I’m a Running Researcher: David Hindley

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 David (Dave) Hindley and I’d describe myself as a sport sociologist. My official work title is Principal Lecturer in Sport Science – Student Academic Experience Manager. Simply put it means I have a number of managerial responsibilities in the Department of Sport Science at Nottingham Trent University where I am based.

What is your background?

I have taken something of a circuitous route to running-related research. Initially I studied Communication Studies, later moving into Sport Sociology, and ultimately completing a PhD in Sports Governance. My doctoral thesis was concerned with the exercise of power, with consideration given to influence, authority, and decision-making, particularly with reference to stakeholder involvement in national governing bodies of sport. It is only since I have developed an enthusiasm for marathon running as a wheezy asthmatic, middle-of-the-pack plodder that I have begun to cultivate an interest in recreational running-related research and conducting fieldwork in this field. Currently my research is examining runner’s experiences of harassment whilst exercising in public spaces.  

How long have you been researching running?

Since 2015 when I started collecting data at Colwick parkrun in Nottingham. This was for an intrinsic case study which aimed to better understand the meanings of participation for both runners and volunteers, employing Ray Oldenburg’s notion of the ‘third place’ as a way of exploring parkrun as an inclusive leisure space for casual sociability, as well as facilitating a shared experience of exercising with others.

How did you get into researching running?

I was a late entrant to running, having developed an intense dislike of athletics during my formative years when running laps of the primary school field were associated with punishment. My first positive experiences of running involved taking part in community running events, where I was drawn to the sense of camaraderie, achievement, as well as a perceived inclusiveness where runners of all abilities were welcome. In May 2014 I started writing a running blog, days after completing my first ultramarathon, which I was quite active on for a couple of years. The blog helped to develop my interest in running research as I was often searching for content to write about. With any academic research, having a personal enthusiasm for your area of focus is paramount, and so conducting research on aspects linked to recreational running felt like a natural step. 

What running research have you done?

The Colwick parkrun case study involved a mixed-methods approach to data gathering, including observation, participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and a survey. My research exploring runner harassment has become something of a labour of love over the last four years or so. In that time, I have amassed stacks of quantitative and qualitative data, which provides some rich insights to the experiences of men and women runners and the types of unwanted attention they have encountered whilst exercising in public spaces. At present I have been commissioned by Routledge to write a shortform book on parkrun. The manuscript is due with the publishers in November.

How do you research running?

As a social scientist I am much more comfortable with qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, research. In addition to the techniques mentioned I have also dabbled with using creative nonfiction, presenting vignettes of runner harassment which are grounded in real events and individual runner’s lived experiences.

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

I think my research relating to runner harassment has been the most revealing, framing running as an embodied experience; an experience that incorporates the specific meanings associated with the bodily form that running takes – that is, to the sweating, dishevelled, panting body of public running – as well as recognising the visible nature of exercising in public, and the perceived vulnerability of the lone jogger. Furthermore, the data speaks to the gendered nature of runner harassment, with men overwhelmingly the source of these practices, and women predominantly the targets. That isn’t to say that men runners don’t encounter harassment (they do) nor does running with others e.g. in a running group, mean you are cocooned from unwanted attention (you aren’t).

Do you run?

I seem to lurch from phases where I am reasonably active, running 4-5 times a week, to weeks and occasionally months when I struggle to get out of the door. During lockdown 3.0 I have been endeavouring to run at least three miles most days. This feels light years away from when I used to run 2-3 marathons a year. Why run? I’ve always enjoyed the mind decluttering escapism that running provides.

Where can I find out more?

You can find out more about me and my work on my profile at the Department of Sport Science, Nottingham Trent University.

You can also follow me on Twitter @drdavehindley


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