed within this population.

Do you run?

Yes! That said, it has taken a back seat recently due to writing-up my thesis. My main focus has been on road running, with the half- and full-marathon being my preferred events. Due to my role as an ASICS FrontRunner, I was able to take part in a multi-stage ultra-marathon along the south-west coast path back in October 2020. This went well enough that I might look into entering more events like this in the future.

Where can I find out more?

You can find out more on ResearchGate and Twitter (@Robert_Mann_). My ASICS FrontRunner profile is a good place to check out my running goals and projects. I am also on Instagram (@robmann92) and Strava (of course!). My recent paper on Prevalence and burden of health problems in competitive adolescent distance runners is available here.


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