I’m a Running Researcher: Laura Williams

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

Who are you?

I’m Laura, currently living a double life as a research student and librarian. I’m a part-time PhD candidate in the Information School at the University of Sheffield and in my day job I work as a subject librarian for art and design at the University of Huddersfield.

What is your background?

I’m a new-comer and a late-comer to the world of running research having taken a very varied journey to get here. After finishing an undergraduate degree in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Warwick, I did an MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield, vowing to return one day to do a research degree. I’ve worked in various library and archive roles over the years and now 10 years later I’m finally back at Sheffield to do that research degree.

How long have you been researching running?

I only started my PhD course in October 2020 so I’m very new. I began dabbling with running as a topic with a conceptual paper at the 4th World Congress of Psychogeography in 2019 discussing whether rural running could be considered as psychogeography, which is usually associated with urban walking. The paper drew upon running and psychogeography literature to reflect on my own experiences of running, positioning the practice of running as a means of playful exploration rather than as structured exercise.

How did you get into researching running?

For a couple of years I had an idea that running was something I wanted to research, with lots of vague ideas jotted down in a notebook, but didn’t seriously believe I’d be able to combine running into my plans to do an information studies research degree. Then one day I stumbled across the webpage profile of the person who is now my supervisor by complete accident and realised that this idea was something that I needed to pursue.

What is the focus of your PhD research?

My research topic is the information behaviours of ultramarathon runners.  Information behaviour focuses on understanding why people seek information and how they use it. I’m interested in how ultramarathon runners develop knowledge to inform their practice, and the culture of information sharing in online communities and on social media.  Running is an information rich leisure activity;  I know that I spend far too much time the internet seeking information about running but do other people? What information is used to inform training and racing, where does this information come from, and how is it shared within the community? Facebook groups are busy with runners asking questions about training, kit and nutrition. There are podcasts, blogs, and countless YouTube videos of people reviewing the latest shoes. How do we experience this this vast array of information?

How do you research running?

My methods will be qualitative but the rest is still a work in progress!

Do you run?

I have been running for over 10 years. Both how I run and the reasons why I run have shifted over the years, progressing from road running to fell running and ultramarathons. Although I was fairly sporty growing up, I suffered a brain haemorrhage stroke as a teenager which temporarily paralysed the right side of my body, resulting in a complicated relationship with exercise. But taking up running in my 20’s helped me start to heal the emotional wounds and learn that my body was capable of more than I ever believed. I’m slow but stubborn with a love for snacks so ultramarathon distances suit me best. I live on the edge of the Peak District in Yorkshire so I can avoid road running and spend my time bog hopping on the moors.

Where can I find out more?

I’m usually found tweeting about PhD life, running and libraries on Twitter as @theatregrad or sharing running/hiking/swimming photos on Instagram as @williamslauraj.  I have an official university profile if you would like to get in touch by email.

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