I’m a Running Researcher: Holly Weir

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

Who are you?

I’m a researcher in urban studies and transport at the University of Westminster

What is your background?

I trained as an urban planner and was working in the public sector for a number of years before beginning a PhD exploring how children use their neighbourhood four years ago. This has now led to working on other projects relating to how people use public space and trying to address levels of physical inactivity. During this time, I’ve also been working part-time as a running coach and have always been passionate about the benefits of physical activity in its various forms. I value the importance of everyday physical activity, either as sport and leisure or simply for getting around.

How long have you been researching running?

Around one year – it started working on a project at the University of Westminster more holistically exploring people’s use of green spaces during the covid-19 pandemic. I worked on an offshoot of this project, specifically focussing on runners’ experiences.

How did you get into researching running?

I actually never thought I’d be able to link up my passion for running with my other work and always saw them as two separate parts of my life.

In the past year, I’ve been lucky to be able to link up my knowledge of running with my wider research around the use of neighbourhoods and public space in general. I’ve realised that there are actually many overlaps in these two parts of my life. When linked up, they make for what can be an important yet unique perspective and understanding on how people use space.

I have also found it relevant to draw on my knowledge of running coaching. Many people might see the role of a running coach to solely provide a technical training plans or expertise. Although that is a part of it, my approach is that it’s just as much about understanding human behaviour and people’s motivations to run, and helping to support them through that process. I think this has been really important in helping to influence my ideas in my research and provide insight into the drivers of physical activity and understanding around how to maintain healthy habits.

What running research have you done?

The project I worked in 2020  was titled ‘Running Through Lockdown.’ It explored runners’ use of public space during the first lockdown in London, UK in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It considered runners’ use of local public spaces, their connections to nature and subsequent impacts on wellbeing, using both survey data from those running outdoors during the lockdown and a small number of in-depth interviews. It demonstrates the impact that the lockdown had on running routines and motivations in London, the impact on runners’ well-being, and the challenges over the use of public space that runners encountered.

How do you research running?

My research takes a predominantly qualitative approach, and that is the type of research and data I am most experienced at exploring. I enjoy working with people in-depth to understand their motivations and reasonings for doing what they do. I feel that this can give the fullest picture of a person’s experience, as well as best understand how to influence any future behaviours.

That said, the Running Through Lockdown project also has some quantitative elements within it to provide some grounding for the qualitative data. I’m happy, though, to handover any detailed statistical analysis to someone else!

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

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the different motivations that people have to run. It has certainly put more of a focus on running simply for relaxation and well-being, rather than race goals. This has led to many finding a new found enjoyment of running and also has helped them to engage more with new spaces in their local area and the natural environment. As much as it’s great to have some racing and competition and these can make good training goals and motivators, I think it’s great that many are now realising that you can just run simply for enjoyment and it’s not always about getting a PB!

Do you run?

Of course! I feel it’s so important when talking about the benefits of physical activity to lead by example. During the past year and the numerous lockdowns, I’ve always made an effort to get out every day either to run or do some form of physical activity.

In terms of running specifically, endurance is my thing. As I get older, I’ve found I’ve been shifting away from road races and marathons and previous time goals (will the sub 3 hour marathon ever happen??). I’ve instead been focussing my efforts a bit more on off-road trail running and slightly longer ultra distances.

Where can I find out more?

Twitter @hollyjaneweir

A bit about my research http://www.activepeople.org.uk/

And if you’re feeling inspired to work with a running coach http://www.runwithholly.co.uk/


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